Let’s be Liberal: An Alternative to Aesthetic Hedonism

British Journal of Aesthetics 61 (2):163-183 (2021)
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Aesthetic value empiricism claims that the aesthetic value of an object is grounded in the value of a certain kind of experience of it. The most popular version of value empiricism, and a dominant view in contemporary philosophical aesthetics more generally, is aesthetic hedonism. Hedonism restricts the grounds of aesthetic value to the pleasure enjoyed in the right kind of experience. But hedonism does not enjoy any clear advantage over a more permissive alternative version of value empiricism. This alternative is aesthetic liberalism. On this view, an object’s aesthetic value is fully grounded in any value—not just the hedonic value—of a correct and complete experience of its sensory features. To demonstrate the advantages of liberalism over hedonism, I apply both views to analyze the aesthetic value of the Spring Temple Buddha and Anselm Kiefer’s Seraphim. I detail four advantages of liberalism over hedonism, and I conclude by defending liberalism from two kinds of objection.

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Antonia Peacocke
Stanford University


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