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Philosophical Essays

No«l Carroll


Beyond Aesthetics brings together philosophical essays addressing art and related
issues by one of the foremost philosophers of art at work today. Countering con-
ventional aesthetic theories “ those maintaining that authorial intention, art his-
tory, morality, and emotional responses are irrelevant to the experience of art “
No«l Carroll argues for a more pluralistic and commonsensical view in which all
of these factors can play a legitimate role in our encounter with artworks.
Throughout, the book combines philosophical theorizing with illustrative exam-
ples including works of high culture and the avant-garde, as well as works of pop-
ular culture, jokes, horror novels, and suspense films.

No«l Carroll is the Monroe C. Beardsley Professor of the Philosophy of Art at the
University of Wisconsin-Madison. Former president of the American Society for
Aesthetics, he is the author of seven books including The Philosophy of Mass Art,
The Philosophy of Art, and Theorizing the Moving Image.
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Philosophical Essays

University of Wisconsin“Madison
The Pitt Building, Trumpington Street, Cambridge CB2 IRP
40 West 20th Street, New York, NY 10011-4211, USA
477 Williamstown Road, Port Melbourne, VIC 3207, Australia


© No«l Carroll 2001
This edition © No«l Carroll 2003

First published in printed format 2001

A catalogue record for the original printed book is available
from the British Library and from the Library of Congress
Original ISBN 0 521 78134 5 hardback
Original ISBN 0 521 78656 8 paperback

ISBN 0 511 01257 8 virtual (netLibrary Edition)
Dedicated to my teacher
George Dickie
This Page Intentionally Left Blank

Foreword by Peter Kivy page ix
Introduction 1

Art and Interaction 5
Beauty and the Genealogy of Art Theory 20
Four Concepts of Aesthetic Experience 41


Art, Practice, and Narrative 63
Identifying Art 75
Historical Narratives and the Philosophy of Art 100
On the Narrative Connection 118
Interpretation, History, and Narrative 133


Art, Intention, and Conversation 157
Anglo-American Aesthetics and Contemporary Criticism: Intention
and the Hermeneutics of Suspicion 180
The Intentional Fallacy: Defending Myself 190
Interpretation and Intention:The Debate between Hypothetical and
Actual Intentionalism 197


Art, Narrative, and Emotion 215
Horror and Humor 235
The Paradox of Suspense 254
Art, Narrative, and Moral Understanding 270


Moderate Moralism 293
Simulation, Emotions, and Morality 306

On Jokes 317
The Paradox of Junk Fiction 335
Visual Metaphor 347
On Being Moved by Nature: Between Religion and Natural History 368
Emotion,Appreciation, and Nature 384

Notes 395
Index 443

The second half of our century has witnessed a remarkable revival of interest in
philosophical speculation centering on the fine arts. Not since the flowering of
German Romanticism have so many philosophers of the first rank taken aesthet-
ics and the philosophy of art as an area of special interest.
The publication of Arthur Danto™s The Transfiguration of the Commonplace, in
1981, ushered in a period in the aesthetic revival of which I speak that, at least
in Anglo-American circles, has been largely dominated by Danto™s philosophi-
cal presence.
The Transfiguration of the Commonplace is philosophy of art in the “grand man-
ner”: in the universe of the arts, a “theory of everything.” I myself think it will be
the last such grand speculative venture in the field for a very long time: how long
a time I cannot possibly guess. But we are, in any case, entering a new period in
the ongoing philosophical exploration of the fine arts. If the age of Danto was the
age of the hedgehog, who knows one big thing, we are entering, now, the age of
the fox, who knows a lot of little things.And the big fox on the block, at least from
where I sit, looks to be No«l Carroll. If the age to come in philosophy of art and
aesthetics is the age of the fox, it may very well be the age of Carroll.
I should say a word, though, about foxes. The philosophy of art has had,
over the past half-century, its little foxes. These have been people who have
found one area of the discipline particularly amenable to their efforts and tal-
ents: one has worked only on literary interpretation, another only on music, a
third specializes on problems of pictorial representation, and so on.The hedge-
hog knows one big thing, the little foxes one little thing.The little foxes are by
no means to be despised. They also serve, and have, together, made an enor-
mous contribution.
What makes the big fox big is that he knows not just one little thing but a lot of
little things.And if they are important, central things, then, like the hedgehog, he is a
master of the whole discipline. No«l Carroll is, by any standard, a very big fox.
The essays in your hands cover a wide range of topics in the philosophy of art
and aesthetics; and their range, of course, is one of the collection™s most impressive
features. But one can, after all, range over trivial and peripheral topics, as well as
over deep and central ones. It is the depth and centrality of the issues Carroll is
willing to confront that makes these essays such a substantial contribution to the
field, and their author one of its dominant figures. Issues that the faint of heart shy
away from for fear of their difficulty Carroll takes on with a kind of confident
common sense that makes us all wonder what there was to be afraid of, and why
we didn™t think of the answer ourselves.


