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The Aesthetic Point of View: Selected Essays, by Monroe C. Beardsley, edited by Michael J. Wreen and Donald M. Callen; 385 pp. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1982, $34.50 (cloth), $19.95 (paper). Discussed by Martin Steinmann, Jr. MONROEC beardsley published his first article in aesthetics in 1942, and — not counting about twenty-five articles in Shipley's Dictionary of World Literature, 1943 — his second and most influential one in 1946: "The Intentional Fallacy" (with W. K. Wimsatt). Between then and publication of The Aesthetic Point of View he published about seventy-five more articles, numerous reviews, and (disregarding edited books) three books: Aesthetics: Problems in the Philosophy of Criticism (1958), Aestheticsfrom Classical Greece to the Present: A Short History (1966), and The Possibility of Criticism (1978). The number, the range, and above all the quality of Beardsley's writings have made him the most eminent living American aesthetician. Whether or not the intentional fallacy is indeed a fallacy or just so-called, it was the most influential single notion in American literary theory and criticism for at least three decades, being almost on all fours with affirming the consequent in traditional and symbolic logic. And, as the editors of The Aesthetic Point of View observe in their excellent introduction, "Aesthetics: Problems in the Philosophy ofCriticism . . . has become something of a classic in the philosophy of art, having acquired almost the status of a reference work. More than any other single text, it set analytic aesthetics on its feet and made the philosophy of art a respectable area for contemporary Anglo-American philosophers to work in" (p. 7). Indeed, it almost singlehandedly prevents textbooks that are distinguished works of scholarship from being a null class. The virtues of Beardsley's writings in aesthetics lie not solely or even chiefly in his being right or more plausible than other comers. Often he is, of course. But 119 120Philosophy and Literature what is most impressive and memorable are other qualities: a complete absence of pretentiousness, posturing, or attitudinizing; his quiet humor; his generous, open-minded consideration of others' views; his passion for reason; above all, perhaps, the clear, often elegant prose in which he sorts out issues, presents and defends his views, and rebuts others'. At the root of these virtues is his unflagging resistance to the heady allure of the metaphysical pathos that has in recent years won large and enthusiastic followings for many gurus of literary theory here and on the continent — especially "the pathos of sheer obscurity, the loveliness of the incomprehensible," and "the pathos of the esoteric .... the sense of initiation into hidden mysteries .... a sudden leap whereby one rises to a plane of insight wholly different in its principles from the level of mere understanding." 1 The Aesthetic Point of View is a sampler. Its twenty essays exhibit Beardsley's characteristic virtues. They represent his work from the early sixties to the early eighties on the issues that most engaged him: aesthetic experience, satisfaction, pleasure, and enjoyment; aesthetic objects and qualities; aesthetic values and judgments and the justification of such judgments; art as an institution; interpretation ; creativity and creation; metaphor; the definition of art. And, as the editors point out, they have a unity suggested by the title the book shares with its opening essay. At the heart of the aesthetic point of view is Beardsley's conviction that there is such a thing as aesthetic experience and that the paradigmatic (but not the sole) source of this experience is the act of apprehending human creations intended to afford this experience — namely, works of art. In one way or another, his other aesthetic interests and convictions — about aesthetic value, for example, and interpretation — follow from this conviction. But The Aesthetic Point of View is more than just a sampler. For it includes six essays, written expressly for this book, in which Beardsley reconsiders his earlier views on important aesthetic issues. Five of them compose the concluding part: "Some Persistent Issues in Aesthetics: Further Reflections," to which Beardsley provides a brief introduction. Upon the other essay — "Intentions and Interpretations : A Fallacy Revived" — I shall focus my discussion because, of me twenty essays, it is probably the one of...


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