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Essays on Values and Practical Rationality

Ethical and Aesthetical Dimensions

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Edited By António Marques and João Sàágua

The essays presented here are the outcome of research carried out by members of IFILNOVA (Institute for Philosophy of New University of Lisbon) in 2016.

The IFILNOVA Permanent Seminar seeks to show how values are relevant to humans (both socially and individually). This seminar is the ‘place’ where different research will converge towards a unified viewpoint. This includes the discussion of the following questions: What is the philosophical contribution to current affairs and decisions that depend crucially on values? Can philosophy make a difference, namely by bringing practical reason to bear on these affairs and decision? And how to do it? Which are our scientific ‘allies’ in this enterprise; psychology, communication sciences, even sociology and history?

This volume shows the connection between practical rationality and values and covers the dimensions ethics, aesthetics and politics.

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Aesthetic Values Before and Beyond the Evaluation of Artworks (Nuno Fonseca)

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Aesthetic Values Before and Beyond the Evaluation of Artworks


NUNO FONSECA

Introductory note

Thinking about aesthetic values, as often happens when we think about aesthetic concepts, properties or experiences, gives us the opportunity to question the term aesthetic1 that progressively entered philosophical discourse during the eighteenth century. What makes it difficult to answer, though, is the fact that its meaning has oscillated over time and generated various misconceptions and ambiguities. These have been very common even among professional philosophers and one of them results in the reduction of the subject area and confusion between one field – Aesthetics – and another – Philosophy of Art. The reasons for this simple, and to many philosophers almost unproblematic, confusion are linked not only to historical, sociological or cultural reasons, but also to strong conceptual affinities between the ‘aesthetical’ and the ‘artistic’ to the point that some, who are consciously aware of the problem, argumentatively admit its inevitability and legitimacy, particularly in respect to the question of values. Aesthetic value and artistic value could, according to some, be equivalent since the value of artworks could lie in their ability to produce aesthetic experiences, and symmetrically, for others the aesthetic qualities of an experience ← 307 | 308 → of a non-artistic object – such as a natural landscape for instance – could derive from the fact that we look at it as if it were an artwork.2

One of the main purposes of this chapter is precisely, as an endeavour to determine the meaning and scope of the expression ‘aesthetic value’, to argue that aesthetic and artistic values are not exactly the same even though the artistic value of an artwork may result in part from its aesthetic value. Moreover, other types of values such as cognitive, ethical, political and social shall every so often be taken into account in the evaluation of artworks. And one of the consequences of that distinction – between the aesthetic and the artistic3 – is the fact that the range of consideration of aesthetic values goes way beyond the evaluation of artworks insofar as aesthetic experience is not an exclusive business4 of the artistic domain.

Another important aspect for the clarification of the notion of ‘aesthetic value’, mostly in the context of our main line of research, is tied to the concept of value and to the close affinities between aesthetic values, on one hand, and ethical and cognitive ones on the other. This is precisely where I must now begin. ← 308 | 309 →

1.  Values: aesthetic, ethical and cognitive

Aesthetics as a philosophical discipline is relatively young – with no more than three centuries of academic existence – and closely linked to philosophical modernity. On the other hand, the modern theory of value and the philosophical discussion of ‘values’ is even younger, happening solely during the nineteenth century, eventually reassigned from the doctrines of classical economy. Nevertheless, as may easily become obvious, many of the topics that came to occupy modern aestheticians and also many of the main problems of a modern philosophical consideration of values are as timeworn as Philosophy itself. In fact, the modern themes of Aesthetics and Axiology partly inherited there ‘preconceptions’ – how could it be otherwise? – from the ancient discussion over Beauty, Goodness [and Justice] or Truth. This is not the place for a history of philosophy or a history of ideas, but it is not inappropriate to remember that those universal archetypes were inherited and transmitted by some medieval Neoplatonist authors and commentators, some calling them ‘transcendentals5, i.e. the metaphysical properties, the most general – wider – notions of ‘Being’. In a well-known text by Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite (sixth century), De divinis nominibus, which was the focus of numerous commentators during the whole period of medieval thought, those notions are the names of God, His characteristic attributes which emanate in all Creation6. In this Christian conception of those archetypes, the universe was a manifestation of inexhaustible goodness, truth and divine supersubstantial beauty. In the end, each of these characteristic attributes was a different aspect of the same reality. The value of creatures derived from the greater or lesser closeness with the metaphysical reality of God. ← 309 | 310 →