A look at the organization of this volume, the topics covered, and some of the
theses advanced will give the reader some small idea of what Carroll™s contribution to
the main issues in aesthetics and the philosophy of art has been, and why it has earned
him, in my eyes and the eyes of many others, such distinction in the field.
In Part I of this collection, Beyond Aesthetics, Carroll broaches what I take to
be one of the two most central questions in the philosophy of art since its found-
ing in the first half of the eighteenth century.The other of these central questions
is the definition of art, which Carroll takes up in Part II.
Although Kant did not use the word “aesthetic” in the ways we do, he never-
theless laid the groundwork for one of our two basic usages “ namely, as a word to
describe certain formal and sensual properties of works of art, as well as of Nature.
The other way we tend to use it is simply as synonymous with “artistic,”“pertains
to art qua art.”When the two are conflated, it has the result that the only proper-
ties of art qua art that there are “ the only properties of art that are relevant to art
qua art “ are its “aesthetic,” which is to say formal and sensual properties.This view
of art, sometimes called “formalism,” has had a profound and baleful influence on
our thinking about art and the aesthetic. Carroll argues, convincingly, I think, that
this conflation should not be allowed to take place: that “(1) the philosophy of art
and aesthetics should be spoken of as two areas of inquiry since (2) failure to do so
has been and continues to be a source of philosophical confusion” (“Beauty and
the Genealogy of Art Theory”); and, further, he disputes “both the thesis that aes-
thetic responses are definitive of our responses to artworks and the thesis that art
is to be characterized exclusively in terms of the promotion of aesthetic
responses” (“Art and Interaction”).
In his claims about art and the aesthetic, Carroll exhibits a healthy philosoph-
ical pluralism that runs through all his work. I shall return to this theme in my
conclusion to these brief remarks.
Part II, Art, History and Narrative, as the title suggests, contains essays having
to do with the nature both of artistic and historical narrative structure. But the
three major essays have, rather, to do with the second of the two central issues of
modern philosophy of the arts, which is to say, the nature of art itself, with narra-
tive as the essential, defining idea.
The three dominant theories of art in our time have been George Dickie™s
“institutional” theory, Arthur Danto™s “aboutness” theory, and Morris Weitz™s
Wittgensteinian “no theory” theory.The options have been, then, the theory that
something is a work of art if and only if it has been enfranchised by the “art-
world”; the theory that something is a work of art if and only if it at least makes
sense to ask what it is about (and that it fulfills certain other conditions on its
“aboutness” too elaborate to go into here); and the theory (if you want to call it
that) that “art” is an “open concept” and therefore cannot be defined at all.
To these three approaches to defining art we must now add Carroll™s “narra-
tive” definition, the first new approach since Danto became the dominant figure
in the field. As Carroll sees the novelty of his suggestion, “the question ˜What is
art™ changes its thrust. ˜Art™ in our query no longer refers primarily to the art

