Philosophy Analytic Approaches to Aesthetics
by
Peter Lamarque
  • LAST MODIFIED: 10 May 2010
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396577-0004

Introduction

Aesthetics is broadly that branch of philosophy concerned with fundamental questions about the nature of beauty, the nature of art, and the principles of art criticism. Some of these questions go back to the ancient Greeks, but systematic study of the foundations of aesthetics did not begin until the 18th century. Analytic philosophers turned their attention to this branch of the subject relatively late and in the 1940s and 50s tended to be scornful of what they found (John Passmore famously wrote of the “dreariness” of aesthetics in 1951 in the journal Mind). However, in the fifty years up to the turn of the 21st century, and beyond that point, analytic approaches to aesthetics developed with considerable sophistication and there is now a huge literature on all aspects of the subject under the broad heading of “analytic aesthetics.” Other approaches exist, of course, notably that associated with Continental philosophy, which is more historically oriented. The analytic approach is rooted in the analysis of concepts (albeit increasingly informed by work in the empirical sciences) and tends to examine issues about the nature of art and the aesthetic qualities of objects in an ahistorical manner, even if noting and evaluating ideas from earlier periods. In the years since the early 1990s there has been a notable growth in attention to the individual arts (music, painting, literature, film, etc.). Important developments in the aesthetics of nature and the environment have also occurred.

Anthologies

There are several collections of papers that give a thorough overview of analytical work in aesthetics, showing the range of topics covered and current thinking about them. Lamarque and Olsen 2003 collects influential papers on analytic aesthetics from its first flowering in the 1950s up to the present day. Schaper 1983 includes some contributions from analytic philosophers, such as John McDowell, not usually associated with aesthetics. Gaut and Lopes 2005 and Levinson 2003 between them give fairly comprehensive and even-handed coverage of topics and ideas currently being debated, written by leading specialists. Kivy 2004 offers longer and more polemical articles again by leading contemporary figures, each developing and defending a particular point of view. Kieran 2005 usefully explores core debates using pairs of specially written papers taking different sides on current issues. Feagin and Maynard 1997 and Neill and Ridley 1995 are large and popular anthologies that include but extend beyond the analytic, both offering a broader context historically and in terms of methodology.

  • Feagin, Susan, and Patrick Maynard, eds. Aesthetics. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997.

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    A useful and imaginative selection of papers and extracts with a wide historical and cross-cultural sweep.

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    • Gaut, Berys, and Dominic McIver Lopes, eds. Routledge Companion to Aesthetics. 2d ed. London: Routledge, 2005.

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      Parts II, III, and IV, on, respectively, aesthetic theory, issues and challenges, and the individual arts, are detailed and accessible studies from an analytical point of view of key issues in aesthetics written by prominent contemporary philosophers.

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      • Kieran, Matthew, ed. Contemporary Debates in Aesthetics and the Philosophy of Art. Oxford: Blackwell, 2005.

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        Helpful format using pairs of commissioned articles taking different sides in current debates. Good for seminar discussion, revealing where key disagreements lie.

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        • Kivy, Peter, ed. The Blackwell Guide to Aesthetics. Oxford: Blackwell, 2004.

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          A useful collection of eighteen commissioned articles by contemporary aestheticians. The articles present an overview of an area but also offer sometimes polemical perspectives on their subjects.

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          • Lamarque, Peter, and Stein Haugom Olsen, eds. Aesthetics and the Philosophy of Art: The Analytic Tradition; an Anthology. Oxford: Blackwell, 2003.

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            A collection of forty-six papers representing some of the best and most influential work by analytic philosophers in aesthetics from the 1950s to the present. Introductions to each section give a useful overview.

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            • Levinson, Jerrold, ed. Oxford Handbook of Aesthetics. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003.

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              Forty-eight specially commissioned articles, at an introductory level, on a wide range of topics in current aesthetics, under the headings Background, General Issues in Aesthetics, Aesthetic Issues of Specific Art Forms, and Further Directions in Aesthetics.

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              • Neill, Alex, and Aaron Ridley, eds. The Philosophy of Art: Readings Ancient and Modern. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1995.

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                A judicious wide-ranging selection of material from 20th-century analytical writing back to the ancient Greeks and also including Hume, Kant, Nietzsche, Tolstoy, Freud, Collingwood, and Adorno, among others.

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                • Schaper, Eva, ed. Pleasure, Preference, and Value: Studies in Philosophical Aesthetics. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1983.

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                  A collection of commissioned papers by leading analytical philosophers, including John McDowell, Philip Pettit, R. A. Sharpe, Anthony Savile, Ted Cohen, and Malcolm Budd. At times quite philosophically demanding.

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                  Textbooks

                  There are plenty of general introductions to aesthetics, but not all are specifically focused on analytic philosophy either in the topics discussed or in methodology. Carroll 1999 and Stecker 2005 are especially helpful in exemplifying the use of analytical argument to clarify and assess theories about art. Dickie 1997 is illuminating as a reflection on core themes of analytic aesthetics (also setting them in their historical context), from an author who has made a major contribution to its development. Graham 2005 also sets the scene well, engaging with other approaches, for example, from Continental philosophy. Lyas 1997 is a good introduction for beginners in philosophy, with engaging examples and straightforward exposition. Townsend 1997 is more demanding but full of argument. Neill and Ridley 2007 uses a format that is highly effective for teaching: pairs of articles taking different sides in a debate.