But even devoid of its religious (Christian) connotations – or, at least, those connotations having been sublimated – the discussion of the Beautiful, Good and True nonetheless inherited in the dawn of modernity some metaphysical connotations which linked them together. That is certainly why in the meditations of the Francophone rationalists, such as in Jean-Pierre de Crousaz’s Traité du beau (1715), we can still find a concept of beauty as a sensorial manifestation of the true and the good7 or even why, in the considerations of British philosophers (Shaftesbury and Hutcheson) from the beginning of the eighteenth century, we also find so many references to the intimate relationships between the notions of taste, virtue, moral and beauty8. [We could also remember how the ideal of the “Honnête Homme” in seventeenth century France – the perfect courtier, the upright man, who should have refined manners, good taste and a virtuous moral character – may have been an influence on those British considerations.]

But, in fact, it is not only due to metaphysical hints still present in Enlightenment thought that we can spot topical discussions that oscillate between the aesthetical, the ethical and the cognitive. These close affinities in philosophical reflection on aesthetics have been present since its early origins owing to the ambiguous character of the aesthetic field. On the one hand, it has always had an epistemological ground where the ambition to rationally understand the domains of the sensitive, the sensible and the imagination9 is unmistakably manifest. This means that there is a purpose to find in sensibility an analogon rationis, a way of knowing, through sensorial perception (αἴσθησις), the natural and the human world. On the other hand, there is an intimate connection between taste and the power of appreciating, contemplating and/or judging the sensible and the formal qualities of artifacts and/or ← 310 | 311 → natural phenomena – to the point that Kant identified German Aesthetics (Baumgarten) with what other Europeans (mainly British) called Critique of Taste10. This means that Aesthetics have always been concerned with evaluation acts and processes.

‘Aesthetic reason’ would thus share with theoretical and practical reason some judicative and evaluative inclinations and skills towards the phenomenal field, which allows it to consider the world in all its heterogeneity and qualitative depth. Aesthetic values, like cognitive and ethical ones, allow us to differentiate the world’s objects and states of affairs inasmuch as they are neither equivalent nor indifferent in respect to their established relations with the subject of perception (αἴσθησις). Here, the reference to the subject of perception is surely a trademark of modern philosophical aesthetics. As opposed to previous periods where the objective character of judgements and evaluations about beauty was warranted by a universal archetype, by a (metaphysical or divine) transcendental, manifesting itself in the sensorial world at different degrees, in philosophical modernity judgement about beauty becomes a problem, located between the contingent subjectivity of perception (and affection) and the necessary normativity of an objective verdict – eventually accompanied by a claim for universality (as in the aesthetic judgement according to Kant). To discuss aesthetic values or, to put it in a different way, to know what enables us in a particular circumstance to say that something is beautiful or not (ugly?) has apparently been one of the features of this field since its foundation to the point that, even today, we can find many (inevitably simplistic) definitions of Aesthetics as the science that investigates the nature of beauty.

