The Cognitive Relevance of Aesthetics

Alkaa kello
Päättyy kello

PinniB 4141, Kanslerinrinne 1


Filosofian tohtoriohjelma

The history of aesthetics is typically seen as divided between two opposite camps regarding thecognitive relevance of aesthetics. On the one hand, there are those, most notably Immanuel Kantand his followers, who emphasize the absolute autonomy of art. According to them, insofar as thearts have content, this content is specifically artistic and cannot be translated into another mediumwithout it losing its character as art. On the other hand, there are those who have tried to vindicate art by appealing to its alleged ability to express propositional or experiential content, enhance moralunderstanding, provide therapeutic applications, or promote social cohesion. For them, art and therelevant aesthetic responses to art are closely related to the realms of propositional knowledge,emotion, or moral attitudes.

The Cognitive Relevance of Aesthetics project investigates one of the most fundamental questions in philosophy of art and beauty, namely, the question of the cognitive relevance of aesthetics. The project approaches this question from three distinct but complementary angles: the aesthetics of Kant and Wittgenstein, pragmatist aesthetics, and philosophy of literature.

According to Kant, our discursive knowledge itself involves a blind spot surfacing at the moment when the conceptual rule of understanding ought to be a applied to a sensible particular. Moreover, in the Critique of the Power of Judgment, Kant claims that what can bridge the gap in question is a type of a judgment that we know from the realm of aesthetics, namely, a reflective judgment epitomized by a judgment of beauty. In my presentation, I address Kant's claim that in a judgment of beauty we find something which is 'a requisite for possible cognitions in general'.

Drawing on John Dewey's ideas on imagination and aesthetic experience, I argue against Peter Kivy's formalistic understanding of the aesthetics of literature. Kivy separates aesthetic experience sharply from the appreciation of literary content. Literary form is the object of aesthetic experience
and as the reader's attention is only rarely directed to the structural features of novels, aesthetic experience has a very minor role in reading novels. I show that Kivy's views involves an overly restrictive account of aesthetic experience - attention to literary form is not a prerequisite of aesthetic experience - and that cognition and an understanding of literary content can have a vital role in the aesthetic experience of literature. The critique of Kivy presented in the paper shows that aesthetic experience is a relevant issue for understanding the cognitive significance of literary works.

Philosophers of art believe that we typically have a 'dual perspective' to fictions: we engage with them imaginatively (internal perspective) and observe the features that generate the imaginings (external perspective). The assumed cognitive significance of fictional literature is commonly connected to the reader's act of imagining and explored in terms of virtual experience, empathy, theory of mind, and the like. Yet, taking the external perspective to the works, we come to notice qualitative differences between literary narratives and real-life narratives, between fictional characters and real persons, and between the fictional world and our world. What does the cognitive status of literature look from the external point of view in which we acknowledge the artificiality of literary works?


Professori Arto Laitinen