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representative sample of the ways in which its central defining term, the aesthetic,
has been construed. Thus, with respect to the latter strategy, if there is no viable
concept of the aesthetic, then there can be no aesthetic theory of art. And if, pace
skeptical proponents of the open-concept approach, art theory is possible, and the
aesthetic theory of art has been removed as a serious contender, then the logical
space has been secured to at least advance something like an Institutional Theory
of Art, modified as a theory of the Art Circle.
If this interpretation of Dickie is correct, then his famous attacks on the aesthetic
are an integral and coherent part of the project of defending institutional-type the-
ories. That Dickie™s rejection of the various notions of aesthetic faculties/atti-
tudes/experiences comes prior to his proposals concerning the theory of art can be
seen as part of an argumentative, ground-clearing operation, one devoted to dis-
missing aesthetic theories of art as viable contenders in the realm of art theory by
calling into question the acceptability of any characterization of the correlative state
in spectators that artworks putatively engender. This, of course, severs the bond
between the philosophy of art and the philosophy of the aesthetic, though it remains
somewhat unclear, given the skeptical nature of Dickie™s arguments about anything
aesthetic, what Dickie thinks remains for aestheticians to study.
I believe that Dickie™s objections to aesthetic theories of art and to the various
formulations of the idea of the aesthetic attitude or experience are sound.What I
want to do in this essay is to develop an alternative line of argument against the
reduction of art to aesthetics that, while rejecting that reduction, also shows how
BEAUTY GENEALOGY ART THEORY 23
AND THE OF


this tendency emerged, why it seemed and, for some, continues to be seen to be
plausible, and what some of its consequences are in terms of the supposed intu-
itions that it reinforces.
In order to do this, I will tell a narrative or genealogy about the evolution of
the field that discloses how it happened that aesthetic theory came to be confused
with art theory.This will be a highly selective narrative but not, I think, a distor-
tion. For the figures it singles out as seminal “ Francis Hutcheson, Kant, Clive
Bell, and Monroe Beardsley “ are already central characters in the field™s narratives
of itself, and, therefore, one surmises, are major influences on the shape philo-
sophical conversation has taken.
The story that I want to tell has a point and to make the story flow smoothly,
it is useful to state that point from the outset.The most important concern of early
aesthetic theorizing (and here I have Hutcheson and, with certain qualifications,
Kant in mind) is the analysis of the beautiful “ the beautiful in the narrow sense of
the term, such as it figures in locutions like “a beautiful sunset.” Indeed, the best
candidates for the subjects of early aesthetic theorists, it seems to me, were natural
beauties.Thus, when later theorists attempt to exploit the findings of earlier aes-
thetic theorists in their characterizations of the nature of art, they are, in effect,
transposing the theory of beauty onto the theory of art. Stated more tenden-
tiously, later theorists are treating art as if it was a subspecies of beauty. Of course,
stated this way proponents of the aesthetic theory of art would undoubtedly claim
that they are being unduly caricatured. So the burden of my little story will be to
show that this is not a caricature.
I am presuming here that if it is the case that it can be shown that aesthetic
theories are reducing art to beauty, narrowly construed, then those theories are
clearly false. Much art may correlate with beauty, but much may not, and, there-
fore, much need not.The issue of caricature here is especially important, for if it
can be shown that aesthetic theories of art essentially reduce art to a matter of
beauty, then they are certainly wrong.
Moreover, hypothesizing that there is a strong tendency in the tradition to
reduce art to beauty, at the theoretical level, has the advantage of explaining cer-
tain of the “intuitions” one finds in the tradition, such as: the irrelevance of artis-
tic intention, the irrelevance of art history, the irrelevance of the moral and
political dimension of art, and so on. For a plausible case might at least be made
that these things are irrelevant to an experience of beauty “ for example, the
experience of a beautiful landscape “ in the narrow sense of beauty. And if art is
conceptualized as an instrument for bringing about the experience of beauty, then
it may seem to be plausible to regard such things as intention, history, morality, and
politics as irrelevant to our intercourse with it. Or, at least, it will seem plausible to
those who accept, either implicitly or explicitly, the reduction of art to the aes-
thetic.The rest of us, however, are unlikely to see anything wrong or conceptually
confused about responding to the political or moral commitments of a novel,
thinking about a painting as a product of a historical context or evolution, or
speculating about an author™s intentions.With respect to the relevant sorts of art-
24 BEYOND AESTHETICS