For this understanding of Aesthetics, many references have been made since the early history of this philosophical field to the principles of beauty, to poetic beauty and to the fine arts [Beaux-Arts, Schönen Künste, Belas-Artes], topics that have filled numerous pages of aesthetic ← 311 | 312 → doctrines.11 It is also true though that, from an early stage, many other aesthetic properties – beyond harmony, unity and formal balance which were present in early treaties on beauty – like intensity or excess have emerged as well as other possible values for philosophical meditation on aesthetic experiences, in particular the ‘Sublime’, to which Edmund Burke partially dedicated his famous [A] Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful (1757), followed by the unsurpassable ‘Analytic of the Sublime’ (§§23–29) in the Critique of the Power of Judgement (1790). Although both – the beautiful and the sublime – deal with aesthetic experiences, each presents distinct phenomenologies and produces different emotions: pleasure – resulting from the harmonious interplay between faculties (understanding and imagination) in the case of the beautiful, at least according to Kant – and a mix of pleasure and pain or even terror and respect in the case of the sublime – according to Kant and Burke, respectively. As regards value, that is, as far as we refer to what makes those experiences worthy of desire or esteem, it is not misplaced to talk here about different values. In fact, this difference would easily refute the tempting – but too quick – hedonistic account of value for aesthetic experiences (the value of each aesthetic experience would be assessed by the amount of pleasure that it could provide). Later, during the twentieth century, for instance in the seminal article by Frank Sibley on ‘Aesthetic Concepts’ (1959), a wider and much more varied palette of aesthetic properties was added12 to enrich the discussion about pluralism regarding aesthetic values. ← 312 | 313 →

Nevertheless, and before going further in the discussion of the plurality of possible aesthetic experiences and the refusal of aesthetic and artistic values to amalgamate, something more shall be said concerning the distinction between aesthetic, ethical and cognitive values, as until now we have mainly pointed towards their affinities and crossings rather than to their differences.

Intuitively, it may sound as though it is an easy task to distinguish values according to their different fields of influence and the different purposes of each type of evaluation. Yet saying that types of values are distinguished from each other because they apply to different fields – aesthetical, theoretical or practical – and goals – aesthetic appreciation, cognitive analysis or adequate action – does not seem very informative nor interesting enough, and it definitely begs the question. Listing the values of each field can also end up in the discovery that the beautiful, the good and the true are equivalent insofar as we try to spot what is positive or negative in each evaluating process in such a way that the beautiful would be what is good or true in the aesthetic field, and thus the opposite of what is ugly, which would then be the bad or false in aesthetic terms. But, yet again, what distinguishes the aesthetic from the cognitive or the ethical is what remains unexplained.

With no further delay, we should then say that ethical values govern or justify actions or behaviours, the practical choices that guide each individual in his daily intercourse with states of affairs and other individuals; cognitive values are those that manage the possibility and validity of knowledge; and aesthetic values are those that condition the appreciation, contemplation and evaluation of aesthetic experiences, in other words, those which enable the association between sensible, expressive and formal – configurational and structural – properties and qualities of objects and states of affairs – situations or events – and the corresponding affective responses of the subject who experiences them.

Nonetheless – and just to make distinctions harder – an aesthetic experience, in this simplified description, probably also implies a form of knowledge acquisition insofar as any experience will, in one way or another, bring new data about the environing world and about each person, enriching her as an individual, and for that reason showing ← 313 | 314 → how aesthetic experience may have a cognitive value. Similarly, that same experience, as long as it implies a vital existential kinship with the world and the others, may, eventually, produce some insightful intuitions about the best way for action or interaction of that same individual with her environment and, therefore, carry some important ethical value. This last point is of course arguable since one can always object that the eventual ethical value of aesthetic experience will turn out to be like an extra, an unexpected surplus relative to the main content of the aesthetic experience – an experience that, according to tradition, is allegedly disinterested.13 With respect to the cognitive value of experience, I would risk saying that it belongs inherently to aesthetic experience in the sense that this is not simply an experience of fruition but always an experience of knowledge, even if resulting from confused perception and (un)clear knowledge – to use a Leibnizian reference14 – but nonetheless some kind of knowledge. Notwithstanding, what has just been said concerning eventual ethical and cognitive values of aesthetic experiences does not dismiss the need and opportunity to distinguish it from specifically aesthetic values, which can only emerge from such experiences. ← 314 | 315 →