                  • Carroll, Noël. Philosophy of Art: A Contemporary Introduction. London: Routledge. 1999.

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                    An accessible and clearly written introduction to some of the main theories of art, with carefully argued critical analyses of each.

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                    • Dickie, George. Introduction to Aesthetics: An Analytic Approach. New York: Oxford University Press, 1997.

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                      Analyzes key elements in the history of aesthetics from ancient Greece to modern times, but mostly introduces and reflects on analytical developments in the 20th century.

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                      • Graham, Gordon. Philosophy of the Arts: An Introduction to Aesthetics. 3d ed. London: Routledge, 2005.

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                        A popular and readable introduction including substantial chapters on music, the visual arts, literature, the performing arts, architecture, and the aesthetics of nature. Also engages with the likes of Marx, Nietzsche, and Derrida.

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                        • Lyas, Colin. Aesthetics. London: UCL, 1997.

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                          Reaches out to a wide audience, with examples from popular as well as classical arts. Introduces issues in a lively manner, giving particular emphasis to expression in art.

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                          • Neill, Alex, and Aaron Ridley, eds. Arguing About Art: Contemporary Philosophical Debates. 3d ed. London: Routledge, 2007.

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                            Each of the three editions of this influential and useful textbook has contained different selections of papers. Useful format of juxtaposing articles offering opposing points of view on a range of topics.

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                            • Stecker, Robert. Aesthetics and the Philosophy of Art: An Introduction. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 2005.

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                              Especially helpful for displaying the analytical mode of argument in aesthetics; careful considerations are given for and against a wide range of positions with useful summaries at the end of each chapter.

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                              • Townsend, Dabney. An Introduction to Aesthetics. Oxford: Blackwell, 1997.

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                                A thoughtful introduction to selected issues, with a focus on relations between works of art, artists, and audiences.

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                                Landmark Works

                                There are certain landmark works in the second half of the 20th century that stand out as especially influential in the development of analytic approaches to aesthetics. Elton 1954 brought together papers on aesthetics from prominent analytic philosophers; its polemical purpose was to show, in effect, how aesthetics ought to be done. Beardsley 1958, a large and comprehensive work, illustrated that the analytic approach need not be small-scale and piecemeal (as some of the contributors in Elton 1954 had suggested); it proposed that aesthetics should be “metacriticism,” a second-order study of the principles of art criticism, but actually turned out to be more ambitious than that itself, with a wide-ranging account of how the arts fit into human life. Sibley 1959 turned attention to aesthetic concepts applied to art and other objects (and significantly went beyond the 18th-century fixation with beauty alone). Danto 1964 and Danto 1981 moved in a different direction, away from the aesthetic qualities of art toward its social or institutional groundings, a move taken up in Dickie 1974 that offered the first fully worked out institutional definition of art. Goodman 1968 introduced to aesthetics the rigorous style of a prominent Harvard logician; no adequate theory of pictorial representation could fail to engage with its controversial view of representation as a mode of denotation. Wollheim 1968 in a concise and readable form addressed fundamental issues about the ontology of art and the “form of life” in which it gets its meaning. Finally, the monumental Walton 1990, offering a unified account of many issues through the idea of “make-believe,” is notable not just for its influence in aesthetics but for its impact in other areas of philosophy (e.g., philosophy of mind and language).

                                • Beardsley, Monroe C. Aesthetics: Problems in the Philosophy of Criticism. New York: Harcourt, Brace, and World, 1958.

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                                  An early and highly influential full-scale treatment of aesthetics from the analytic perspective. Reflects on all the arts and on problems of interpretation and evaluation.

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                                  • Danto, Arthur C. “The Artworld.” Journal of Philosophy 61 (1964): 571–584.

                                    DOI: 10.2307/2022937E-mail Citation »

                                    Introduces the idea of an “artworld” and argues that what makes something a work of art rests not on what it looks like, but on its role within a social and intellectual milieu. Uses Andy Warhol’s “Brillo Boxes” to illustrate his argument.

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                                    • Danto, Arthur C. The Transfiguration of the Commonplace. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1981.

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                                      Full development of Danto’s important conception of art, deploying the method of “indiscernibles.”

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                                      • Dickie, George. Art and the Aesthetic: An Institutional Analysis. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1974.

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                                        Presents Dickie’s original version of the institutional definition of art, which remains influential even though he refined the theory in later writings.

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                                        • Elton, William, ed. Aesthetics and Language. Oxford: Blackwell, 1954.

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                                          An early collection of papers—several by prominent philosophers such as Gilbert Ryle, Stuart Hampshire, O. K. Bouwsma, and John Passmore—illustrating and promoting analytical methods in aesthetics.

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                                          • Goodman, Nelson. Languages of Art: An Approach to a General Theory of Symbols. Indianapolis, IN: Bobbs-Merrill, 1968.

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                                            A difficult but immensely important book by an eminent Harvard philosopher and logician, giving art a central role in human cognition, alongside science, and exploring its complex modes of denotation and symbolism.

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                                            • Sibley, Frank. “Aesthetic Concepts.” Philosophical Review 68 (1959): 421–450.

                                              DOI: 10.2307/2182490E-mail Citation »

                                              A careful analysis of aesthetic concepts, such as unified, balanced, delicate, etc., pointing out their logical peculiarities in contrast to nonaesthetic concepts, such as red, square, etc. Important both for its content and its methodology. Reprinted in Sibley’s Approaches to Aesthetics: Collected Papers on Philosophical Aesthetics, edited by John Benson, Betty Redfern, and Jeremy Roxbee Cox (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001).

