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In matters of aesthetic appreciation, we all have our “guilty pleasures,” those moments when we feel we ought not to appreciate a work judged unworthy of esteem, but when, like it or not, we find it undeniably pleasing. Sometimes termed aesthetic akrasia (a concept taken from the vocabulary of ethics), this common tendency means to act against one’s better judgment, that is, to demonstrate irrationality by failing to react in what is supposed to be the correct way (in this instance, by disliking “good” art or liking “bad” art).
In line with this perspective, there are good and bad aesthetic judgments, following Hume’s and Kant’s theories. This implies a belief that an objective standard for aesthetic quality exists (not obvious to begin with) and that it is therefore possible to determine whether an artifact complies with this standard. What are the grounds for the “ethical command” that maintains we ought to disapprove of what we like for the sake of convention? Is there not something profoundly problematic in the idea that we “ought to” appreciate works based on a heterogeneous standard rather than on how we really feel about them?
This purpose of this article is to discuss these issues. We begin by reviewing some current definitions bequeathed to us by philosophical modernity in order to reveal the strong discrepancy between the concept of aesthetic judgment in the classical sense and the way we approach works of art at the present time. We will see, then, how using this expression to discuss the issue today is to be on the wrong track (or, at best, to abuse language), because it prevents us from understanding the contribution of certain forms of art to philosophical thought.