2.  Aesthetic and artistic values

As was initially said, we should not accept the confusion between the aesthetic and the artistic. In spite of their obvious affinities and the relevance of the study and consideration of artistic phenomena to understand the aesthetic phenomena properly, to the extent that artworks and artistic practices intensify, question, excite, present and represent our aesthetic experiences of the natural and human world, it is undeniable that we have or may have many aesthetic experiences that go way beyond the strict spectrum of the artworld, a world that is culturally and historically determined and is not necessarily universal (despite the global tendencies to become so). This means that aesthetic values are relevant in many non-artistic fields of human experience, such as the experience and appreciation of natural phenomena – something that has actually been part of aesthetic discussions, at least since the eighteenth century. It would suffice to remember one of the most interesting and informative accounts of the aesthetic experience of nature in the incomparable ‘Cinquième promenade’ of Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s Reveries of a Solitary Walker (1776–78)15 but we could likewise notice, for instance, the importance of natural object collections in herbaria ← 315 | 316 → and ‘cabinets of curiosities’, which developed as from the end of the sixteenth century, to acknowledge our aesthetic attitude towards natural bodies, places, landscapes, and so on. But then again, we can easily find a use for aesthetic values and considerations even in intellectual, scientific, philosophical and mathematical experiences – which can be appreciated beyond their purely cognitive value in an aesthetic manner for their elegance, harmony, design, etc.16 – or in interpersonal, social or even socio-economic experiences – like ritual, religious and celebratory gatherings, object and equipment design, urban and spatial planning, just to single out some obvious ones – and obviously in our everyday experiences. We may name just a few where there are evident aesthetic features, such as sports and leisure games, gastronomy, collecting, hobbies, tourism, etc. But then again let us not forget that the simple fruition of ephemeral everyday experiences may contain aesthetic judgements and rewards17, something that had already been noticed in the ← 316 | 317 → nineteenth and early twentieth centuries with Baudelaire’s famous The Painter of Modern Life or Walter Benjamin’s accounts of urban flânerie. In all these experiences, we can pertinently consider aesthetic values and properties such as the beautiful, the sublime, the picturesque, the elegant, the stylish, the dexterous, the transient, etc. The fact that some intentional factors or purpose, semantic content or an identifiable creator may be absent does not prevent the existence of aesthetic properties that can be enjoyed or aesthetic values that should be taken into account as factors of consideration and evaluation determining affective responses, preferences and choices.

In other words, aesthetic values are only a portion of the values that are taken into account in the evaluation of artworks or artistic practices. And here it is maybe relevant to recall and emphasize that artistic experiences are, obviously, not reducible to the experiences of reception and critique of artworks since they also include creative activities and mixed activities of enjoyment and participation in artistic events and performances. In all these artistic experiences, performances or events but also in the critical acts of appreciation and evaluation, some kind of cognitive, ethical, political, historical, sociological or economic values frequently need to be considered. Art is a cultural phenomenon, sociologically and anthropologically complex, which can be evaluated according to several criteria, amongst which aesthetic values are not even the most important and sometimes are in fact almost absent. In the complex but ever-growing world of the art market and the stratospheric financial value of some artworks, the valuation of art is not so much an aesthetic process of evaluation but instead a multi-agent process of (mainly financial) worth estimation, which depends on market laws, scarcity or uniqueness, but also on cultural aura, trends, originality, authenticity, craftsmanship or virtuosity, celebrity and market worth of artists, reputation of previous owners and sometimes academic and institutional legitimacy given by scholars and experts.18 ← 317 | 318 →

Furthermore, when considering art history and contemporary artistic production, we can easily recognize an avant-gardist tendency – a tendency that came after and opposed to the aestheticism of ‘art for art’s sake’ for which the value of art was essentially tied to its ability to produce aesthetic experiences – a tendency to annihilate the aesthetic conditions and the sensorial or expressive effects of art, a drive willing to “de-aestheticize” art. This happened initially with the ready-mades of Marcel Duchamp, an artist who would assume and himself theorize the “de-aestheticization” of his ready-made choices. Indeed, in a later text about the ‘ready-mades’, Duchamp wanted to state very clearly that ‘[their] choice was not dictated by any kind of aesthetic delectation’, but was instead ‘grounded on a reaction of visual indifference, supplemented by a total lack of good or bad taste… actually, a complete anaesthesia’ (my translation).19 And subsequently, in the 60s and 70s, this attitude was reassumed by the promoters and creators of conceptual art. For them, a conceptual artwork should be free of expressive purposes and of aesthetic or emotional properties.20 It should be reduced down to its sole conception or to the mere transmission of its idea(s), eventually giving up any kind of object or performance that could embody it, any object which might become prone to appreciation or evaluation.