object; rather what we wish to know about when we ask ˜What is art?™ predomi-
nantly concerns the nature and structures of the practices of art “ things, I shall
argue, that are generally best approached by means of historical narration” (“Art,
Practice, and Narrative”).
Carroll™s idea, then, is that something is a work of art if and only if it can be
connected with other, bona fide cases of art by a convincing historical narrative.
As he puts the view,“I propose that ¦ we identify works as artworks “ where the
question of whether or not they are art arises “ by means of historical narratives
which connect contested candidates to art history in a way that discloses that the
mutations in question are part of the evolving species of art. I call these stories
˜identifying narratives™” (“Historical Narratives and the Philosophy of Art”).
On Carroll™s view, attempts to define art are driven, particularly in our century,
by the avant-garde, which continually challenges the reigning definitions with
“problem objects,” bizarre entities that it seems impossible to see as possessing
anything in common with art “properly so-called.”With regard to such objects of
the avant-garde, it is a virtue of Carroll™s account that we are looking not for some
common property in the object, even in Danto™s liberating sense of “something
the eye cannot descry,” but for something not belonging to the artwork at all “
rather, an art-historical narrative in which the problem object can, as it were, play
a believable role. It may also prove more effective than Danto™s approach with
“problem objects” not of the avant-garde but ones that have been around to
plague us since the very beginning of the art-defining project, which is to say,
works of absolute music.
Absolute music in the eighteenth century, as now, was a plague and a nuisance
to would-be art definers. Its at least apparent lack of representational or semantic
content, and the absence of consensus over whether its “expressive” features can
make up for that lack, are themselves “content,” have made it recalcitrant to any
theory of art that posits “content” of any kind as a necessary condition, even
Danto™s, with its subtle “aboutness” criterion, requiring merely that the “about-
ness” question can relevantly be asked. Carroll™s theory sidesteps this problem,
requiring but that absolute music be worked into an “identifying narrative,” con-
necting it with other, standard cases of “art” properly so-called. What its “inner”
nature may be is not material for this narrative maneuver.
All prospective “definitions” of “art” must, in the event, steer between the
Scylla of exclusion and the Charybdis of inclusion: they must, that is, be so framed as
to not exclude from the precincts of art those problematic objects of the avant-
garde driving the enterprise, and, on the other hand, they must not, in so doing,
include objects no one recognizes intuitively as “art.” It is my suspicion that
Charybdis is the danger to Carroll™s project. But the ultimate fate of that project is
yet to be played out.
The publication of a little essay by William K.Wimsatt and Monroe Beardsley,
called “Intention,” in 1942, the theme of which was later developed more fully in
their “The Intentional Fallacy,” in 1954, had two important results: it made the
topic of literary interpretation a central one for the philosophy of art, and made

the relevance of authorial intention the crucial question. Wimsatt and Beardsley
argued with great persuasiveness, and, indeed, succeeded in persuading many, that
the author™s intentions are irrelevant to literary interpretation; that, in fact, to treat
them as relevant is a “fallacy”: the “intentional fallacy,” as they called it.
Carroll takes on this long-debated issue in Part III, Interpretation and Inten-
tion. Characteristically, his position is commonsensical, and appeals to “everyday”
experience. “In the normal course of affairs,” Carroll writes, “when confronted
with an utterance, our standard cognitive goal is to figure out what the speaker
intends to say” (“Art, Intention, and Conversation”). If this is true in ordinary
conversation, he asks, why should it be any less true in our encounters with liter-
ary (and other) works of art that, Carroll suggests, can usefully be thought of as, so
to speak,“conversations” with their creators? As he puts the point:“When we read
a literary text or contemplate a painting, we enter a relationship with its creator
that is roughly analogous to a conversation. Obviously, it is not as interactive as an
ordinary conversation, for we are not receiving spontaneous feedback concerning
our own responses. But just as an ordinary conversation gives us a stake in under-
standing our interlocutor, so does our interaction with an artwork” (“Art, Inten-

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