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Human Lifeworlds

The Cognitive Semiotics of Cultural Evolution

Edited By David Dunér and Göran Sonesson

This book, which presents a cognitive-semiotic theory of cultural evolution, including that taking place in historical time, analyses various cognitive-semiotic artefacts and abilities. It claims that what makes human beings human is fundamentally the semiotic and cultural skills by means of which they endow their Lifeworld with meaning. The properties that have made human beings special among animals living in the terrestrial biosphere do not derive entirely from their biological-genetic evolution, but also stem from their interaction with the environment, in its culturally interpreted form, the Lifeworld. This, in turn, becomes possible thanks to the human ability to learn from other thinking beings, and to transfer experiences, knowledge, meaning, and perspectives to new generations.
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Michael Ranta - Chapter Five : Art: On the Evolutionary Foundations of Art and Aesthetics


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Michael Ranta

Chapter Five

Art: On the Evolutionary Foundations of Art and Aesthetics

Traditional attempts to define aesthetic key concepts such as “art,” “aesthetic value,” and “beauty” have frequently meant finding their core characteristics or necessary and jointly sufficient conditions. At the same time, the history of art has been one of more or less radical creativity that has challenged and often departed from suggested essential features of these concepts, and this conceptual openness has become even more acute during the twentieth century. Moreover, art-related concepts such as “beauty” and “aesthetic value” are highly problematic anyway, given their broad applicability within and outside art, and sometimes based on other controversial notions, e.g. “disinterested pleasure” or “aesthetic experience.”

Now, despite some lack of conceptual stability and continuity of aesthetic notions, one might still reasonably look for underlying generative mechanisms,1 that is, mechanisms that on a rather fundamental level seem to be crucial for the emergence of aesthetic activities and discourses (though by keeping in mind that they do not have to be exclusive in these respects). In this chapter,2 I extend Noël Carroll’s (2001) suggestion that preceding and current art activities have a narrative connection, giving events and objects significance by situating them within an explanatory (causal and teleological) historical framework. But when and why did this aesthetic “storytelling” begin? In opposition to aesthetics as a philosophical branch relying primarily on art critical practices or language uses,...

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