The value of conceptual art was –so it seemed at least – deliberately condensed in its cognitive aspect. To be fair, conceptual art has frequently focused on social and political criticism and, for that reason, ← 318 | 319 → referred mostly to ethical, political or cultural values.21 Therefore, it has often been praised (or instead blamed) for its political ideas or socio-cultural criticism rather than for its aesthetic values. Despite its deliberate disallowance of aesthetic values, it does not mean though that conceptual artworks have been totally exempt from those kinds of values. As Elisabeth Schellenkens22 argued, even ideas – if conceptual art can actually be reduced solely to those23 – can have aesthetic properties and be appreciated for the sake of that: in the same way we can ascribe aesthetic qualities to intellectual non-artistic phenomena, like an elegant philosophical argument or a harmonious mathematical proof, we can assign aesthetic values to conceptual art ideas even more. Moreover, the performative gesture of presentation of conceptual artworks gives them – even if allegedly against their author’s will – an aesthetic effect that at least virtually modifies (raises?) the value of those ideas. In other words, presenting an idea, a concept, with an artwork or artistic performance is not the same as providing a propositional content, a scientific or even a philosophical argument in a non-artistic manner. Notwithstanding, this is not the same as saying that we can derive aesthetic value solely from the fact of its being an artwork – which would certainly be a concession to the aesthetic theory of art, a position that I repudiate here. Nonetheless and despite presenting itself often without object and willingly without the traditional aesthetic properties, which we are immediately ready to attribute to an artistic object, this is not enough to deprive it of an aesthetic value, nor to forbid the possibility of its evaluation, considering its eventual aesthetic values beyond the claimed cognitive, ethical or political ones. ← 319 | 320 →

3.  Aesthetic values before and beyond the evaluation of artworks

At this point it is obvious that since aesthetic and artistic values do not coincide, we are allowed to speak of aesthetic values before and beyond the evaluation of artworks. Before: since, prior to the evaluation of an artistic object, we must already possess a notion of aesthetic values which eventually might be taken – and frequently are taken – into account when artworks are considered, appreciated or critiqued. Primitive notions, like ‘beautiful’ or ‘ugly’ but also ‘harmonious’, ‘ordered’, ‘complex’, ‘integrated’, ‘elegant’, etc.24 – not to mention some perceptual notions like ‘coarse’, ‘shiny’, ‘strident’, ‘insipid’ or ‘fetid’ – certainly precede the notion of artistic object or even art, but furthermore the essence of the artworks is an intensification, problematisation, reflection, expression or even a representation/presentation of the aesthetic properties and values of natural or everyday experience. It is worth noticing that the aesthetic properties of nature have inspired musicians and painters (landscape painting in general being an obvious example, but also symphonic poems or imitative songs) and that even the most common and trivial properties of ordinary objects and everyday experiences have been filtered by the eyes and the bodies of painters (in still-lifes and genre painting), writers (in novels and other literature formats), filmmakers (and not just in documentary films) and also other performance and contemporary artists, who in the last few decades have often blurred the frontiers between art and everyday life and addressed its most unassuming yet meaningful aspects. Beyond: for the reason that, as announced beforehand, we can put aesthetic values to good use in very different and non-artistic domains of human experience (science, religion, philosophy, mathematics, tourism, gastronomy, interior design, sports, eroticism…).

But what specifically are those aesthetic values, where, when and how shall we take them into account? That is precisely what we must ← 320 | 321 → research from this point on whenever we are dealing with specific instances of aesthetic experience and once a clarification of the connotations and critical range of ‘aesthetic values’ – as I hope I have managed to provide – has been made.

