Dewey’s Institutions of Aesthetic Experience

Southwest Philosophy Review 34 (1):217-224 (2018)
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I argue that John Dewey’s account of aesthetic experience offers a contextual approach to aesthetic experience that could benefit contemporary contextual definitions of art. It is well known that many philosophers who employ contextual definitions of art (most notably, George Dickie) also argue that traditional conceptions of aesthetic experience are obsolete because they fail to distinguish art from non-art when confronted with hard cases like Marcel Duchamp’s Fountain. While questions of perceptual indiscernibility are a problem for many traditional theories of aesthetic experience, I argue they are not a problem for Dewey. Dewey’s account of experience is not only compatible with Dickie’s ‘institutional theory’ but Dewey’s oft criticized notion of ‘an experience’ additionally brings a needed evaluative component to contextual definitions by showing how appeals to our experience of the theoretical, historical, and institutional contexts of the ‘artworld’ can better explain how something like a urinal can become worthy of aesthetic appreciation.
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