N. Carroll

In Stecker and Gracyk, Aesthetics Today (2010) 

This document is a summary of Carroll. 
My personal comments are in red. 

Urmson can be understood to be identifying the "domain" or distinctive area within human judgment that is aesthetic. Carroll is challenging this approach. This is a discussion of what is aesthetic, only some of which is art.

Many artists have non-aesthetic intentions. Many novelists make recommendations about the right way to live. So there are appropriate responses to art that are not aesthetic.

Some cognitive intentions of artists (e.g., desire to give insights about the world) are also non-aesthetic.

Next, Carroll summarizes aesthetic interest in art. The view he summarizes is similar to Beardsley's view.

Is the standard view INCOHERENT?

Being "sympathetic" and object-focused can be in conflict with disinterestedness (with attention "detached" us from our practical ends, so that we value the art for its own sake alone). When something has a moral or cognitive purpose, being appropriately object-focused will arouse emotions and responses that have important practical dimensions.

 Furthermore, some sympathetic art-appropriate responses do not value the art for its own sake alone. Example: the play Zoot Suit. (My examples: The novel/film To Kill A Mockingbird, Levine's After Walker Evans.)

The idea of being of value for its own sake is normally contrasted with instrumental value. A thing is instrumentally valuable if we value it for the way that it gets us something else, where it is the other thing that we actually value. A root canal at the dentist is of instrumental value. When we value something for its own sake, we recognize a value that is independent of instrumental value. Many things have "mixed" value, because they are valuable in both ways at the same time.

As evolved animals, our capacity for aesthetic experience should have instrumental value. (According to evolutionary theory, inherited traits are preserved because they help us to survive).

  • Our appreciation of formal excellence has instrumental value for improving our powers of detection, and this has survival value.

  • Our detection of expressive features of things is of great value in helping us to be aware of the emotions of other people, and this has survival value.

REPLY to Carroll: Of course aesthetic response is instrumentally valuable for the species, but for the individual person it is seldom valuable in that way. In other words, the capacity to enjoy a sunset has no survival value for the person who enjoys it, but the aesthetic response that gives the individual this capacity is one that will, in many OTHER situation, confer survival value.

Carroll: It is the capacity for the behavior that's at issue here. There is no reason to think that the behavior is valuable for its own sake. Furthermore, asked to explain why we would invest any of our time in viewing art, we are likely to claim that it will somehow make us better as a person. Almost no one thinks that art is valuable for its own sake.

Some people will say that they spend time with art because it gives pleasure, and THAT is something that is valuable for its own sake. But this doesn't work for all of the aesthetic experiences that are not pleasant (e.g., horror). Furthermore, if the art causes pleasure, then the art is instrumentally valuable for causing the pleasure, and not valuable for its own sake.

Suppose someone was convinced that their viewing of art was NOT instrumentally valuable. (This would seem to include NOT causing any pleasure.) The case of Jerome and Charles is offered. It is supposed to show that, although they see the same thing and have the same experience, only the one who doesn't expect to be improved by the experience can be counted as having an aesthetic response. However, MOTIVATION can't be the difference. So the normal theory of the aesthetic domain is misguided.

This is a strange argument, and I think it distorts its target. Beardsley is not offering a theory of what MOTIVATES someone to look at art. He's offering a theory of what is really valuable about art, whatever their motivation might be. Jerome and Charles have different motivations, but they both have a rich encounter with the painting, and this is true even if neither life is instrumentally improved beyond the rewards of the direct encounter.

Carroll offers the following alternative account: Take paradigm cases of aesthetic experiences, and let's identify the different kinds of CONTENTS to which we attend during these experiences. Sometimes we attend to form. Sometimes we attend to expressive features. Some features are considered to be "aesthetic," in and of themselves, such as elegance. ANY experience that pays attention to any of this content is an aesthetic experience.

                        Last updated Feb.14, 2011 ~ All text 2011 Theodore Gracyk