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Enzo Rossi

Sorry if this goes off into a tangent, but I just wish to thank you for mentioning perhaps the biggest elephant in the academic room: class. It's great to become more sensitive and pluralistic about ethnicity, gender, etc, but if we're not careful we'll do it at the expense of socio-economic pluralism.

Shen-yi Liao

While not denying that some parts of aesthetics may appear elitist, I think it'd be a mistake to say that aesthetics is as a whole elitist nowadays, especially compared to, say, just 10 years ago. Perhaps my view is distorted because one of my close collaborators, Aaron Meskin, has done very much to -- to borrow a phrase -- "democratize" both the topics of aesthetics and the methodology of aesthetics.

Aaron has written about the aesthetics of comics, food, video games, among other unelitist topics. These works appear in top aesthetics journals. I think that's an encouraging sign that more aestheticians think aesthetics is impoverished by a narrow focus on the fine arts.

Methodologically, we also think empirically investigating non-philosophers' practices of, say, using aesthetic adjectives and uptaking aesthetic testimony can help expand the relevant data set beyond professional philosophers' or professional critics' judgments and psychological processes. That seems to be another way that aesthetics can be made more democratic. We are not the only ones; Florian Cova, Mark Phelan, and Hanna Kim all have interesting empirical works published or in progress.

So, again, granting the possibility that my view is a distorted one, I do think aesthetics is actually a lot less elitist than just a short time ago. So I wonder if you'd get a different view if you'd also look at more recent papers on topics that were previously considered to be fringe.

Kenji Hayakawa

Let me highlight one definitely anti-elitist treatise on art: Robin G. Collingwood's "The Principles of Art." The basic thesis of the book is that art is an expression of emotion which is commonly experienced by the average person at a sub-conscious level.

As a tangent, there is also a paper called "The Literary Example of Moral Philosophy Today" in which Helen Small argues that moral philosophers ought to be wary of using literary examples in their discussions.

What I am trying to suggest with these pointers is that there seems to be an anti-elitist trend within aesthetics itself. I agree that "the main culprit is, of course, the way analytical philosophy got founded and developed (cf. Carnap vs Heideger) and, since, the way status is earned in the discipline."

I'm curious to know how aesthetics or the philosophy of art was first conceived as a distinct discipline. Burke and Kant still seem to be doing philosophy of perception or psychology rather than philosophy of art - for both do not systematically explore works of art in their major works on the subject. It seems to me that the subject really gets off the ground with Hegel, who tried to blend theory and empirical research in his Lectures on Fine Art. (I would be very happy to be corrected here, of course.) If philosophy of art was conceived originally as a blend of dialectics and historical research, then this might give contemporary philosophers of art a common cause, and also allow them to overcome elitism, for pop-art is a huge genre whose philosophical ramifications need to be explored.

Eric Schliesser

Thank you for your comment Shen-yi Liao, and for calling attention to your work and Aaron Meskin's, including X-PHI versions of aesthetics. But I wonder if you have really reflected on what Bence and I are saying. For the work that you describe falls under what Bence calls "Go completely anti-elitist" strategy (and what you call "democratize"). But while undoubtedly interesting work, that's not a successful strategy (even if it gets you professional success) to address the elitism issue; it cuts you off from your own historical roots, it's also not obviously less elitist (it might be, but need not be) simply by running away from one set of objects and one set of experiences. (Avoiding X is a fine way of calling attention to X even IF YOU think otherwise.) [Also, it is very much democratizing top down--and that, too, is elitist.] Finally, as I point out, the issue is not really elitism, but class--and your silence on it suggests that you have not even started to address the topic. If anything it is a well known feature of class that you can obtain status by working on something perceived 'fringe,' yet doing so from within elite institutions. I know my response sounds a bit harsh, but again it's not because I do not value the kind of work you describe, but rather because your response reveals the problem.

Eric Schliesser

Kenji Hayakawa, the anti-elitist strategies you mention are not going to work because the underlying problem is class.

Bence Nanay

Thanks a lot, Eric, for the nice and very charitable comments - I'm happy to see that these thoughts about aesthetics resonate outside the field. And I think the remarks about class (which Enzo emphasized even more) are very important. But that issue is way too complex - and cuts both ways as there are those with extremely highbrow upbringing who pretend to never have listened to classical music (maybe this is more of an English thing though). In any case, a lot to think about there...