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                                              • Walton, Kendall L. Mimesis as Make-Believe: On the Foundations of the Representational Arts. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1990.

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                                                An impressive unified account of artistic representation—with applications to pictures, fictionality, and ontology—using the core idea of “games of make-believe.” Walton’s make-believe theory has been taken up in areas of philosophy well beyond aesthetics.

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                                                • Wollheim, Richard. Art and Its Objects: An Introduction to Aesthetics. New York: Harper and Row, 1968.

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                                                  Influential reflections on the ontology of art and the role of “seeing as” in artistic representation by a preeminent figure in analytic aesthetics. A second edition was published by Cambridge University Press in 1980 with six supplementary essays developing its central themes.

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                                                  Defining Art

                                                  It is often thought, though not universally so, that giving a definition of art is a necessary first stage to any adequate philosophy of art. Efforts in this endeavor are helpfully summarized in Adajian 2007 and, at greater length, in Davies 1991, which attempts to categorize different kinds of definitions. Weitz 1956 famously argues that the very exercise is misguided, given the creative nature of art. Gaut 2000 is a bridge between Weitz’s anti-essentialism and those that propose full-scale definitions. Other philosophical works, notably Dickie 1983 and Levinson 1979, have insisted that a definition is possible, once formulated in the right terms. Carroll 2001 does not think a definition as such is possible, but proposes an account of how we identify artworks, particularly those of a disputed kind, by means of narratives connecting them to earlier works. Beardsley 1983 offers a definition in terms of aesthetic experience, although, as he recognizes, Beardsley’s account does not readily fit conceptual art or other kinds of avant-garde works. Carroll 2000 is a collection of papers showing contemporary philosophers addressing the definitional issue and presenting a state-of-the-art survey of the different candidates on offer.

                                                  • Adajian, Thomas. “The Definition of Art.” In The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Edited by Edward N. Zalta. 2007.

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                                                    A useful and accessible critical summary of the principal approaches.

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                                                    • Beardsley, Monroe C. “An Aesthetic Definition of Art.” In What Is Art? Edited by Hugh Curtler. New York: Haven, 1983.

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                                                      A leading early figure in analytic aesthetics who defines art as follows: “An artwork is something produced with the intention of giving it the capacity to satisfy the aesthetic interest.” Reprinted in Lamarque and Olsen 2003.

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                                                      • Carroll, Noël, ed. Theories of Art Today. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2000.

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                                                        Twelve essays by prominent contemporary philosophers on different aspects of the definitional issue. A helpful overview and key text in analytic aesthetics.

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                                                        • Carroll, Noël. “Historical Narratives and the Philosophy of Art.” In Beyond Aesthetics: Philosophical Essays. By Noël Carroll, 100–117. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2001.

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                                                          Defends the idea of identifying art—especially avant-garde art—by means of historical narratives that connect contested works to art history “in a way that discloses that the mutations in question are part of the evolving species of art.”

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                                                          • Davies, Stephen. Definitions of Art. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1991.

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                                                            A wide-ranging critical assessment of different approaches to the definition of art, notably in terms of “functional” and “procedural” theories. Clearly written in nontechnical terms.

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                                                            • Dickie, George. “The New Institutional Theory of Art.” Proceedings of the 8th International Wittgenstein Symposium 10 (1983): 57–64.

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                                                              A succinct statement of the revised version of Dickie’s influential institutional definition. Shows clearly what the institutional theory seeks to achieve. Reprinted in Lamarque and Olsen 2003.

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                                                              • Gaut, Berys. “‘Art’ as a Cluster Concept.” In Theories of Art Today. Edited by Noël Carroll, 25–44. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2000.

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                                                                A version of “family resemblance” views, arguing that among a cluster of putative features of art, no one is necessary but all, or a subclass, are sufficient.

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                                                                • Levinson, Jerrold. “Defining Art Historically.” British Journal of Aesthetics 19 (1979): 232–250.

                                                                  DOI: 10.1093/bjaesthetics/19.3.232E-mail Citation »

                                                                  Develops a definition of art in terms of the relation of a work to previous works already acknowledged as art. Quite technical. Reprinted in Levinson’s Music, Art, and Metaphysics (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1990).

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                                                                  • Weitz, Morris. “The Role of Theory in Aesthetics.” Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 15 (1956): 27–35.

                                                                    DOI: 10.2307/427491E-mail Citation »

                                                                    Highly influential statement of anti-essentialism, rejecting the attempt to define art, on the grounds that “art” is an “open concept.” Reprinted in Lamarque and Olsen 2003.

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                                                                    Ontology of Art

                                                                    The ontology of art raises questions about what kind of thing works of art are, to what ontological category they belong. A simple and standard view is that there is no single category to which all works belong but that some works, such as paintings, carved sculptures, and buildings, are particulars (e.g., physical objects), whereas other works, such as poems, symphonies, and dramas, are abstract entities of some kind, allowing for multiple instantiations. Wollheim 1980 importantly explains the latter class by invoking the distinction between types and tokens; thus, a poem or a symphony is a type, of which individual copies or performances are tokens. Wolterstorff 1980 offers a variant of this theory, referring not to types but to “norm-kinds.” Other philosophers place artworks into a single category. Thus, Currie 1989 sees all works as types, that is, types of action, the action of discovering a structure through a “heuristic path.” Davies 2004 takes a similar line, although identifying works with token performances (art-making). Margolis 1980 sees works of art as “emergent” entities never identical to their physical embodiment. Rohrbaugh 2005 offers a detailed survey and assessment of these and other ideas, and Thomasson 2004 provides judicious comments on how one might arbitrate in the debates.

