Emotion, Expression, Explanation
Seeing Paintings As They Are: Cognitivity of Aesthetic Qualities
The question whether experiencing or perceiving aesthetic qualities (such as beautiful and sublime or elegant, delicate and moving) is a matter of knowledge, intrigued philosophers since the beginnings of modern aesthetics. Even when they did not formulate their subjects in this manner, they were interested in questions like: what does it mean to say that an object has some aesthetic property? Do these qualities “really” exist in the object or do we just perceive it as if it had those features? Or, questions like: can aesthetic judgments be true or false? How can we know that we are not mistaken when we ascribe an aesthetic quality to an item, claiming, for example, that a painting is lifeless or that it is, on the contrary, vivid? Can we decide who is right and who is wrong when we differ among ourselves about the aesthetic value of an artwork or with respect to the beauty of a natural object? Having abandoned the old idea that beauty is an inherent property of an object and replacing it with a relationist view of the beautiful, British philosophers of the 18th century were faced with a difficulty: how to deal with subjectivist implications of such a view and, consequently, to refute aesthetic relativism. The most influential of these positions was that of David Hume. In his essay “Of the Standard of Taste”, he writes that we have to appeal to the assertions made by good critics if we are to discern...
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