PHIL 431, Fall 2008: First Lecture

First approaches to the subject

1. What can we take for granted at the outset?

2. Stellar cases of aesthetic appreciation: John Ruskin on Alpine scenery, Jean Dubuffet on grit and gravel (on website in PHIL 332 Beauty Additions).

Door with Couch Grass, October 31, 1957. Oil on canvas with assemblage, 74 1/2 x 57 1/2 inches. Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum.

Will to Power, January 1946. Oil, pebbles, sand, and glass on canvas, 45 3/4 x 35 inches. Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum.

Examples in Beauty Notes: Homer, Matisse.

3. The textbook: Robert Stecker, Aesthetics and Philosophy of Art:

4. Reserve reading. Two classic treatments of aesthetic experience. See the color images on the course website 431 Images.

5. Prima facie truisms about beauty

6. Stecker's initial supposition. Two related but not identical fields

7. Open discussion of the key concepts of art and the aesthetic.

Lecture 2. Stecker's Introduction, with additions, Part 1

1. The historical background of aesthetics and philosophy of art (JB's additions)

2. Stecker's enumeration of trends and topics in aesthetic theory

a. Generalized aesthetic value embracing a wider range of values, e.g. the picturesque, grotesque, horrifying, morbid, shocking, cute, etc.

b. Analysis of aesthetic experience, aesthetic properties and aesthetic value. All these are treated substantively in Stecker's Ch. 2. The list here is just a preview.

3. Central Issues in Philosophy of Art

  1. Artistic value: what value, or set of values, is distinctive to art?
    1. Aesthetic value
    2. Cognitive value
    3. Ethical value
    4. Emotional value
  2. Defining art: Classifying things as art or non-art
    1. Finding a rationale for hard choices
    2. Finding necessary and sufficient conditions
    3. Or at least explaining the use of the term
    4. Art as a contested concept
    5. Art as an essentially open-ended category
  3. The ontology of art
    1. The monistic view of art as one distinctive type of object
    2. Pluralism about types of art
    3. Hot questions: Is a painting preserved by being perfectly copied?
      1. When does a severely ruined painting cease to exist?
      2. When is a performance a performance of Lear?
      3. Can you experience a live performance via a recording?
  4. The powers of art
    1. Representation and expression in art
      1. Different types of representation – how similar are they?
      2. Expression and self-expression in art

Central approaches to the main issues

  1. Essentialism:
    1. Search for an all-purpose, permanent, correct definition of art, of art-types, etc.
    2. Search for stable, universal criteria of value
  2. Contextualism
    1. Re. the concept of art
    2. Re. the identity of an artwork
    3. Re. the meaning of an artwork
    4. Re. the value of an artwork
  3. Constructivism
    1. Re. the on-going culture as modifying the meaning of an existing artwork
    2. Re. the culture as co-creator (radical constructivism)
    3. Critics and the public as participants in art
    4. Moderate constructivists
    5. Radical constructivists
  4. Cognitive Science: study of, and hypotheses about, mental processing involved in creating and responding to art.

PHIL 431 Lecture 3

Stecker: Environmental Aesthetics 1: The aesthetics of nature

1. Views of the proper object of appreciation in environmental aesthetics.

2. A supposedly superior model: environments are best objects of appreciation:

PHIL 431 Lecture 4

Stecker on environmental aesthetics (2)

1. The problem of how much knowledge is necessary or relevant

JB: “enormous leeway” (28) in a way, but only because of the diversity of b'ful “objects” and properties, not just because of ethical vs. aesthetic concerns.

2. When is appreciation of nature aesthetic? What determines the answer?

Additional thoughts about environmental aesthetics: questions that should be addressed.

Distinctions needed to handle questions about aesthetic experience and value:

Sample cases of varieties:

  1. A single view of the Grand Canyon, feet on ground, fully exposed to sensory elements
  2. As above but with extensive awareness of the geology of the canyon
  3. As above (1-2) but with vivid memories of other views of the canyon
  4. A single view of the Grand Canyon from a bus window
  5. An hour-long IMAX film of various views of the GC
  6. A brief view against the background of extensive experience of other canyons

General question about experiences of O, aesthetic or other:
If I only experience a few aspects of O, can I be said to have experienced O?

Suggested criterion: Experiences of O can be divided into three main ranks:
Paradigm experiences of O: as full, rich, and informative as one is likely to need for most
Standard experiences of O: information less rich, roughly average for experiences of O.
Substandard experiences of O: information subaverage for experiences of O.
Paradigm and standard experiences of O are typically, but not always, first-hand.
In substandard cases a report that one has experienced O needs a qualification (“but only partially/indirectly/etc.”). This can be developed in more detail when something important turns on it.