                                                                    • Currie, Gregory. An Ontology of Art. Basingstoke, UK: Macmillan, 1989.

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                                                                      Defends a unified but controversial view of artworks as action types. Illuminating arguments against opposing views, notably the idea of “aesthetic empiricism,” but technical in its logical apparatus.

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                                                                      • Davies, David. Art as Performance. Oxford: Blackwell, 2004.

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                                                                        A difficult, philosophically sophisticated book that gets deep into the ontological debate and develops a striking and original thesis about what works of art are.

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                                                                        • Margolis, Joseph. Art and Philosophy: Conceptual Issues in Philosophy. Atlantic Highlands, NJ: Humanities Press, 1980.

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                                                                          Defends the view that works of art are “culturally emergent entities” that are “embodied” in physical objects but not identical to those objects.

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                                                                          • Rohrbaugh, Guy. “Ontology of Art.” In Routledge Companion to Aesthetics. 2d ed. Edited by B. Gaut and D. M. Lopes, 241–254. London: Routledge, 2005.

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                                                                            A scholarly, wide-ranging account of the issues in ontology of art and the arguments for the main positions.

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                                                                            • Thomasson, Amie L. “The Ontology of Art.” In The Blackwell Guide to Aesthetics. Edited by Peter Kivy, 78–92. Oxford: Blackwell, 2004.

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                                                                              Helpful and accessible survey of the key issues, with reflections on the constraints on any adequate ontological theory.

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                                                                              • Wollheim, Richard. Art and Its Objects. 2d ed. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1980.

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                                                                                Important work by a prominent philosopher. Uses the type-token distinction to explain the relation between certain kinds of works and individual copies or performances.

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                                                                                • Wolterstorff, Nicholas. Works and Worlds of Art. Oxford: Clarendon, 1980.

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                                                                                  A careful but difficult analytical study of a range of issues in the ontology of art defending the view that musical and literary works, among others, are “norm-kinds.”

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                                                                                  Aesthetic Properties and Aesthetic Experience

                                                                                  A central issue for analytic aestheticians has been the nature of, indeed the very reality of, aesthetic properties and aesthetic experiences. The topics are related—aesthetic experiences are sometimes thought to be experiences directed to the aesthetic qualities of objects—but can also be treated separately. Focus has been given to the “reality” or otherwise of aesthetic properties, the extent to which they genuinely adhere in objects rather than being merely projected onto them. Levinson 2001 and Zemach 1997 make the case for realism, suitably qualified. Sibley 2001 looks at what objectivity amounts to in aesthetics, and Bender 2003 expresses skepticism about realism. Walton 1970 is a highly influential contribution showing how the perception of aesthetic qualities in art depends on the “categories” to which works are assigned. Iseminger 2003 surveys the issues surrounding aesthetic experience, not least being the important treatment by Beardsley, for example, in Beardsley 1982. Dickie 1964 attacks Beardsley’s earlier theory of the “aesthetic attitude,” but Carroll 2002 brings the discussion up to date by reassessing the options for any adequate account of aesthetic experience.

                                                                                  • Beardsley, Monroe C. “Aesthetic Experience.” In The Aesthetic Point of View: Selected Essays. Edited by Michael Wreen and Donald Callen. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1982.

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                                                                                    A clear statement of the importance of aesthetic experience by one of its foremost defenders among analytic aestheticians.

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                                                                                    • Bender, John W. “Aesthetic Realism 2.” In Oxford Handbook of Aesthetics. Edited by Jerrold Levinson, 80–98. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003.

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                                                                                      A good survey of the topic, concluding that the case for aesthetic realism, that is, realism about aesthetic properties, has not been made.

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                                                                                      • Carroll, Noël. “Aesthetic Experience Revisited.” British Journal of Aesthetics 42 (2002): 145–168.

                                                                                        DOI: 10.1093/bjaesthetics/42.2.145E-mail Citation »

                                                                                        Revives interest in aesthetic experience and defends a content-based view, in terms of the kinds of objects toward which aesthetic experiences are directed, in favor of affect- or value-based theories.

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                                                                                        • Dickie, George. “The Myth of the Aesthetic Attitude.” American Philosophical Quarterly 1 (1964): 56–66.

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                                                                                          Influential paper rejecting the idea that there is a distinctive “aesthetic attitude”—a paper largely responsible for the subsequent decline of interest in this idea.

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                                                                                          • Iseminger, Gary. “Aesthetic Experience.” In Oxford Handbook of Aesthetics. Edited by Jerrold Levinson, 99–116. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003.

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                                                                                            A clear and comprehensive overview of the principal positions on aesthetic experience.

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                                                                                            • Levinson, Jerrold. “Aesthetic Properties, Evaluative Force, and Differences of Sensibility.” In Aesthetic Concepts: Essays After Sibley. Edited by Emily Brady and Jerrold Levinson, 61–80. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001.

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                                                                                              A defense of aesthetic realism in terms of dispositions in objects to afford distinctive phenomenal experiences, which are separable from evaluative attitudes taken to those experiences. Quite demanding.