Also, spot on about Casablanca and Romeo and Juliet (and about the classic romantic comedies (When H. met S., but also Sleepless in Seattle and so many others) that use exactly the same device that gets the shippers going.

Michael Deckard

Is it odd that you post this about the same time the Oxford Encyclopedia of Aesthetics is published and where it's editor, Michael Kelly, told me that the artists have open arms toward the philosophers, saying "come to us." This second edition of the encyclopedia is much more concerned with bringing theory to practice or even better bringing practitioners to philosophy. I heard some great panels this past weekend on 'participatory aesthetics', 'race and aesthetics', and embodiment. All of these folks are bringing it to the people without watering the ideas down. It's moving in a good direction...and transforming the spectator/artist and museum or only for the rich discourse. But it still has some way to go.

Bence Nanay

Hi Shen-yi, I think it's absolutely right that aesthetics as a whole is less elitist than it was 10 years ago. But in my original post, the main point was that aesthetics is PERCEIVED to be elitist and that's part of the reason why it's considered to be fringy in the eyes of many philosophers.

Bence Nanay

And I guess the same goes for Michael Deckard's comment although I'm not sure I share your assessment of the elitism of the new Encyclopedia (they asked me to do an entry on Robert Musil, not on latte art or Tom and Jerry...)


Hi Eric, Thanks for sharing your views about the current state of aesthetics. I wanted to say something about your initial post and then about your response to Shen-yi.

In the original post you say that class is the real issue. I'm sympathetic with the view that class is a really important issue--after all, academic philosophy generally has a class issue. But I was a bit puzzled by the way you characterized the problem. I would have thought the failure to attend to class as a relevant issue in aesthetic theorizing, as well as class issues in hiring, student funding, mentoring, were the big problems. You seem to have something else in mind--class anxiety as an explanation for the poor reception of aesthetics. Is that right? Can you say a bit more about this? I'm really sceptical of whether *that* is a central explanation for the marginalization of aesthetics. (It's interesting to note that aesthetics is much less marginalized in the UK than in the US and Australia. Do you think that's because class anxiety is less intense over here?) FWIW: There has been *some* discussion of class in contemporary philosophical aesthetics--Shusterman on Hume and Carroll and Novitz on mass art come to mind--but there definitely should be a lot more. Maybe we can organize something (a panel, a conference) on aesthetics and class
Re points (2) and (3): I think philosophers should generally write better (god knows I should), but I really don't think aesthetics is that bad. I mean we can't all be Danto or Kivy, but I think lots of my peers have some soul. I certainly don't think we're nearly as bad as, um, some other areas. And I understand your pain re the definition of art. In fact, there was something close to a moratorium on the topic for a while. Or maybe just a slowdown. But in recent years there's been some really interesting and fruitful work on the topic (e.g., Abell, Lopes, Mag Uidhir). Gotta' run...more later.

Eric Schliesser

Hi Aaron, yes, we agree that philosophy has a class issue more generally. My claim is that aesthetics (unintentionally) makes those issues visible in ways that generate discomfort/risk aversion.

I know what I am about to say is very controversial and would require more evidence than I have given, but professional philosophy in the UK is shot-through with unacknowledged class issues (basically access to Oxbridge, the main credentialing schools, is still very much determined along class lines [I have done some research on that]) in ways that make class anxiety within higher education less pronounced. (But yeah, this is still sketchy.)

But I see my role here as facilitating self-reflection among aestheticians; I am learning a lot from your responses.

Christy Mag Uidhir

You, sir, are a cad and a bounder who needs a lesson in how to speak to your betters. You've a back not dissimilar to that of my dogsbody: stooped, hirsute, and aching for the lash!

Count your blessings, cretin. Were it not for the Regatta, I'd be forced to give you a solid thrashing for daring to peddle such odious and contemptible lies about my fair muse, the Lady Aesthetica. Rest assured, however, all insults are noted and not forgotten, even when spewed forth from the slack maw of the loathsome gutter snipe.

Others may be content to sit idly by while you cast aspersions upon their chosen fields, but the Aesthetician is made of sterner stuff, sir! Would it not spoil High Tea I would see you thoroughly instructed in the finer points of etiquette with back of my elegantly gloved hand as your Primer.

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Here's a link to my past blogging (and discussions involving me) at: New APPS.


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