Art as a Shelter from Science
Aesthetic Appreciation without Inversion
In scientific life, we trust experts; we form judgments by inference from past evidence. We conduct ourselves very differently in the aesthetic domain. We avoid deferring to aesthetic experts; we form our judgments through direct perception of particulars, rather than through inference. Why the difference? I suggest that our avoidance of aesthetic testimony and aesthetic inference arises because of a set of social norms which we have adopted. Aesthetic appreciation turns out to be something like a game. We have laid down rules and restrictions, to shape a kind of activity we cherish. And aesthetic properties turn out to be a kind of social construct. Much like the goal of a game, they are constituted in our part by our obedience to certain rules. We engage in science to get the right answers; we engage in aesthetic appreciation to be engaged in the activity of the sensuous perception for particulars. Our aesthetic practices are a constructed shelter from science, which restores to us a small domain where we may once again engage, for our own selves, in the in sensuous perception of particulars.
C. Thi Nguyen claims that although we can make aesthetic judgements based on testimony or inference, we resist doing so due to a contingent norm of our social practice. For Nguyen, aesthetic engagement involves a ‘motivational inversion’ similar to games in which we adopt inefficient means of winning so that we can enjoy the process of playing. Similarly, he says, adopting the norm enables us to engage in the autonomous activity of appreciation. I argue that Nguyen is right that the purpose of our practice is appreciation, but wrong to think any motivational inversion is required in pursuing it.
C. Thi Nguyen is Associate Professor of Philosophy at University of Utah. He writes about trust, art, games, and communities. I’m interested in the ways that our social structures and technologies shape how we think and what we value. His first book is Games: Agency as Art(OUP).
Stacie Friend is Reader in Philosophy at Birkbeck, University of London. She is the President of the British Society of Aesthetics, an editor of Analysis and an organiser of the London Aesthetics Forum series of talks at the Institute of Philosophy. She is currently the Director of the interdisciplinary research project ‘Art Opening Minds: Imagination and Perspective in Film’, funded by the Templeton Religion Trust, and was previously a co-investigator on a three-year Leverhulme Trust research project on ‘Learning from Fiction’ (2018-2022). She has published widely in aesthetics and the philosophy of language and mind, particularly on topics related to fiction and imagination.