Final Exam Study Questions

Aesthetics, Fall 2010

Study questions Davies, Ch 5: Interpretation

 1. According to Davies, when is interpretation necessary? Answer this question by giving examples of when it is and is not needed.

 2. Does Davies think there are better or worse interpretations of artworks? Does he think some interpretations of art are plain wrong? Does he think there is one correct interpretation of an artwork and any other interpretation is incorrect? What do you think about these questions? Give an example of a clearly unacceptable interpretation of a work of art.

 3. Give an example of two interpretations of a work that are combinable (compatible); now give examples of two interpretations that are not.

 4. Identify the five theories of interpretation that Davies discusses and, using examples, explain the differences between them.

 5. What is actual intentionalism? What are unrealized intentions? (Give an example.) How are the two related?

 6. Using an example, explain a plausible objection to actual intentionalism.

 7. What are the two alternatives to intentionalism in art interpretation (that is, alternatives to the idea that the author’s intentions fix the meaning of the work of art)?

 8. What is the “value maximization” theory of interpretation? Explain it using an example. What is one objection to this view?

 9. What is the “meaning constructivism” theory of interpretation? Explain it using an example. Does Davies accept this view? Why or why not?

 10. Identify the theories of interpretation that think the goal of interpretation is to: (1) understand the work as a communication from the author to the audience; (2) achieve the appreciative satisfactions art can bring.

 11. Explain Davies distinction between a work’s significance and its meaning. How does this help him support his view that all properties of an artwork crucial to its identity/content are fixed when it is created?

 12. Explain the implications (and problems) of using intentionalism to interpret the U.S. Constitution. Is value maximization more plausible?

Alex Neill, Fiction and the Emotions

1. Neill argues that some emotions directed at fiction are possible (and rational) and some not. Give examples of each and explain why he thinks they are (or are not) possible and rational.

2. Explain why Neill thinks that jealousy directed at fictional characters is not possible while envy is. Now consider fear.

3. Does Neill think it is rational to be afraid (for oneself) of fictional characers? Why or why not? How does he account for fear one sometimes feels in response to fiction?

4. Explain how the “cognitive theory of emotions” creates trouble for the idea that emotional reactions to fiction are possible.

5. Does Neill think that our emotion of pity directed at fiction involves fictional/pretend (not real) beliefs and fictional/pretend emotions? Explain.

6. Does Neill think that we believe that “Harry Potter was courageous?” If so, how does he understand the meaning of this belief?

7. Does Neill think that for pity to be rational/possible we must believe that someone is actually suffering? Does he think that fictional suffering can move us to pity? How?

8. Give examples of an emotion that results from imaginatively placing ourselves in the position of others and then an example of an emotion that does not result from this mechanism.

9. Explain the potential problem that arises from enjoying fictional suffering of characters that we pity? How does Neill solve this problem?

10. How does Neill respond to the claim that pity involves the desire to help and since we have no desire to help people in fiction, we do not pity them?

11. How does Neill respond to the objection that pitying fictional characters implies that we want the author to have written the story differently (so that the fictional characters do not suffer), but in fact we don’t want the story to be written differently? (Hint: iced buns example).

12. Are our emotional response to fiction typically shorter and less intense than our responses to similar real-life situations? If you think so, what accounts for this difference?


Berys Gaut, The Paradox of Horror

28. *What is the paradox of horror/tragedy? How does Gaut respond to the paradox? Is it a version of the “enjoyment theory” (describe this theory).

29. Explain and give examples of “negative emotions.” For Gaut, what makes a negative emotion negative? Hint: It is not that it feels bad to have it.

30. *Describe some of the other solutions to paradox of horror that Gaut considers (e.g., Carroll’s positive outweighs negative solution, the expressivist/catharsis solution, the control thesis). Explain one of Gaut’s objections to each of these theories.

31. Does Gaut think people who enjoy horror are in the majority or minority? How does his theory require a specific answer to this question?


Davies, Ch 6: Expression and Emotional Responses Study Questions

1. Using examples, explain how emotions are varied lot (according to Davies).

2. Give an example where the emotions/attitudes of a work of art differ from the emotions/attitudes of its protagonist (the main character).

3. *Does Davies think musical expressiveness is objective or subjective? Explain these terms. How does his view on this related to the issue of whether or not music is fine grained in its expressiveness? If one person hears music as sad, another says it expresses grief, do they disagree (according to Davies)?

4. *Explain and contrast the following accounts of how it is that abstract music (w/o words) can be expressive: Associative account, expression theory, emotivism/arousal theory, expressiveness is in the music itself without it being any person’s emotions. What are some problems with each of these theories?

5. Must a composer of music feel the emotion the music expresses while she composes the music?

6. Is it because a piece of music is sad, that it makes people sad, or is it sad because it makes people sad? What is the difference? What is Davies view on this?

7. Explain how the idea of resemblance might help explain how music can express emotions.

8. What does it mean to say that emotional responses to music are non-cognitive? Wht does it mean to say we get emotions from music by contagion or osmosis, and why is this a non-cognitive account of how music moves us?

9. *In terms of being cognitive or not (that is, do they involve beliefs or not), does Davies believe the emotional responses to music and emotional responses to fiction are similar? Why or why not? What are his views about the cognitivity of emotional responses to fiction and to music?

10. What is Davies criticism of the idea that emotional responses to fiction are irrational?

11. Explain why Davies (and others) think the appreciation of tragedy needs explanation?

12. *What is one explanation of why we seek out tragedies that Davies rejects? (Hint: It has to do with whether or not the experience of tragedies is unpleasant). Why does he reject it?

