[Typepad was experiencing technical difficulties during the last few days.--ES]
Prima facie, there appears to be a great deal of similarity between metaaesthetics and the much more developed field of metaethics. Just as metaethics addresses questions about the objectivity of moral judgements, the existence of moral properties, and the semantics of moral claims, metaaesthetics addresses these kinds of question concerning aesthetic judgements, properties and claims. Further, these kinds of questions also arise with respect to other subject matter, such as epistemic modals, future contingent propositions and knowledge ascriptions.
Work in these different fields would benefit from increased dialogue. First, some of the most sophisticated forms of realism and antirealism have been developed outside of aesthetics; most notably in metaethics, but also in the context of other philosophical issues, such as modal discourse and propositions about the future. Second, there is a tendency among philosophers who develop antirealist theories with respect to other kinds of discourse to take aesthetics to be susceptible to a similar treatment. Aestheticians could benefit from exchanges with philosophers working on realism and antirealism in other domains, while philosophers in these other domains could benefit from a more detailed understanding of the data in aesthetics.-- A British Society of Aesthetics Connections Conference, (Cambridge).
Shared prejudices that are not (yet) contested reveal themselves in apparently innocent ways; they can be discerned in omissions or casual evaluative judgments, and they may appear in the stories we tell ourselves. The consequences of such prejudices can be small or they can generate systematic patterns of exclusion. They tend to facilitate informal hierarchies in which patterns of evaluations track, say, friendships, status, and jobs. One such prejudice is sometimes visible in the ways in which professional philosophers have come to talk about what is ‘core’ in recent analytical philosophy [HT Marcus Arvan]: this 'core' is often identified with philosophy of language, metaphysics & epistemology, and philosophy of mind [see Cogburn on LEMM].*
Given the near-impossibility of establishing doctrinal and methodological commonalities in analytical philosophy, the very idea of a ‘core’ is itself a means to facilitate the operation of shared prejudice.+ This is why the exclusion of other traditional areas of philosophy – e.g., logic, ethics, political philosophy, and aesthetics, etc. -- from the ‘core’ is impossible to justify on substantive grounds;** the implicit and sometimes complex hierarchies between the core and the non-core fields form the silent ideology/ideologies that operate at the margins of our consciousness when we make routine judgments of merit among professional philosophers. The idea of a ‘core’ operates within the context of an intellectual division of labor, in which professional philosophers understand themselves and their discipline in terms of areas of specialization. In effect, the idea of a ‘core’ privileges some such areas and particular philosophers over others without having to offer an argument to do so.
Ideologies work most perniciously at the edges and the bottom of social hierarchy, especially when the lesser privileged use it to dominate the lowest castes. Meta-ethics is not in the official ‘core,’ even though its practitioners often speak of ‘value theory,’ but the way it is practiced makes it feel familiar to those trained within the ‘core’ and familiar with its themes and methods (for example, realism/anti-realism is an evergreen within the ‘core’). The conference announcement quoted above helps the reader to draw the relevant analogies between metaethics and ‘core’ topics (i.e., “in metaethics, but also in the context of other philosophical issues, such as modal discourse and propositions about the future”).
Moreover, the lack of symmetry and implied hierarchy of philosophical specialties are revealed most starkly in this proposed trade of expertise: “Aestheticians could benefit from exchanges with philosophers working on realism and antirealism in other domains, while philosophers in these other domains could benefit from a more detailed understanding of the data in aesthetics.” Leaving aside the weirdness of talking about “the data in aesthetics,” note that aestheticians are not expected to contribute theories, concepts, argumentative strategies, or clever thought experiments—the things we philosophers routinely take pride in sharing. The aestheticians are treated like research assistants who can learn from the theorists while contributing their research to the grand project.
Undoubtedly, no harm was intended by the conference announcement. After all, it would be amazing if the British Society of Aesthetics (BSA) intended to insult its own members. That’s why I speak of ‘ideology’ here; in its attempts to connect aesthetics, which has a tenuous position within the profession, to other parts of philosophy, the BSA (or one of its partners) has adopted a perspective on philosophy that consigns it to the margins. In this announcement, the BSA here has adopted an ugly assimilationist path toward ‘mainstream’ acceptance, namely, if you want to talk with more important philosophers adopt their theories and distinctions, and pretend you have nothing to offer of genuine value.
* Of course, the fields excluded from the ‘core’ are treated differently within professional philosophy. (Logic still has considerable prestige.) The excluded areas also have different trajectories in analytical philosophy. For example, that ethics and political philosophy are excluded from the analytic ‘core’ is a consequence of decisions in the first half of the twentieth century.
+In my terminology, it is a false philosophical prophecy!
**There are more traditional areas of philosophy excluded from the ‘core’, of course. Philosophy of education was deliberately excluded in the post WW2 power-struggle between the two wings of American Pragmatism: those that followed Nagel, turned themselves into scientific philosophers within analytical philosophy; those that followed Dewey became relatively marginalized in education programs.