Extension of the preceding to aesthetic experiences:
I see no reason not to extend the preceding criteria to aesthetic experience.

Importance of specifying O appropriately whenever there is uncertainty or controversy
Which object? Which aspects?
Whole object? Some/all perceptible aspects?

Importance of specifying non-manifest aspects of the object of aesthetic experience
Scientific information
Historical information
Cultural information

Is there any limit in principle as to how much non-manifest content an aesthetic experience may have?
I can't see any reason for supposing there is any limit in principle, only a practical psychological limit on how much can play a significant role, we being the imperfect creatures we are.

PHIL 431 Lecture 5: Aesthetic experience (1)

Question: What is the commonality running through all aesthetic experiences?

1. Stecker's first "Kantian" of beauty

2. Stecker's second “Kantian” theory of beauty

3. Theories of aesthetic experience as selfless absorption

PHIL 431 Lecture 6: aesthetic experience (2)

Note that the Bell reading on ELMS reserve is part of this week's assignment.

4.The theory of aesthetic experience as object-directed "sensuous" pleasure

5. Levinson’s “two-level” theory of aesthetic experience:

6. The minimal conception of aesthetic experience:

The role of value in aesthetic experience

6. More on types of aesthetically relevant experiences (JB)

JB's recommendation re. aesthetic experience

Frederick Leighton (1830-1896), Flaming June,
Museo de Arte de Ponce, Puerto Rico

PHIL 431 Lecture 7: Aesthetic properties (1)

Major questions:
1. What properties are aesthetic properties?
2. Are aesthetic properties response-dependent or intrinsic?
3. How are aesthetic properties related to aesthetic experience/value? Esp. Are descriptive aesthetic properties the only source of aesthetic value?

Range of aesthetic properties: Goldman’s classification.
1. General A-value properties (e.g., beauty)
2. Specific A-value properties - adopting Stecker’s usage (e.g., grace, wit)
3. Formal properties (e.g., balanced)
4. Expressive properties (e.g., sadness)
5. Evocative properties (e.g., stirringness)
6. Behavioral or dynamic properties (e.g., bouyancy)
7. Second-order perceptual properties (e.g., steelyness)
8. Representational properties (e.g., realism, sketchiness, cubism)

Two comments about Goldman’s list (JB)

PHIL 431 Lecture 8: Aesthetic properties (2)

Ontological options for descriptive aesthetic properties

Ontological options for evaluative aesthetic properties

Stecker’s conclusions re. aesthetic properties


Note Stecker’s pp. 237-238 concerning his view of aesthetic experience, aesthetic properties and aesthetic value.

Comparison with JB’s view: JB

PHIL 431 Lecture 9: What is art?

The practical impact of problematic new “art”

The old distinctions and the new ones

3. Attempts at hitting the nail on the head

Berys Gaut’s art-relevant conditions: If W is a typical work of art it

5. Contextualist definitions

PHIL 431 Lecture 10: What is art (continued)

PHIL 431 Lecture 11: The ontology of art works

What kind of object is a work of art? (I)

Ingarden's phenomenological theory of aesthetic experience and aesthetic objects: the true work of art as a complex constructed entity

Ingarden's two questions (p. 5)

  1. When we enjoy a real object or scene, we begin from a reality but do we remain with it when the perception becomes aesthetic?
  2. Do all our aesthetic perceptions have to be of real objects?

Ingarden's warm-up arguments (pp. 5-7) for the unreality of the aesthetic object

Argument 1.

Argument 2.

Argument 2'. In support of the second premise of Argument 2

Argument 2", In support of the second premise of Argument 2.

Argument 3. Re. the possibility of aesthetically appreciating unreal visual objects.

Argument 4.

Argument 5.

Grounds given for the premises of argument 5

To do this is to achieve unity, harmony, etc., starting from the physical object as it is, in the present artistic context but ending with an imaginative construction that is not and could not be physically real.

Ingarden's account of the development of an aesthetic experience (the constant structure amid variations)


1. Is art-historical imaginative reconstitution of the Venus really not aesthetic? (even determining how the arms originally were?)

2. What can Ingarden say against a person who insists on experiencing the Venus fully conscious of all the damage? Is that person's experience necessarily not aesthetic? Is it necessarily not of the Venus of Milo? On what grounds is one entitled to say such things?