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                                                                                              • Sibley, Frank. “Objectivity and Aesthetics.” In Approaches to Aesthetics: Collected Papers on Philosophical Aesthetics. Edited by John Benson, Betty Redfern, and Jeremy Roxbee Cox, 71–87. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001.

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                                                                                                A nuanced defense of objectivity in aesthetic judgments and reflections on when it might be legitimate to speak of aesthetic “properties.”

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                                                                                                • Walton, Kendall L. “Categories of Art.” Philosophical Review 79 (1970): 334–367.

                                                                                                  DOI: 10.2307/2183933E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                  Argues, with ramifications right across aesthetics, that the perception of aesthetic qualities in a work of art rests not only on the intrinsic perceptual qualities of the work itself but also on facts about its provenance and context, not the least being the “category” to which it belongs.

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                                                                                                  • Zemach, Eddy. Real Beauty. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1997.

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                                                                                                    A thorough-going but technically difficult defense of aesthetic realism.

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                                                                                                    Meaning and Interpretation

                                                                                                    Given the nature of analytic philosophy, it is not surprising that questions of meaning have been prominent in debates in aesthetics. A key question has centered on the aims of interpretation in art (and literary) criticism. Is the interpreter’s aim to recover what was in the mind of the artist or perhaps to put a creative construction on the work to reveal its full potentialities regardless of whether the artist had thought through all the possibilities? The papers in Margolis and Rockmore 2000 produce a useful overview of the subtleties of the debate, as does Barnes 1988, although the latter can be quite demanding with its logical formulations. Krausz 2002 lays out reasoned defenses of different positions by prominent contributors. Iseminger 1992 and Livingston 2007 tackle the specific question of the role of intention in interpretation, and Stecker 1997 defends a version of intentionalism.

                                                                                                    • Barnes, Annette. On Interpretation. Oxford: Blackwell, 1988.

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                                                                                                      An analytical study of validity in interpretive reasoning and the limits of objectivity and truth in interpretations.

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                                                                                                      • Iseminger, Gary, ed. Intention and Interpretation. Philadelphia: Temple University Press. 1992.

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                                                                                                        An important collection of essays on the intention debate in aesthetics, including arguments for and against “actual intentionalism” and “hypothetical intentionalism.”

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                                                                                                        • Krausz, Michael, ed. Is There a Single Right Interpretation? University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2002.

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                                                                                                          Commissioned papers on the focused question in the book title. Wide-ranging in its applications.

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                                                                                                          • Livingston, Paisley. Art and Intention: A Philosophical Study. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007.

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                                                                                                            Defends the importance of intention in the creation of art, and thus what we understand by art, and proposes “partial” intentionalism in art interpretation.

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                                                                                                            • Margolis, Joseph, and Tom Rockmore, eds. The Philosophy of Interpretation. Oxford: Blackwell, 2000.

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                                                                                                              Commissioned papers on different aspects of interpretation, offering a broad perspective on the principal issues.

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                                                                                                              • Stecker, Robert. Artworks: Definition, Meaning, Value. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1997.

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                                                                                                                A careful study of different aspects of meaning in the arts, proposing that an important core of meaning in literary works is “utterance meaning.”

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                                                                                                                Art and Knowledge

                                                                                                                The question of whether it is a central aim or achievement of art to advance knowledge, for example, about human psychology or human nature, is hotly debated. The question is not so much the factual one, whether people do actually learn from works of art, but rather whether art can provide a special route to knowledge, which gives art a distinctive value. Stolnitz 1992 is skeptical about “artistic truth,” and Lamarque 2006 expresses caution about giving undue weight to knowledge as a core value of art. In contrast, Gaut 2003 and some papers in Kieran and Lopes 2007 make the case for art’s role in human cognition, whereas Nussbaum 1990 and John 1998 promote the special cognitive powers of literature.

                                                                                                                • Gaut, Berys. “Art and Knowledge.” In Oxford Handbook of Aesthetics. Edited by Jerrold Levinson, 436–450. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003.

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                                                                                                                  A critical analysis of pro- and anti-cognitivist arguments, defending a pro-cognitivist stance.

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                                                                                                                  • John, Eileen. “Reading Fiction and Conceptual Knowledge: Philosophical Thought in Literary Context.” Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 56 (1998): 331–348.

                                                                                                                    DOI: 10.2307/432124E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                    A nuanced and subtle defense of the view that works of literature can enhance conceptual knowledge.

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                                                                                                                    • Kieran, Matthew, and Dominic Lopes, eds. Knowing Art: Essays in Aesthetics and Epistemology. Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Springer, 2007.

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                                                                                                                      A useful collection of papers covering literature and the visual arts and assessing the claims made for art’s cognitive potential.

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                                                                                                                      • Lamarque, Peter. “Cognitive Values in the Arts: Marking the Boundaries.” In Contemporary Debates in Aesthetics and the Philosophy of Art. Edited by Matthew Kieran, 127–139. Oxford: Blackwell, 2006.

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                                                                                                                        Advances the anti-cognitivist case by raising doubts that advancing knowledge is a genuine artistic value.

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                                                                                                                        • Nussbaum, Martha. Love’s Knowledge: Essays on Philosophy and Literature. New York: Oxford University Press, 1990.

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                                                                                                                          A selection of Nussbaum’s essays sharing the general theme that literature can enrich human moral sensibility and educate the emotions.