works, we will take these to be appropriate responses. That is, by attributing a
powerful tendency to reduce art theory to beauty, and, correspondingly, to reduce
art to a subspecies of beauty, we can explain why certain deep philosophical “intu-
itions” seem so counterintuitive.
The charge that art theory has been reduced to beauty theory requires some
clarification, since the term beauty is notoriously ambiguous and, in addition, there
are a wide variety of beauty theories.The sense of beauty that I have in mind is
very narrow. It appears to have been introduced by the Sophists, who defined
beauty as “that which is pleasant to sight or hearing,”6 a notion that I think that
later theorists, in the dominant tradition that concerns us, attempted to further
refine by means of ideas like disinterested pleasure.This concept of beauty should
be distinguished from an even narrower one that is said to originate with the Sto-
ics and that specifies the relevant source of pleasure in proportion.7 That is, for our
purposes, beauty is a concept that applies to such things as pleasing shapes, sounds,
and colors, and, most important, to their combinations in pleasing forms: however,
these forms need not be associated with classically identifiable proportions such
as, for example, the Golden Section.The sense of beauty at issue here should also
be separated from broader, expressionist or romantic usages in which one might
speak of the manifestation of a beautiful spirit in a given poem or painting. And,
likewise, the notion of beauty I will discuss, because it is the one that I think has
had the most material impact on the analytic tradition, does not see the good as a
direct constituent of the beautiful.
We may profitably begin our story about the reduction of art theory to beauty
theory by considering Francis Hutcheson™s Inquiry Concerning Beauty, Order, Har-
mony, Design. This treatise is not concerned with defining art, but it does popular-
ize a conception of beauty that will supply central ingredients to those theorists of
art who attempt to define art in aesthetic terminology. Indeed, it is pretty clear, I
think, that Hutcheson himself would not have concocted what we are calling an
aesthetic theory of art, for he notes quite explicitly that beauty is not the only rel-
evant property in this neighborhood. Objects, presumably including artworks,
might please because they project grandeur, novelty, and sanctity, among other
things.8 That is, for Hutcheson, artworks can engender important experiences
other than that of beauty, and there is no reason to suppose that he believes that
beauty is an essential correlative of artworks.
Hutcheson™s project is twofold: to define what beauty is, on the one hand, and to
ascertain what causes it, on the other hand. Expanding upon the empiricist psychol-
ogy of Locke, he regards beauty as a sensation, one for which we have a faculty of
reception, namely, the faculty of taste.What kind of a sensation is it? Most important,
it is an immediate and distinterested sensation of pleasure.What causes this sensation?
Objects that possess the compound property of uniformity amid variety.
In order to follow Hutcheson™s treatise, it is important to realize how very nar-
row its focus really is. He is attempting to characterize one very particular dimen-
sion of experience, the experience of beauty that paradigmatically accompanies
our positive response to things such as “the moonlight reflecting like gems off the
BEAUTY GENEALOGY ART THEORY 25
AND THE OF


