‘The Aesthetic Relevance of Empirical Findings’ (2011)

Kongress-Akten der Deutschen Gesellschaft für Ästhetik, vol. 2, 2011, pp. 1-21.

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Empirical findings may be relevant for aesthetic evaluation in at least two ways. First – within criticism – they may help us to identify the aesthetic value of objects. Second – whithin philosophy – they may help us to decide which theory of aesthetic value and evaluation to prefer. In this paper, I address both kinds of relevance. My focus is thereby on empirical evidence gathered, not by means of first-personal experiences, but by means of third-personal scientific investigations of individual artworks or, more generally, our interaction with art. The main thesis to be defended is that third-personal empirical findings are of limited significance for both critical and philosophical aesthetics. Indeed, they matter only to the extent to which they draw our attention to features or facts that we then identify, from our first-personal perspective, as aesthetically relevant – for instance, as reasons counting for or against certain ascriptions of aesthetic value, or as factors that causally influence our actual assessments and thus render them partly inadequate or irrational. This limited significance of empirical findings is in line with the rationalist approach to the formation and justification of aesthetic judgements, that I have already started to defend elsewhere.