Margaret Macdonald on the Definition of Art

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Abstract
In this paper, I show that, in a number of publications in the early 1950s, Margaret Macdonald argues that art does not admit of definition, that art is—in the sense associated with Wittgenstein—a family resemblance concept, and that definitions of art are best understood as confused or poorly expressed contributions to art criticism. This package of views is most typically associated with a famous paper by Morris Weitz from 1956. I demonstrate that Macdonald advanced that package prior to Weitz, indeed, prior to any other philosopher of art of the period. Despite this, Macdonald’s contribution is nowhere to be found in the subsequent literature on the definition of art. In closing, I raise the prospect that Macdonald was in fact the primary influence on the development of Weitz’s critique of the definitional project.
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Archival date: 2022-06-29
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2022-06-29

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