J.O. Urmson

In Stecker and Gracyk, Aesthetics Today (2010) 

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

Urmson offers an example of the position known as aesthetic empiricism. SENSORY features of things are the focus of aesthetic response.

Aesthetic responses are not confined to art. They are not confined to cases of beauty. The sublime is also aesthetic.

 We are seeking the criteria for saying that a response is aesthetic. These criteria will be discovered by contrasting "aesthetic" responses with other types of responses, such as moral responses, economic responses, and personal responses.

Urmson's basic theory:

  • Aesthetic responses are appraisals (they are judgments about how good something is).

  • They appraise the sensory appearance of something. The reasons given in support of an aesthetic appraisal must direct us to sensory aspects.

  • Aesthetic criteria are distinct from other kinds of criteria. The same thing can be judged by moral, economic, and other criteria, but these will be directed at different features of the same thing.

Many people point to a special emotional response as the aesthetically relevant criterion. (Clive Bell, for example.) This view is mistaken, because it rules out the aesthetic response of "bare tolerance" and the judgment of indifferent success.

Major obstacle to getting the right answer here is that people always turn their attention to complex objects, like Shakespeare's plays. Let's use simple examples, such as roses.

The rose is a simple case. It is aesthetically good if it smells good and looks good.

More complicated case: The house looks solid and spacious. (I prefer the example "looks warm and inviting.") It LOOKS that way, even if it is not really that way. It APPEARS to have a desirable quality, apart from whether it actually has that quality. (These qualities are often known as expressive properties.)

Correct appraisals often require considerable knowledge, e.g., the intellectual ability to follow a fugue. (Another example: Some people can't keep track of the plot of Inception.) The exercise of intellect does not render the response non-aesthetic, so long as the appearances of the thing are the object of the appraisal. (BY ITSELF, the mere plot of Inception does not offer us any material for aesthetic judgment.)


                        Last updated Feb.9, 2011 ~ All text 2011 Theodore Gracyk