References

Alberro, A., & Stimson, B. (eds.) (1999). Conceptual Art: A critical anthology. Cambridge (MA): The MIT Press.

Becq, A. (1994). Genèse de l’esthétique française moderne 1680–1814. Paris: Albin Michel.

Budd, M. (2002). The Aesthetic Appreciation of Nature. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Carlson, A. (2000). Aesthetics and the Environment: The Appreciation of Nature, Art and Architecture. London: Routledge.

Dewey, J. (1934). Art and Experience. New York: Penguin.

Duchamp, M. (1961). ‘A propos des “ready-mades”’ in Duchamp du Signe: Écrits (1994). Organized and presented by Michel Sanouillet. New reviewed and augmented edition by Elmer Peterson. Paris: Champs-Flammarion.

Eco, U. (2002). Art and Beauty in the Middle Ages. Transl. Hugh Bredin. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Gaut, B. (2007). Art, Emotion and Ethics. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Goldie, P. & Schellekens, E. (eds.) (2007). Philosophy and Conceptual Art. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Heinich, N., Schaeffer, J.-M. & Talon-Hugon, C. (eds.) (2014). Par-delà le beau et le laid: enquêtes sur les valeurs de l’art. Rennes: Presses Universitaires de Rennes.

Light, A. & Smith, J. M. (ed.), (2005). The Aesthetics of Everyday Life. New York: Columbia University Press.

Lipovetsky, G. & Serroy, J. (2013). L’Esthétisation du monde: vivre à l’âge du capitalisme artiste. Paris: Gallimard. ← 321 | 322 →

Kant, I. (1998). Critique of Pure Reason, in The Cambridge Edition of the Works of Immanuel Kant. Ed. and transl. by Paul Guyer and Allen W. Wood. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Kant, I. (2000). Critique of the Power of Judgement, in The Cambridge Edition of the Works of Immanuel Kant. Ed. by Paul Guyer, transl. by P. Guyer and Eric Matthews. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Montano, U. (2014). Explaining Beauty in Mathematics: An Aesthetic Theory of Mathematics. Berlin: Springer.

Saito, Y. (2007). Everyday Aesthetics. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Schaeffer, J.-M. (2015). L’Expérience Esthétique. Paris: Gallimard.

Sibley, F. (1959). ‘Aesthetic Concepts’. The Philosophical Review 68 (4): 421–450.

Sibley, F. (2001). Approach to Aesthetics: Collected Papers on Philosophical Aesthetics. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Stolnitz, J. (1961), ‘On the Origins of “Aesthetic Disinterestedness”’. The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 20(2): 131–143.

Talon-Hugon, C. (2004). L’Esthétique. Paris: PUF.


1 And let us not forget that the term has been used over the years in several different ways, sometimes simultaneously, to designate a kind of object, a kind of attitude, a kind of experience, a kind of judgement, a kind of value.

2 Berys Gaut clearly defends this point of view in Art, Emotion, and Ethics (Gaut 2007: 35).

3 More recently, this separation of the aesthetic and the artistic has been gaining some philosophical consideration among contemporary authors and even becoming a standpoint for analysis of aesthetic experience as in the recent book by Jean-Marie Schaeffer, L’Expérience Esthétique. See Schaeffer (2015: 40–45), and, more generically, the concluding chapter of Talon-Hugon (2004).

4 And ‘business’ might even be a good word here since the aestheticization of our daily activities, our social exchanges, communication, even politics and economy, has become an overwhelming fact in contemporary society. Some authors, among whom the French theoretician of hypermodernity, Gilles Lipovetsky, and his associate aesthetician, gastronome and film critic, Jean Serroy, even identify a global process of ‘aestheticization of the world’, with aesthetic values informing most aspects of culture, be they leisure activities, entertainment, industry, commerce or lifestyle in general. See Lipovetsky & Serroy (2013).

5 To be accurate, we must say that the inclusion of Beauty in the medieval theory of transcendental is not consensual, appearing only episodically in authors of a more Neoplatonic inspiration (Hilduin or John the Saracen, for instance).