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                                                                                                                          • Stolnitz, Jerome. “On the Cognitive Triviality of Art.” British Journal of Aesthetics 32 (1992): 191–200.

                                                                                                                            DOI: 10.1093/bjaesthetics/32.3.191E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                            A brief and lively attack on the view that art, particularly literature, can offer substantial truths.

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                                                                                                                            Values of Art

                                                                                                                            Philosophers ask how the values of art relate to other values and also what criteria are available for making judgments about individual works. The question of whether artistic value can be a subject of objective reasoning is also prominent. Lamarque 2009 offers general observations about these issues, and Budd 1995 gives a sophisticated survey of competing theories as well as developing a novel account. Goldman 1995 also proposes its own subtle view of aesthetic and artistic value. Savile 1982 explains and defends the test of time as a criterion of value. Sibley 2001 examines the role of reasons in aesthetic judgments, but Goldman 2006 argues that such judgments are not subject to general principles. Gaut 2007 tackles a much debated issue, advancing the case for the relevance of ethical values in some assessments of aesthetic value.

                                                                                                                            • Budd, Malcolm. Values of Art: Pictures, Poetry, and Music. London: Penguin, 1995.

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                                                                                                                              Important but philosophically demanding book, partly a critical analysis of principal views, partly the presentation of a specific thesis, defining value in art in terms of the intrinsic values of certain experiences of art.

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                                                                                                                              • Gaut, Berys. Art, Emotion, and Ethics. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007.

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                                                                                                                                A rigorous and sustained argument for the view that aesthetic evaluations of art can partially rest on moral evaluations.

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                                                                                                                                • Goldman, Alan H. Aesthetic Value. Boulder, CO: Westview, 1995.

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                                                                                                                                  Wide-ranging, clearly written presentation of key issues developing a line of argument, with considerable refinement, that originates in Hume and Kant.

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                                                                                                                                  • Goldman, Alan H. “There Are No Aesthetic Principles.” In Contemporary Debates in Aesthetics and the Philosophy of Art. Edited by Matthew Kieran, 299–312. Oxford: Blackwell, 2006.

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                                                                                                                                    A spirited and readable defense of the claim that there are no general principles governing aesthetic evaluations.

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                                                                                                                                    • Lamarque, Peter. “Artistic Value.” In Central Issues of Philosophy. Edited by John Shand, 231–243. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2009.

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                                                                                                                                      An accessible introduction to the kinds of issues about artistic value raised by analytic philosophers.

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                                                                                                                                      • Savile, Anthony. The Test of Time: An Essay in Philosophical Aesthetics. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1982.

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                                                                                                                                        A fascinating and richly argued defense of the idea of the test of time as a criterion for artistic value.

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                                                                                                                                        • Sibley, Frank. “General Criteria and Reasons in Aesthetics.” In Approaches to Aesthetics: Collected Papers on Philosophical Aesthetics. Edited by John Benson, Betty Redfern, and Jeremy Roxbee Cox, 104–118. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001.

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                                                                                                                                          A nuanced discussion of Monroe Beardsley’s view that there are general criteria for aesthetic evaluations, putting forth a limited case for such criteria.

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                                                                                                                                          Analytic Aesthetics and the Individual Arts

                                                                                                                                          A notable feature of aesthetics in the early 21st century has been the attention given to the individual arts. Thus, for example, the philosophy of music, the philosophy of the visual arts, and the philosophy of literature are now important subbranches of aesthetics with their own distinctive debates and problems.

                                                                                                                                          Music

                                                                                                                                          Prominent issues in the philosophy of music concern musical expressiveness, music and meaning, and the ontology of music. For an excellent and opinionated overview of the field, the best starting point is Scruton 1997. Kivy 1993 is a collection of papers by Peter Kivy, a major contributor to all aspects of the subject. Budd 1985 explores theories of emotion in music in a mostly critical vein but is a good foundation for subsequent work. Davies 1994 examines meaning in music, usefully identifying the main issues. Levinson 1980 initiated a large and continuing literature on the ontology of music, notably on the consequences of taking musical works to be abstract entities. Dodd 2007 is a full-length challenge to Levinson, even rejecting the view that musical works are strictly created (rather than discovered).

                                                                                                                                          • Budd, Malcolm. Music and the Emotions: The Philosophical Theories. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1985.

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                                                                                                                                            A rigorous analytical study of prominent theories of how music relates to the emotions. Budd’s criticisms leave many of these theories in tatters.

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                                                                                                                                            • Davies, Stephen. Musical Meaning and Expression. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1994.

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                                                                                                                                              A thorough examination of arguments for and against the view that music is a kind of language.

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                                                                                                                                              • Dodd, Julian. Works of Music: An Essay in Ontology. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007.

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                                                                                                                                                A lively but controversial defense of the Platonist idea that musical works are abstract, eternal types, the tokens of which gain their identity entirely through certain sorts of audible properties.

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                                                                                                                                                • Kivy, Peter. The Fine Art of Repetition: Essays in the Philosophy of Music. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1993.

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                                                                                                                                                  Kivy is a leading analytical philosopher of music and this contains many of his most influential papers, for example, on musical Platonism, opera, and music and emotion.

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                                                                                                                                                  • Levinson, Jerrold. “What a Musical Work Is.” Journal of Philosophy 77 (1980): 5–28.

