Pictures, Parables, Paradoxes
Cognitive Function of Beauty and Ugliness in Light of Kant’s Theory of Aesthetic Ideas
One of the main debates in current aesthetics and philosophy of art concerns the question whether we can learn anything from art. On the one hand, cognitivists argue that art works are an important source of knowledge, either of propositional, conceptual, moral or experiential kinds of knowledge (i. e. knowledge of what-it-is-like).1 On the other hand, non-cognitivists deny that art can give us any knowledge, at least knowledge that is non-trivial (not known before the work appears) and unique (that cannot be obtained by other means).2 The purpose of art, anti-cognitivists argue, lies in the imaginative realization of the theme, rather than in the theme itself and what it communicates. That is, what matters in art is the organization and structure of elements and how these elements cohere into a unified pattern or an aesthetic form, thereby producing an aesthetic experience of pleasure or displeasure.
Both positions have their own merits. Cognitivists are right in claiming that there is much more to an artwork than just being aesthetically pleasing. We often admire artworks for their insightfulness, while we criticize other works for being shallow. Thus, it appears that our vocabulary of artistic appraisal is charged with cognitive value terms. On the other hand, anti-cognitivists also make a good point. The kind of knowledge that a cognitivist claims art is supposed to give is something that is either already known or can be obtained by other means. But if knowledge can be...
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