The Glass is Half Empty: A New Argument for Pessimism about Aesthetic Testimony

British Journal of Aesthetics 55 (1):91-107 (2015)
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Call the view that it is possible to acquire aesthetic knowledge via testimony, optimism, and its denial, pessimism. In this paper, I offer a novel argument for pessimism. It works by turning attention away from the basis of the relevant belief, namely, testimony, and toward what that belief in turn provides a basis for, namely, other attitudes. In short, I argue that an aesthetic belief acquired via testimony cannot provide a rational basis for further attitudes, such as admiration, and that the best explanation for this is that the relevant belief is not itself rational. If a belief is not rational, it is not knowledge. So, optimism is false. After addressing a number of objections to the argument, I consider briefly its bearing on the debate concerning thick evaluative concepts. While the aim is to argue that pessimism holds, not to explain why it holds, I provide an indication in closing of what that explanation might be

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Daniel Whiting
University of Southampton


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