- Analytic Aesthetics Today, Explored through Ten Conversations
Hans Maes has collected a number of conversations he has had with major figures in philosophical aesthetics over the last ten years in Conversations on Art and Aesthetics. These include, in order of appearance, Jerrold Levin-son, Arthur Danto, Cynthia Freeland, Carolyn Korsmeyer, Jenefer Robinson, Roger Scruton, Gregory Currie, Paul Guyer, Noël Carroll, and Kendall Walton. This book will be of interest to anyone who wishes to see some important living figures in this essential subdiscipline of philosophy in action. As with all efforts of this sort, however, certain choices had to be made. The book is explicitly limited to philosophers in the Anglo-American tradition, largely American (including eight past presidents of the American Society for Aesthetics) and British. It does not include anyone who does not write mainly in English. It is somewhat narrower than that since it does not include any representatives of the American pragmatist tradition, for example, Joseph Margolis or Richard Shusterman (although Maes does bring Shusterman up and Freeland is said to be influenced by John Dewey). Nor does it contain any leading figures in the aesthetics of nature or the aesthetics of the environment, for example, Arnold Berleant, Allen Carlson, or Yuriko Saito. Nor is it strong on ethnic diversity. Yet such books are necessarily limited by considerations of length as well as by the interests and expertise of the interviewer. And no one would question the stature of any of the chosen figures. Moreover, a good thing about the list is that three out of the ten are women, although one or two more would have been more representative of a subdiscipline that is relatively open to women's contributions.
I am not, unfortunately, finished with my complaints about scope. In the foreword, Murray Smith references the broader domain of aesthetics, covering as it does everything from the beauty of scientific theories to the elegance of boots. He even mentions the movement of everyday aesthetics. But little of this broadness is recorded in the actual conversations, although there is some discussion of the aesthetics of wine and food in the Scruton and Korsmeyer sections. A kind of explanation for this, offered by Smith, is [End Page 102]that art has been shorted by its traditional association with aesthetics and that the focus on art makes up for that. But this is inconsistent with the fact that some of the authors do associate art strongly with aesthetic experience.
As I said, the list is largely Anglo-American. The foreword links this group to the analytic tradition in philosophy, stressing its focus (contrary to the Continental tradition) on problems over individual master thinkers. This book is a corrective to that focus, recognizing that individuals play an important role in the analytic tradition as well. This shift can be seen in the stress placed on the photographic portraits by Steve Pyke of each of the interviewees. Smith also emphasizes the ways in which we learn about many ongoing debates between these figures over a wide range of questions, including the definition of art, the role of emotion in art, and the theory of interpretation. He concludes by observing that this is a community portrait. This is certainly true, since, at any meeting of the American Society for Aesthetics over the last thirty years, one could easily run into most of these figures.
Maes's introduction also begins with a discussion of the importance of aesthetics in our everyday lives. He even thinks this new interest should give aesthetics pride of place in philosophy generally, to which I can only add that a greater emphasis on this broader notion of aesthetics would help it to gain that place.
The most interesting aspect of Maes's introduction is his defense of the type of book we are reading, that is, a book of edited conversations. He sees it as a continuation of the conversations found in books, journals, and the conferences so frequently attended by these speakers. He also finds valuable that each person interviewed has a chance to...