6 For a brief presentation of the appropriation and evolution of this idea in medieval authors, see chapter 2, ‘Transcendental Beauty’, in Umberto Eco’s Art and Beauty in Medieval Aesthetics (Eco 2002: 17 ff).

7 See Talon-Hugon (2004: 42).

8 We could simply read, for instance, Lord Shaftesbury’s Characteristicks of Men, Manners, Opinions, Times (1711), or Francis Hutcheson’s Inquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of Beauty and Virtue (1725) to find these topics and interconnections.

9 ‘§1 AESTHETICS (as theory of the liberal arts, as gnoseology of the lower faculties, as the art of beautiful thinking, and as the art of thinking analogous to reason) is the science of sensate cognition.’ This was the definition provided by Baumgarten in his famous 1750s work Aesthetica.

10 ‘The Germans are the only ones who now [1781] employ the word “aesthetics” to designate that which others call the critique of taste. The ground for this is a false hope, held by the excellent analyst Baumgarten, of bringing the critical estimation of the beautiful under principles of reason, and elevating its rules to a science. But this effort is futile.’ (Kant 1998: 156).

11 Even though the whole book by Annie Becq on the origins of French modern aesthetics (1680–1814) provides abundant demonstration of this, one might find the perfect illustration of this evolution in early European aesthetics by simply reading the first part of book III, ‘Towards poetic reason’, which deals with the concept of Beauty and how it dominates the French aesthetic writings of the period, becoming the fundamental basis for the aesthetic value of art. See Becq (1994: 513–646).

12 In this influential paper, the British philosopher lists several ‘aesthetic terms’ while discussing the specificity of aesthetic concepts and how they cannot be reduced to non-aesthetic ones. Although his focus is the specific character of aesthetic concepts, it is clear that they can be used in the appreciation and evaluation of aesthetic objects and experiences and thus serve as a reference for aesthetic values. For the list of ‘aesthetic terms’, see Sibley (1959: 421–3).

13 The idea of the disinterestedness of aesthetic experience – or, at least, of the pleasure derived from it – has a long past, starting maybe with the 3rd Earl of Shaftesbury (in his already mentioned Characteristicks of Men, Manners, Opinions, Times) and having its most famous pleading in Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason. For more details on the origins and development of the idea of disinterestedness, see Stolnitz (1961).

14 In a short 1684 text on cognition, truth and ideas (Meditationes de cognition, veritate et ideiis), G. W. Leibniz made a distinction between clear and obscure but also between confused and distinct knowledge and then spoke of clear but confused knowledge comparing it to what painters understand when looking at pictures: ‘Similiter videmus pictores aliosque artifices probe cognoscere, quid recte, quid vitiose factum sit, at judicii sui rationem reddere sæpe non posse, et quærenti dicere, se in re quæ displicet desiderare nescio quid.’ This ‘nescio quid’, which he will later refer to in his own famous Nouveaux Essais sur l’Entendement (1704) as the ‘je ne say quoy’ (an expression that was actually in use at the time by painters at the Académie Royale de Peinture et Sculpture), might be the epistemic specificity of aesthetic experience.

15 Although Rousseau’s autobiographical and elegant literary rendering of his ‘rêveries’, which were to some extent his aesthetic experiences while enjoying the charms of the beautiful natural environment near the Swiss lake of Bienne, became paradigmatic when discussing the aesthetic experience of nature, Edmund Burke had previously devoted, although not very systematically, several pages of his Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful (1757) to the aesthetic appreciation of vegetables (plants and flowers) and animals (e.g. sections 5 and 20 of Part II or sections 2 and 3 of Part III) and to the aesthetic experience of the sublime generated by landscapes, mountains, abysses or atmospheric phenomena (lightning and thunder) (section 17 of Part II, sections 14 and 17 of Part IV, etc.). Later, Immanuel Kant would of course also contribute in a significant way to the discussion of the aesthetic experience of nature when he addressed the issue in his own Critique of the Power of Judgement (1790), yet he frames the aesthetic judgement of natural objects as if they were art objects (created by God). For a more detailed consideration of Kant’s aesthetics of nature, see Budd (2002: 24–89) and for a systematic account of environmental aesthetics, see also Carlson (2000).