Addition to the reading. On page 39 there is a reference to an explanation said to be on page 44 of the term “intentional object.” This explanation does not appear on the website. Here it is.

“Intentional object” is a technical term for the “object” of an attitude of other mental state. This “object” has the peculiarity of not having to exist in order to function in that capacity. Objects of desire, for instance, may be illusory. Some philosophers argue that since the state exists and is “directed” toward its object, the object must in some sense be even if not existing. Other philosophers reject this conclusion, preferring to say the term “object” is in this context only a manner of speaking.

Varieties of aesthetic experience (based on Ingarden's account)

1. The full Monty – all the way to full consummation

2. Incomplete processes (interrupted development)

3. Sought-for, partly managed vs. entirely spontaneous experiences

Note: Corrected midterm test day of the week: TUESDAY, October 21.

PHIL 431 Lecture 12: The ontology of art works

What kind of object is a work of art? (2)

PHIL 431, Lectures 13-14: Catch-up and review for the midterm test

PHIL 431, Lecture 13

Stecker on the contextualist paradigm of the object of interpretation

PHIL 431, Lecture 14: Review of topics

Topic 1: Ingarden and others on the aesthetic object (and especially, the work of art)

Covered in Lecture 13

Topic 2: Environmental Aesthetics

Topic 3: Aesthetic Properties

Topic 4: Aesthetic Experience


Midterm test, Tuesday, October 21


Write on two of the following topics, devoting 35 minutes to each. Prepare your answer before coming into class. During the test you may use an outline (outline) of your essays not to exceed 50 words for each. Turn in the outline along with the test booklet.

Each of the topics lends itself to a much longer essay than can be written in 35 minutes, so you will need to make a judicious selection of points to present. Your aim should be to deal with as many important parts of the subject in as much detail as can be presented in the available time.


1. Select what you consider to be the strongest of Ingarden's arguments for the unreality of the aesthetic object, which applies also to the ("real") work of art. Present the argument in an orderly way and give whatever supplementary explanations, answers to objections, etc. are to be found in his essay. Then discuss how well or poorly it proves its conclusion, using such points as are relevant in the criticisms made of it in the course material (or others you think up). Include the criticisms that are implied by views of Stecker and Levinson regarding the different sorts of art works (and therefore of aesthetic objects).

2. Everyone agrees that nature can be enjoyed and admired aesthetically for properties that can be directly perceived – views of landscapes (seascapes, cloudscapes) it presents, scenes of creatures in action close-up or at a distance, and so forth. Environmental aesthetics of the “order” variety pushes things further. It asks that we also appreciate the systematic order of natural things, order which is not directly perceptible and therefore can be brought into our experience only by knowledge – geological, botanical, zoological knowledge. But can such scientific knowledge be combined with perception of natural scenes in a well-unified aesthetic experience? Can it help us arrive at better aesthetic evaluations of nature? Discuss, using the material in Stecker and in lectures and adding whatever ideas you have.

3. Aesthetic properties are allegedly central to aesthetic enjoyment and judgment. What sort of properties are they? What varieties of aesthetic properties are there? What distinguishes them from non-aesthetic properties? How if at all can we verify that an aesthetic property exists in a given case? Along the way cite clear examples of such properties. What does Stecker's discussion of these properties contribute to an answer to these questions?

4. Traditional accounts of aesthetic experience (by Ingarden, Bell , and many others) focus exclusively on consummation experiences, and most contemporary theories insist upon a valuational component. The instructor has argued that this is too narrow a conception to fit the variety of experiences that are justifiably classed as aesthetic. Critically discuss the main issues dividing theorists about the definition of aesthetic experience. Note the Addendum to Lecture 8 comparing Stecker's view with JB's.


Instructor's remarks about the answers given to test topics in Spring 2007 -- 1, 2, and 3 were the only ones chosen.

1. Almost everyone writing on this wrongly supposed Ingarden believed the aesthetic object in the case of the Venus included the unsevered arms. Many thought that the infilling required returning the statue to its fresh, undamaged form because that’s what the maker valued. Virtually no one made proper use of the arguments against Ingarden in pp. 42ff. of the assignment. These are an essential part of an evaluation of Ingarden’s arguments even if you think Ingarden comes out on top.

