A Consideration of Carroll’s Content Theory

Journal of Value Inquiry 54 (2):245-255 (2020)
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In this paper, we consider Noël Carroll’s Content Theory (CT) (2015) and argue that a key problem with CT is that it can be interpreted in two distinct ways: as a descriptive theory of aesthetic experience and as a normative prescriptive theory. Although CT is presented as a descriptive theory of experience, much of what Carroll says implies that CT can also be understood as a theory about how one ought to look at artworks. We argue that when understood as a descriptive theory, CT fails to qualify as a meaningful theory of aesthetic experience. We then interpret the theory prescriptively. Ultimately, this second interpretation is also found lacking: if the aim of the theory is to instruct one on how to view art, it is no longer an attempt to characterize the experience of art. We conclude by arguing that the main flaw in CT is its approach: we cannot meaningfully characterize an experience by enumerating the objects that supposedly cause said experience, and any theory that takes such an approach is likely to be unsuccessful.
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First archival date: 2020-10-27
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