                                                                                                                                                    DOI: 10.2307/2025596E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                                    A highly influential essay on musical ontology, sometimes technical in content, arguing that musical works are abstract entities but also genuinely created, not just discovered. Reprinted in Levinson’s Music, Art, and Metaphysics (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1990).

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                                                                                                                                                    • Scruton, Roger. The Aesthetics of Music. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997.

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                                                                                                                                                      Covers all aspects of the philosophy of music in a clear, readable style; written by a prominent philosopher with a profound knowledge and love of music.

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                                                                                                                                                      Pictorial Art

                                                                                                                                                      A large amount has been written by philosophers on the nature of depiction, how two-dimensional pictures can represent objects, real or fictional. The simple idea that pictures represent by resembling their subject matter has come in for serious criticism, not least in Goodman 1976, although Hopkins 1999 gives a sophisticated reappraisal. Goodman 1976 rejects resemblance in favor of denotation, and Wollheim 1998 explains representation in terms of a special kind of perception, “seeing in,” whereas Lopes 1996 focuses on the relation between representation and interpretation. Walton 2008 famously appeals to “games of make-believe” in the perception of pictures and argues for the “transparency” of photography. Scruton 1983 controversially argues that photographs are not representations at all. Dutton 1983 is a fascinating collection of papers on forgery that in different ways reveal important aspects of pictures and why they are valued.

                                                                                                                                                      • Dutton, Denis, ed. The Forger’s Art: Forgery and the Philosophy of Art. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1983.

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                                                                                                                                                        An important and engaging collection of essays, including extracts from Nelson Goodman’s Languages of Art, in which he distinguishes arts that are “autographic” (i.e., forgeable) from the “allographic” (i.e., nonforgeable).

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                                                                                                                                                        • Goodman, Nelson. “Reality Remade.” In Languages of Art: An Approach to a Theory of Symbols. 2d ed. By Nelson Goodman, 3–9. Indianapolis, IN: Hackett, 1976.

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                                                                                                                                                          Accessible chapter expounding Goodman’s theory of pictorial representation and his attack on resemblance theories. Reprinted in The Philosophy of the Visual Arts, edited by Philip Alperson (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992).

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                                                                                                                                                          • Hopkins, Robert. Picture, Image, and Experience: A Philosophical Inquiry. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1999.

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                                                                                                                                                            Subtle defense of a version of the resemblance theory in terms of experienced resemblance and outline shape.

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                                                                                                                                                            • Lopes, Dominic McIver. Understanding Pictures. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996.

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                                                                                                                                                              A thoughtful and original study of many aspects of pictorial representation, including what it is to recognize an object in a picture.

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                                                                                                                                                              • Scruton, Roger. “Photography and Representation.” In The Aesthetic Understanding: Essays in the Philosophy of Art and Culture. By Roger Scruton, 102–126. London: Methuen, 1983.

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                                                                                                                                                                An often cited, controversial essay arguing that photography is not a form of representation and in that regard differs radically from painting. Reprinted in Lamarque and Olsen 2003.

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                                                                                                                                                                • Walton, Kendall L. Marvelous Images: On Values and the Arts. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008.

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                                                                                                                                                                  A handy selection of Walton’s papers in aesthetics, including six important contributions on pictures and photography.

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                                                                                                                                                                  • Wollheim, Richard. “On Pictorial Representation.” Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 56 (1998): 217–226.

                                                                                                                                                                    DOI: 10.2307/432361E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                                                    A clear statement of Wollheim’s influential view of “seeing in” to explain pictorial representation, and his reasons for rejecting alternative theories. Reprinted in Lamarque and Olsen 2003.

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                                                                                                                                                                    Literature

                                                                                                                                                                    For a good overview of topics in the philosophy of literature, see Davies 2007, Lamarque 2009, and John and Lopes 2004. Olsen 1987 positions literary aesthetics in relation to literary theory and takes a polemical stand in favor of an “institutional” view of literature. Lamarque and Olsen 1994 is a lengthy treatment of the issue of how fiction and literature relate to truth. Searle 1979 is an important paper on the logic of fiction, applying speech act theory, and Radford 1975 offers an entertaining and extensively debated argument that it is irrational to respond emotionally to fictional characters.

                                                                                                                                                                    • Davies, David. Aesthetics and Literature. London: Continuum, 2007.

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                                                                                                                                                                      Clear and informative critical survey of some key issues in the philosophy of literature.

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                                                                                                                                                                      • John, Eileen, and Dominic M. Lopes, eds. Philosophy of Literature: Contemporary and Classic Readings; an Anthology. Oxford: Blackwell, 2004.

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                                                                                                                                                                        An accessible collection of forty-five essays and extracts, by prominent philosophers, covering all aspects of the philosophy of literature.

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                                                                                                                                                                        • Lamarque, Peter. The Philosophy of Literature. Oxford: Blackwell, 2009.

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                                                                                                                                                                          A comprehensive introduction to the principal issues in an accessible style using numerous examples from literature and criticism.

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                                                                                                                                                                          • Lamarque, Peter, and Stein Haugom Olsen. Truth, Fiction, and Literature: A Philosophical Perspective. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994.

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                                                                                                                                                                            A detailed examination of the role of truth in relation to literature, arguing that truth is not a primary literary value.

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                                                                                                                                                                            • Olsen, Stein Haugom. The End of Literary Theory. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1987.

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                                                                                                                                                                              A collection of Olsen’s papers on literary aesthetics, showing pioneering work in the analytic tradition.