bay on an otherwise dark night.” It is a characterization, in the spirit of Lockean
empiricism, of that sort of feeling that his theory is primarily designed to analyze.
And of that feeling, he says that it is pleasurable, immediate, and disinterested.
That such experiences, all things being equal, can be sources of pleasure is, I
think, uncontroversial. But Hutcheson also says they are immediate. He writes:
Many of our sensitive perceptions are pleasant, and many painful, immedi-
ately, and that without any knowledge of the cause of this pleasure or pain
or how the objects excite it, or are the occasions of it, or without seeing to
what farther advantage or deteriment use of such objects might tend. Nor
would the most accurate knowledge of these things vary either the plea-
sure or pain of the perception, however it might give a rational pleasure
distinct from the sensible; or might raise a distinct joy from a prospect of
farther advantage in the object, or aversion from an apprehension of evil.9
and
This superior power of perception is justly called a sense because of its
affinity to other senses in this, that the pleasure does not arise from any
knowledge of principles, proportions, causes or of the usefulness of the
object, but strikes us first with the idea of beauty. Nor does the most accu-
rate knowledge increase this pleasure of beauty, however it may superadd a
distinct rational pleasure from prospects of advantage, or from the increase
of knowledge.10
The leading notion in these quotations is that beauty is a feeling in the subject,
like a perception, that is felt as pleasurable and that is immediate in the sense that
it is not mediated by knowledge “ neither the knowledge of what in the object
causes the sensation of pleasure, nor knowledge of the potential uses to which the
object might be put, nor knowledge of the nature of the thing.That is, a response
to the beauty of a forest vista in foliage season is not a function of knowledge of
an ecological structure of the forest, of the economic uses to which it might be
put, or even explicit knowledge of the variables that cause the sensation of beauty
in us. We look at the forest and we experience beauty just as we taste sugar and
experience sweetness.
Sugar does not taste sweeter to us if we know its subatomic structure or if we
know that the sugar we are tasting is very expensive or if some special variety has
a beneficial medicinal effect.These may be reasons to be interested in the sugar or
to desire to possess more of it. But they do not make the sugar literally taste
sweeter. Similarly, Hutcheson wants to say that with respect to the beautiful, we
are consumed by a feeling of pleasure immediately, that is, independently of the
knowledge we have of the object. We see or feel that x is beautiful without any
inference based on knowledge of the nature or use of the object and, furthermore,
knowledge of these things does not make the object feel any more beautiful.
For example, we may be struck by the beauty of the ornamentation of a tribal
costume without knowing that it is an article of clothing, without knowing how
26 BEYOND AESTHETICS

it is made or what it symbolizes, and without knowing that it is a very valuable
artifact. Nor will learning any of these things make it more beautiful. Of course,
this knowledge may make the artifact more interesting or it may prompt a wish to
acquire it. But it doesn™t make it more beautiful. Beauty it might be said, though
Hutcheson doesn™t state it this way, is closer to the surface of the experience.
Clearly, Hutcheson wants to contrast the feeling of beauty with knowledge, a
contrast that portends subsequent contrasts, within the tradition, between the aes-
thetic and the cognitive. Hutcheson contrasts the feeling of beauty with knowl-
edge in two ways, maintaining that it is both a feeling and that it is immediate, that
is, not involving further inferences. It is a sensation of pleasure unmediated by
inferential reasoning. We don™t look at an object, for example, note that it has a
compound ratio of uniformity amid variety and surmise that it is beautiful. We
look at a sunset and, all things being equal, we undergo a sensation of beauty.That
there are such experiences seems fair to suppose. It also seems correct to suppose
that they are very special and need not exclusively constitute our only appreciative
response to objects, including art objects.As Hutcheson admits, objects, including
art objects, may also have other sources of pleasure, such as independent rational
pleasures, that will reward our attention to them.
In discussing the response to beauty, Hutcheson not only contrasts the sensa-
tion of beauty to that of knowledge but also contrasts it to pleasure instilled
through the prospect of advantage.11 He writes:
And farther, the ideas of beauty and harmony, like other sensible ideas, are
necessarily pleasant to us, as well as immediately so. Neither can any resolu-
tion of our own, nor any prospect of advantage or disadvantage, vary the
beauty or deformity of an object. For as in the external sensations, no view
of interest will make an object grateful, nor view of detriment distinct
from immediate pain in perception, make it disagreeable to the sense. So
propose the whole world as a reward, or threaten the greatest evil, to make
us approve a deformed object, or disapprove a beautiful one; dissimulation
may be procured by rewards or threatenings, or we may in external con-
duct abstain from any pursuit of the beautiful, and pursue the deformed,
but our sentiments of the forms, and our perceptions, would continue invari-
ably the same.
Hence, it plainly appears that some objects are immediately the occa-
sions of this pleasure of beauty, and that we have senses fitted for perceiv-
ing it, and that it is distinct from the joy which arises upon prospect of
advantage.12
The point Hutcheson is after here is often summarized by saying that the pleasure
involved in the sensation of beauty is disinterested. If I see the cornfield as beauti-
ful, I do so independently of my knowledge of its use to the community for nour-
ishment or its value to me as its owner.The look of it enraptures me: it would be
no more enrapturing in terms of its look, if I were suddenly to learn that it is
mine. Personal advantage is irrelevant to the perception of beauty. I can be taken
BEAUTY GENEALOGY ART THEORY 27
AND THE OF