2. One crucial thing often neglected was to show how knowledge of the environment can
a. enhance one’s aesthetic experience of scenes in nature
b. disturb one’s aesthetic experience or distract one from it.
c. be irrelevant to one’s experience.
Whether knowledge does a, b, or c depends on what sort of knowledge it is. Knowing about the squirrel’s life may enhance one’s appreciation of it, adding a new dimension to the look and the behavior of the animal. Its scampering around is not just lively, graceful, etc. but purposeful for itself and its progeny. Envisaging the purposes and the off-stage activities (building its nest, feeding its young, storing food for the winter) is entirely compatible with relishing its liveliness, agility, and neat appearance. On the other hand, envisaging its skeleton structure, its digestive system, its vulnerability to hawks and other predators, its infestation with lice and fleas would seem to disturb one’s aesthetic experience. And geological knowledge of the terrain would likely have no bearing on one’s aesthetic experience of it. The discussion in Stecker provides practically no guidance here. Students have to develop examples for themselves.

On the issue concerning knowledge enabling us to judge the beauty of the natural systems, it is enough to point out that assessing the beauty of natural order would require us to make a case for the actual natural systems being better than alternative ones we could imagine. There was some discussion of this in class, not enough to show that a good case can be made, but enough to focus attention on the problem. (I expressed confidence that the earth’s comes out ahead of any other known planet’s. But that’s not nearly enough to entitle the earth’s to a high rating aesthetically.)

3. In discussing aesthetic properties it’s important to distinguish purely descriptive variety from the purely evaluative. The first can be defined in terms of dispositions to produce cross-categorial likeness-based impressions. Examples abound: swiftness of lines, warmth or coolness of colors, sadness or exuberance of melodies, tranquility or agitation of designs, etc. The purely evaluative variety (beauty, profundity, ugliness, etc.) can be defined in terms of ideal, non-defective (positive or negative) aesthetic enjoyability/admirability. Discussion of criteria of discernment of aesthetic properties must take account of this basic difference. These criteria consist of optimality conditions and a convergence condition for optimal discriminators operating under optimal conditions. Few students made these essential points.

Grade distribution on the test in 2008

A: 1; A-: 6; AB: 2; B+: 7; B: 5; B-: 1; BC: 2; C: 1; C-: 1.

Comments on 2008 essays on topics 2 and 3.

2. Main shortcoming was to spend too much time on the obvious points – that people are often swayed or left cold by knowledge – and too little exploring the real problems in appreciating natural order discriminatingly. How do we get ourselves to appreciate our digestive systems or diseases? How can we merge our appreciation of the sight of a squirrel scampering with knowledge of its anatomy to get a richer, well-unified experience? How can we assess the beauty of nature in comparison with other possible natures, or one type of ecology in comparison with another (swamps vs. forests)? The great thing about appreciating views or immersion experiences is that they are well-unified and we can be highly discriminating about them. Natural order is not so easy to appreciate that discriminatingly.

3. The major shortcoming in essays about aesthetic properties was misunderstanding of descriptive aesthetic properties. Some said descriptive properties were not aesthetic. That applies to merely empirical non-aesthetic descriptive properties but not to the aesthetically descriptive ones. A key to them is their figurative character, their resting on cross-categorial resemblances and requiring imagination to perceive. The key can't be their value-loading because by definition they don't have any, though ensembles of them do support aesthetic evaluations (both positive and negative).

Another frequent lack was good discussion of the criteria that apply to aesthetic value-properties and those that apply to descriptive aesthetic ones.

PHIL 431 Lecture 15

Interpretation of art: the place of intention in determining meaning in/of works of art

PHIL 431 Lecture 16: Stecker on Fiction

PHIL 431 Lecture 17: Depiction

PHIL 431 Lecture 18: Stecker on expressiveness in music and poetry

PHIL 431 Lecture 19: Expressiveness continued

PHIL 431 Lecture 20: Stecker on artistic value (1)

PHIL 431 Lecture 21: Stecker on artistic value (2)

PHIL 431 Lecture 22: Stecker on interaction of ethical, aesthetic and artistic value

PHIL 431 Lecture 23: Stecker on the value of architecture

Visuals for architecture and sculpture

The Getty Museum , Los Angeles

1. Still photos of the museum center:

2. Buildings, gardens, views; interior spaces, galleries, balconies, etc. 1:45 long.

Tim Hawkinson's Uberorgan in the Getty main gallery

1. The monster itself: 0:34 long.

2. Tim Hawkinson's commentary on its creation: 1:23 long.

3. Getty guide commentary: 2:42 long.

Guggenheim Museum , Bilbao , Spain

1. Gehry's Guggenheim Museum : 3:11 long

2. Frank Gehry's sketches: 2:07 long

Richard Serra's ensemble of works A Matter of Time (long views of the works in the gallery) Text by the artist: 0:01-1:25, 2:26 – 3:11