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                                                                                                                                                                              • Radford, Colin. “How Can We Be Moved by the Fate of Anna Karenina?” Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 69 (1975): 67–80.

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                                                                                                                                                                                An entertaining and controversial paper arguing that although it is quite natural, it is also irrational to become emotionally involved with characters we know to be fictional. Reprinted in Lamarque and Olsen 2003.

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                                                                                                                                                                                • Searle, John. “The Logical Status of Fictional Discourse.” In Expression and Meaning. By John Searle, 58–75. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1979.

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                                                                                                                                                                                  Applies speech act theory to fiction, arguing that fiction writers pretend to perform illocutionary acts, without intended deception.

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                                                                                                                                                                                  Other Art Forms

                                                                                                                                                                                  Carroll 2008 surveys philosophical issues about film, and Carroll 1998 analyzes mass or popular art in all its forms. Both provide state-of-the-art treatment within analytic philosophy. Among discussions of other arts that have captured the attention of analytic philosophers, Friday 2002 on photography, Hamilton 2007 on theater, Hopkins 2003 on sculpture, and Sparshott 2004 on dance each provide a useful overview and offer further readings.

                                                                                                                                                                                  • Carroll, Noël. A Philosophy of Mass Art. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998.

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                                                                                                                                                                                    A magisterial treatment of a complex and controversial subject, the status and value of popular arts. It takes on much current theorizing, for example, in cultural studies, and presents a compelling alternative using the methods of analytic philosophy.

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                                                                                                                                                                                    • Carroll, Noël. The Philosophy of Motion Pictures. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2008.

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                                                                                                                                                                                      A lucid and informative account of the philosophy of film by the preeminent authority. Carroll’s own work on film, for over twenty-five years, has more or less defined this branch of aesthetics.

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                                                                                                                                                                                      • Friday, Jonathan. Aesthetics and Photography. Aldershot, UK: Ashgate, 2002.

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                                                                                                                                                                                        Both an overview of central philosophical issues about photography and a development of a distinctive point of view.

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                                                                                                                                                                                        • Hamilton, James, R. The Art of Theater. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2007.

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                                                                                                                                                                                          Rare as a full-length treatment of theater from an analytic philosopher. An important contribution, arguing that theatrical performance is an independent art form.

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                                                                                                                                                                                          • Hopkins, Robert. “Sculpture.” In Oxford Handbook of Aesthetics. Edited by Jerrold Levinson, 572–582. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003.

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                                                                                                                                                                                            A succinct and informative account of the philosophical issues involving sculpture: a subject largely neglected by analytic philosophers.

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                                                                                                                                                                                            • Sparshott, Francis. “Dance: Bodies in Motion, Bodies at Rest.” In The Blackwell Guide to Aesthetics. Edited by Peter Kivy, 276–290. Oxford: Blackwell, 2004.

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                                                                                                                                                                                              Sketches in a readable manner a framework for a philosophy of dance and the sorts of questions that arise.

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                                                                                                                                                                                              Nature and the Environment

                                                                                                                                                                                              Hepburn 1966 is often said to be the start of modern analytical interest in the aesthetics of nature. Brady 2003, Carlson 2008, Parsons 2008, and Berleant and Carlson 2004 between them cover all aspects of this burgeoning branch of aesthetics and provide a comprehensive overview. Carlson 2000 and Budd 2002 are good samples of the work of two of the leading analytic contributors. Saito 2007 introduces a relatively new application of the aesthetics of the environment in looking at aesthetic responses to everyday objects and situations.

                                                                                                                                                                                              • Berleant, Arnold, and Allen Carlson, eds. The Aesthetics of Natural Environments. Peterborough, ON: Broadview, 2004.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                A useful and accessible collection of essays, old and new, on all aspects of this branch of aesthetics.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                • Brady, Emily. Aesthetics of the Natural Environment. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2003.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                  A clearly written and comprehensive introduction to and analysis of the central issues. A good place to start for those who don’t know the field.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                  • Budd, Malcolm. The Aesthetic Appreciation of Nature. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                    A collection of Budd’s own influential papers on the aesthetics of nature. Sometimes demanding in their analytical style but always rewarding.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                    • Carlson, Allen. Aesthetics and the Environment: The Appreciation of Nature, Art, and Architecture. London: Routledge, 2000.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                      Carlson is one of the foremost aestheticians writing on the aesthetics of nature. This book consolidates his own influential position and reflects judiciously on current debates in the subject.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                      • Carlson, Allen. “Environmental Aesthetics.” In The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Edited by Edward N. Zalta. 2008.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                        A lively, readable, and informative survey by a preeminent contributor to the whole field of the aesthetics of the environment.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                        • Hepburn, Ronald “Contemporary Aesthetics and the Neglect of Natural Beauty.” In British Analytical Philosophy. Edited by Bernard Williams and Alan Montefiore, 285–310. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1966.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                          A much cited early exploration, within analytic philosophy, of aesthetics applied to the natural world. Helped to launch interest in environmental aesthetics.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                          • Parsons, Glenn. Aesthetics and Nature. London: Continuum, 2008.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                            A clearly written and informative introduction to the philosophical debates.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                            • Saito, Yuriko. Everyday Aesthetics. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                              An illuminating introduction and contribution to a growing branch of aesthetics, concerning aesthetic responses to ordinary objects and everyday situations.

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