The uses of aesthetic testimony

British Journal of Aesthetics 57 (1):19-36 (2017)
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The current debate over aesthetic testimony typically focuses on cases of doxastic repetition — where, when an agent, on receiving aesthetic testimony that p, acquires the belief that p without qualification. I suggest that we broaden the set of cases under consideration. I consider a number of cases of action from testimony, including reconsidering a disliked album based on testimony, and choosing an artistic educational institution from testimony. But this cannot simply be explained by supposing that testimony is usable for action, but unusable for doxastic repetition. I consider a new asymmetry in the usability aesthetic testimony. Consider the following cases: we seem unwilling to accept somebody hanging a painting in their bedroom based merely on testimony, but entirely willing to accept hanging a painting in a museum based merely on testimony. The switch in intuitive acceptability seems to track, in some complicated way, the line between public life and private life. These new cases weigh against a number of standing theories of aesthetic testimony. I suggest that we look further afield, and that something like a sensibility theory, in the style of John McDowell and David Wiggins, will prove to be the best fit for our intuitions for the usability of aesthetic testimony. I propose the following explanation for the new asymmetry: we are willing to accept testimony about whether a work merits being found beautiful; but we are unwilling to accept testimony about whether something actually is beautiful.

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C. Thi Nguyen
University of Utah


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