Charlie Rose and Richard Serra

1. Material and sensibility

15:30-16:54 ; 38:49-41:00

2. Sculptural innovation : 21:38- 23:55

3. Inventing an unprecedented form, and the response of the viewers to the works : 32:20- 37:15

4. Artistic motivation: seeking beauty versus expanding perception: 23:55 – 25:45 : 48:30 – 49:50

5. Art versus architecture: 41:00 – 44:53

Visuals for architecture as an art (and for what is art in general)

1. Robert Crumb - grungy comic style

2. High fashion in clothing (haute couture)

3. High fashion in furniture, lamps, etc.: Charles Eames, John Townsend, Louis Tiffany.

4. Santiago Calatrava, Milwaukee Art Museum atrium

PHIL 431 Lecture 24: Review for the final exam (1)

PHIL 431 Lecture 25: Review for final exam (2)

Peter Gabriel produced Stefan Roloff's FACE:

Dylan Thomas, Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night:

Clancy Brothers sing street ballad, Tim Finnegan's Wake:

James Joyce reading from Finnegan's Wake:

Ezra Pound reading his poem A Virginal:

Topic 3: Interpretation

PHIL 431 Last Lecture: Final Exam prep (3)


PHIL 431 Final Exam Fall 2008

Write on two of the following topics, devoting at least 50 minutes to each. Prepare your answer before coming into class. During the test you may use an outline (outline) of your essays not to exceed 100 words for each. Turn in the outline along with the test booklet.
Do not write on a topic on which you wrote your term paper.

If you did not write on aesthetic experience on the midterm or in your term paper, write on it in this final exam.


1. Aesthetic experience
Explain Stecker’s “minimal” conception of aesthetic experience. (47f., 237f.) In what sense is this conception “minimal” compared with other options?
In particular, in what respects does it differ from Levinson’s conception? What additions and modifications does the lecturer propose? (Lect 8 plus)

Don't write on this topic if you wrote on #4 on the midterm test. If you did not write on #4 on the midterm, and did not take it as your topic on the term paper, then write on it now.

2. Defining art as opposed to non-art
Explain the objections to one-concept definitions (Collingwood’s, Bell’s, etc.). Explain the alternative cluster-concept definition using art-relevant properties (Gaut). Explain Levinson’s intentional-historical definition and his answers to objections. How does Stecker’s historical functionalism differ from Levinson’s view? Explain Stecker’s distinctions: medium vs. art form, perspective vs. practice. How essential are aesthetic properties (evaluative or descriptive) to a thing's being a work of art? Stecker’s examples of nonaesthetic art works – are they convincing? Does art require at least a minimum of artistic value? How is popular art related to high art? How are decorative arts related to high art?

3. Interpretation
Explain and illustrate the reasons for rejecting simple actual intentionalism. Explain Stecker’s reasons for endorsing moderate actual intentionalism, including his rebuttal of objections to it. Cite relevant examples.
Explain the version of (ideal) hypothetical intentionalism endorsed by the lecturer, especially where it differs from Stecker’s view and from the two versions Stecker gives on p. 139. Which theory do you find most credible? Explain your reasons.

4. Expressiveness in music and lyric poetry
Explain the difference between a work being an expression of S and being S-expressive? How can instrumental music by itself function expressively?
By evoking emotion? What difficulties are there in this view? By presenting the phenomenal appearance of emotion? (Davies’ view) By combining phenomenal appearance with evocation of empathic response? (Ridley’s view) By conveying the impression of a persona’s emotion? (Levinson’s view) By entitling the hearer to infer the intent to convey emotion? (Hypothetical intentionalism) Stecker’s explanation of musical expressiveness via moderate actual intentionalism. In what ways does expressiveness in lyric poetry differ from musical expressiveness?
Does lyric poetry require a different theory of expressiveness? Explain.

5. Artistic value
Aesthetic value: how central is it in artistic value? Is it ever completely absent where artistic value is present? Cognitive value: what sorts of cognitive value are artistically relevant? Moral value: what sorts of moral value are artistically relevant? Also, is costliness or rarity of materials ever a genuinely artistic value? Illustrate your explanations with examples.
Is artistic value in any sense a single value, as opposed to a bundle of distinct values? Is it perhaps a single coherent (or natural) value-ensemble? Is it important that the artistic value of a work be unique to that work, or at least unique to art?