with the beautiful pattern on the skin of a deadly snake, and knowing the disutil-
ity of such snakes will not diminish its beauty.The beauty of such things is a mat-
ter of the pleasure derived from the look of them apart from their advantages and
disadvantages for humans in general or me in particular. Emphasizing the disinter-
ested nature of this pleasure is a way of signaling that the pleasure is derived from
the look or sound or pattern of the thing apart from other concerns. Indeed,
whether the pleasure involved in an experience is disinterested could in fact be
regarded as the test of whether or not one™s feeling was one of beauty. If something
seems more attractive to me because I own it than it does when it is contemplated
independently of considerations of ownership by anyone, including myself, then
my pleasure is not rooted in a sensation of beauty.
Hutcheson wants to separate our sense of beauty from our desire for beautiful
objects. If we know a beautiful object is also valuable or advantageous, that may
enhance our desire for it, but not our sensation of beauty. Knowing the diamond
is valuable, or that it is mine, doesn™t make it look more beautiful to me, though
knowing it has these attributes may make it more desirable to me.This is not to
say that beautiful things qua beautiful things are not desirable, and that we do not
seek after them, perhaps aided by formulas like Hutcheson™s idea of uniformity
amid variety. However, the sensation of beauty is independent from the desire for
it, and we cannot will something either to be beautiful or to be more beautiful
than it is. Our desires in all cases leave the status and degree of beauty untouched.
Genuine experiences of beauty are independent of our desires and interests; they
are disinterested.
Whether or not we can agree that there are experiences of beauty may be con-
troversial, but, if we agree that within the range of human experience, there is a
certain feeling of pleasure that is a function solely of the appearance and forms of
things, then some such notion of disinterest, as specified nominally by Hutcheson,
at least initially seems like a plausible, if rough and ready, way to ascertain whether
the pleasure we derive from a flower is, on a specific occasion, exclusively derived
from the look and the configuration of the object. This is not said in order to
endorse the notion of disinterest, but only to admit that it is not implausible to
hypothesize that it may be the marker of a very narrow band of human experience
“ call it the experience of beauty and agree that it can occur in nature as well as art.
However, though Hutcheson™s suggestion that considerations of knowledge
and interest are somehow bracketed from the experience of pleasure associated
with beauty may have some plausibility as a mark of that type of experience, it
should be evident that if his conception of beauty is taken as a model for a defin-
ition of art and a measure of what can be appropriately contemplated with respect
to artworks, then it is quite clear that many characteristic features of artworks and
their standard modes of appreciation and evaluation are likely to go by the board.
If the origin of an object is irrelevant to its identification as a beautiful thing, and
knowledge of the origin in no way enhances its appreciability qua beauty, then, by
extension, knowledge of art history will be irrelevant to the identification and
appreciation of artworks. If the moral and political disadvantages of an atomic
28 BEYOND AESTHETICS

mushroom cloud are irrelevant to an assessment of its degree of beauty, then, by
analogy, considerations of the moral and political consequences of a novel are
irrelevant in its evaluation.
Again, I hasten to add that Hutcheson, himself, does not make these moves.
For he is analyzing beauty rather than art in general, and he does not appear to
think that these are coextensive, not only because the class of beautiful things also
includes natural objects and geometrical theorems, but, furthermore, because he
does not appear committed to maintaining that beauty is the only or even the
essential feature of art. However, in introducing a characterization of beauty as
divorced from interest and cognition, he, perhaps inadvertently, laid the seeds for
the aesthetic theory of art.13
Before leaving the discussion of Hutcheson, it is important to underscore that
his theory of beauty is not only empiricist but also functionalist and formalist.

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