Philosophy and the Arts,Lecture 36: “One Last Look Around.”
One point needs to be clear at the outset. We need to recall that just as the Philosophy of Science is nothing without Science, the Philosophy of Art is nothing without the Arts (no matter what John Wisdom said!!). This certainly is art!
Have we lost our way?? • I have been told this lecture should have been given at the start of the course. Perhaps so. • An attempt is made here to say where we’ve been, where we are today, and look at some guesses as to where we’re going in the discipline of Aesthetics. • If nothing else, I want my students to remember 2 names: Max Dessoir and Thomas Munro.
Max Dessoir was editor of the Zeitschrift fur Aesthetik und Allegemeine Kunstwissenschaft from 1906 until to onset of WWII. We have to start somewhere!
Dessoir in Bigaku • This may be unusual, but permit a quote from the Japanese Journal of Aesthetics (from 2004). • Max Dessoir's allgemeine Kunstwissenschaft and The 1st International Congress of AestheticsKATAYAMA ManabuMax Dessoir, German aesthetician, played an important role in the idea and the movement of allgemeine Kunstwissenschaft (general science of art) which occurred in Germany at the beginning of the twentieth century. His merits consists of publishing the first journal concerning aesthetics and studies of arts, establishing the organization of studies, and holding the congress. Particularly the congress in Berlin in 1913 which was recognized as the 1st International Congress of Aesthetics in 1937 is the climax in the activities of allgemeine Kunstwissenschaft and reflected Dessoir's idea clearly.Dessoir's idea about allgemeine Kunstwissenschaft is to make aesthetics and studies of art autonomous studies separated from philosophy and historical studies by uniting the various studies concerning arts. Dessoir's idea spread to other countries and contributed to the organization of aesthetics and studies of arts there.Allgemeine Kunstwissenschaft was weakened by two world wars and at present is seldom reviewed. But Dessoir's idea about allgemeine Kunstwissenschaft is the origin of aesthetics and studies of arts of today.
During the 1940-1970 period, Munro was the dominant force in American Aesthetics. He controlled the ASA, and, through it, the JAAC. Under his direction, ‘Aesthetics’ was defined very broadly, to include historical, sociological, psychological (etc…) studies, as well as Philosophical. Thomas Munro
John Fisher • John Fisher was the editor of the JAAC from 1973-1988. One of his first acts as editor was canceling the journal’s bibliography of “…Aesthetics and Related Fields,” citing “high printing costs.” • Members of the ASA took this move to mean that the journal was to be now devoted simply to Aesthetics, narrowly defined philosophically. • Further, the only acceptable Philosophy was taken to be British Analytic Philosophy. • Fisher announced editorially that the journal would no longer accept bibliographies (such as the one I did on S. C. Pepper), or studies that were purely historical.
The 20th century produced some great British Analytic philosophers: Wittgenstein (who was really Austrian), Russell, Moore, Ryle, Austin, etc. It is a philosophy with certain advantages—it actually seems to solve problems. Further, it is usually done one problem at a time, in short essays, convenient for teachers. British Analytic Philosophy
My course is largely devoted to this type of Philosophy; it was in vogue when I was a student. But it tended to neglect the history of Philosophy—in favor of “doing Philosophy.” And it was opposed to Metaphysics, and thus to “system-building.” More on Analysis , and problems…
You can find some good accounts of what we did in the 20th century, nicely summarized by Joseph Margolis. But some good work was done in Europe—by authors such as Roman Ingarden– which would have involved us in too much system-building. Phenomenology??
Wouldn’t it have been good to throw in a bit of Kant, for example?? Maybe. But I would contend that we cannot just read a dozen pages from Kant, and be done. To understand those pages, we need to understand Kant’s whole philosophical system, which requires at least a semester. And the same could be said of Aristotle, or of Hegel. Is that all bad??
How the future will look from Margolis’ “Radical Changes…” • “i.a preference for ontologies of flux over ontologies of invariance; • ii. the replacement of assuredly rigorous methodologies by open-ended critical and explanatory practices opposed to a priori constraints on relevance and validity; • iii.the denial that we can legitimate any form of objectivity or epistemic neutrality suited to the sciences or critical disciplines that is not an artifact of our habitual practices or that claims cognitive access to an order of reality not itself constituted in accord with the categories of human understanding; • iv. the admission that human selves--human agents, human cognizers--are themselves emergent and similarly constituted by the enabling processes of history and enculturation; • v.the further admission that human thinking is profoundly historicized, formed under the conditions of changing history and subject, through its own exercise, to further variable and divergent transformation; and • vi. the recognition that a bivalent logic is not likely to be best placed to service the rigor and objectivity of truth-claims in accord with (i) - (v) and that it must be replaced or supplemented by some accommodation of relativism. “
One man’s view… • Well, that’s one view of where we are going. • How about “feminist” Aesthetics or Environmental Studies? Again, maybe. But I remain to be convinced that such things add much to the discipline. • It is clear that we are getting more studies of particular art forms: music, film, the novel, etc. • We are also, now that Analytic Philosophy’s influence has waned somewhat, seeing more historical studies.
AS might have been expected, in Europe and Latin America, different traditions mean other ways of doing things. And we are largely ignorant of these traditions and ways. Books such as this one, available online, can help remedy this problem. But we don’t do it that way!!...
Two final (almost) remarks… • I add one negative and one positive reflection, both too personal. • First, as I once wrote in Leonardo, when I was a student, there were some great names in Aesthetics. Dewey had just died, Pepper was doing great work, Ames was busy, Beardsley and Margolis were coming into their own. Dickie, Kivy, and Marcia Eaton were just beginning their careers—Truly, …”There were giants in the Earth in those days.” I see no such on the horizon today. • But these may just be the ravings of a tired old man. Ignore them.
When I met this girl in 1951, I confess I was smitten. So I did the natural thing; I went to the Registrar’s office, and had a secretary I knew pull (that means steal) her file. I wanted to know who she was, where she lived, her high school record… all that I could find out!! The point is…when we care about someone or something (the Arts, perhaps), we ask questions. In the end, that’s what Aesthetics is all about, and why it’s so important. On the positive side…
In the end, once more, Philosophies change, people die, but the questions remain, always…