16 Once again, since the first modern aesthetic philosophers, we can find considerations of aesthetic features in intellectual experiences like mathematics and geometry. See, for instance, chapter 3 of Francis Hutcheson’s The origin of our ideas of beauty, order, harmony and design (1725), unequivocally entitled ‘The beauty of theorems’. For a contemporary consideration of the aesthetics of mathematics, see Montano (2014).

17 In recent years, several articles and books have been devoted to everyday aesthetics. For instance, in the book edited by Andrew Light and Jonathan M. Smith, The Aesthetics of Everyday Life, among other topics, the aesthetic experience of everyday environments, like the unplanned elements of our surroundings, but also the way we are affected and influenced aesthetically by the planned configurations of urbanism and architecture are some of the issues mentioned. A different topic that is addressed is the way contemporary sports can be viewed aesthetically or even as art: and here images of Leni Riefenstahl’s Olympia (1938), the German documentary film on the 1936 Berlin Olympic Games, might immediately jump to our minds. But the fact is that many sports have this aesthetic dimension in the eye of the beholder, which can be fueled by the pleasure given to the spectators by some elegant gesture, by a high standard and skill displayed for the performance of acts requiring a certain prowess, by the presence of a certain ‘disinterestedness’ besides the goal of winning (if we abstract ourselves from the professionalization of some sports). See Light & Smith (2005). Yuriko Saito, who focuses in the same book on the aesthetics of daily weather, offers in her own 2007 book a theory on everyday aesthetics, considering as aesthetic different characteristics of ambiences, features of transience in day-to-day environments (associating to them aesthetic terms like ‘neat’, ‘messy’ or ‘disorganized’) or the feelings related to ageing processes. For more details, see Saito (2007).

18 Recently, a collective book written by several scholars, most of them working at the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales in Paris and under the direction of sociologist and contemporary art expert Nathalie Heinich and the already mentioned philosophers of art, J.-M. Schaeffer and C. Talon-Hugon, analyses a set of art values ‘beyond beauty and ugliness’, as the title says, such as authenticity, perenniality, expensiveness, universality and responsibility among others, that give a wide and plural perspective on the value of art that goes way beyond the traditional view of aesthetic evaluation. See Heinich, Schaeffer & Talon-Hugon (2014).

19 See Duchamp (1961: 191).

20 In a text published in 1967, the conceptual artist Sol LeWitt wrote some paragraphs on conceptual art where he declared: ‘In conceptual art the idea of concept is the most important aspect of the work. When an artist uses a conceptual form of art, it means that all of the planning and decisions are made beforehand and the execution is a perfunctory affair … It is usually free from the dependence on the skill of the artist as a craftsman. It is the objective of the artist who is concerned with conceptual art to make his work mentally interesting to the spectator, and therefore usually he would want it to become emotionally dry.’ See Alberro & Stimson (1999: 12).

21 To be fair, this socio-political dimension of conceptual art is frequently inherent to the goals of conceptual artists inasmuch as questioning art, what it is, what can count as art and what role art and, therefore, artists play in society are at the core of what contemporary conceptual artists are trying to do.

22 See the chapter ‘The Aesthetic Value of Ideas’ in Goldie & Schellekens (2007: 71–91).

23 A view that Sol LeWitt advocated in his 1969 Sentences on Conceptual Art: ‘10 – Ideas alone can be works of art; they are in a chain of development that may eventually find some form. All ideas need not be made physical.’ Likewise, Joseph Kosuth, in his famous Art after Philosophy (1969), also presents the tautology: ‘the ‘art idea’ (or ‘work’) and art are the same’. See Alberro & Stimson (1999: 107, 166).

24 Some of these ‘aesthetic terms’, but not all of them, might actually be already found in the article mentioned by Frank Sibley. See Sibley (1959: 421–3).