13. *What is Davies response to this “paradox” of tragedy? In other words, what is his account of why it is worthwhile to appreciate tragedy even thought the experience is often saddening, harrowing, or unpleasant?

14. In what way does Davies think appreciating difficult art (e.g., tragedy) is like life?

15. Does Davies think it is pleasure alone that explains our interest in art? Explain why or why not.


Davies, Ch 7: Pictorial Representation and the Visual Arts

1. Give an example of picture that is not representational. Now give an example of a pictorial representation that is not an artwork.

2. Explain how Davies uses the concept of style to distinguish between pictorial representations that are art from those that are not art.

3. Does Davies accept the idea that only pictorial representations that are art have style and that non-art pictorial representations lack style?

4. How might style affect content? (E.g., Moore vs. Giacometti)

5. Using examples, explain the difference between indirectly seeing something and seeing a representation of something

6. According to Davies, are photographs representations of their subjects (like paintings) or are they more like a kind of indirect seeing (like looking through binoculars or seeing a live broadcast of a President’s speech on T.V.)? What are the considerations on either side of this issue?

7. Explain Roger Scruton’s reasons for thinking photography is inferior to painting. What are Davies’ responses to these claims? Can photography have style?


Questions on Parsons, Art in Nature

1. What is Parsons’ definition of env art? Are Chris Jordan’s or Brant Holsenbeck’s works env art on his definition?

2. What is Parsons’ main criticism of env art? Does he object to it because it causes serious env harm?

3. Explain with examples the notion of “aesthetic affront.” Explain why and how Parsons thinks env art is an aes affront to nature.

4. How does Parsons use the example of Duchamp’s LHOOQ to make his criticism of env art?

5. How does Parson respond to the argument that env art that is temporary is not ethically problematic.

6. What are the three reasons (“mitigating factors”) that Parson’s considers which weaken the charge of that env art is an aesthetic affront to nature?

7. How does Parsons use his living room example to respond to this defense of env art?

8. How does Parsons respond to the defense of env art that such art is necessary as a way to help protect the planet?

9. What is Parsons’ response to the argument that one can only insult/affront persons, not mindless entities like nature?

10. How does Parsons respond to the claim that if env art is an aes affront to nature, so too are agriculture and home building?

Study questions for Walton, Morals in Fiction and Fictional Morality

1. Distinguish between three positions concerning the relation between morality and aesthetics: Apartheid, autonomy, and integration/interaction. Using the example of Leni Riefenstahl's Triumph of the Will, explain each position and show how they are different.

2. Can a racist joke be funny? Explain how this question can be explored by using the above three positions.

3. Walton provides a argument against apartheid. State, explain and assess this argument.

4. Describe an example explaining how a moral defect in an artwork might also constitute an aesthetic/artistic defect.

5. Should one ignore the moral failings of a work of art in order to appreciate that work of art aesthetically? Using examples, argue for each response to this question.

6. Walton gives an argument to explain why we might be worried about “imagining believing in a moral perspective we find offensive.” What is this argument and is it a strong one?

7. Walton argues that there is an “asymmetry” in our reactions to a work of fiction getting the morals wrong and to it getting factual matters wrong. Using concrete examples, describe this asymmetry. Do you think he is right that this asymmetry exists. How does he propose to explain this asymmetry? Walton argues that humor and morality work the same way in terms of this asymmetry. Explain what he has in mind. Do you agree with him?

8. How does this asymmetry provide evidence for anti-intentionalism about the meaning of art?


Study Questions Davies, Ch 8: The Value of Art

1. Explain the difference between valuing art intrinsically and extrinsically.

2. Give an example of an “extrinsic value” of art that Davies thinks is not relevant to valuing art as art and then give an example of an extrinsic value of art that Davies thinks is a value of art as art (identified and appreciated as art).

3. Explain Davies views on the degree of universality and objectivity in the assessment of art’s value. Explain both the cultural relativist and the experts disagree objections to Davies view. How does Davies respond to each? (Consider the medical analogy he uses in response to the experts disagree objection).

4. Describe what an ideal art expert (one whose judgment of the value of an artwork is reliable) would be like, according to Davies and Hume.

5. What is Davies’ view of the following: Art lovers are interested in art because of the pleasure it brings them.

6. Give examples of cases where Davies argues the immorality associated with an artwork is irrelevant to its identity and content (and explain why it is). Now give examples where he thinks such immorality is relevant to the artwork’s content and identity.

7. Using examples, explain the distinction between immoral material being depicted by art and the point of the view of the artwork (e.g., film) toward what is depicted itself being immoral.

8. What is Davies view on whether the immorality of an artwork is an artistic defect or not?

9. What is “immoralism?” What does Davies say about the film The Accused that suggests a possible example of immoralism?

10. Identity and explain Davies examples of art genres that he argues endorse immoralities but that are not such that this endorsement leads to artistic defects.

11. Give a plausible example of how a moral defect in a work of art can also be (or leads to) an artistic defect. (I recommend using one of Davies’ or Walton’s examples.) Explain why this is the case.

12. According to Davies, why will an artist inevitably fail is she tries to get us to believe that evil is good (e.g., that cutting up people for fun is right)?

13. Davies embraces some moral requirements for artworks (and great artworks). What are they? (Both pornography and Reifenstahl’s Triumph of the Will violate these requirements, according to Davies.)

Study questions, Allen Carlson, Aesthetic Appreciation of the Natural Environment

1. Describe Carlson's position on what is involved in the appropriate aesthetic appreciation of nature and compare and contrast it with his view of the appropriate appreciation of art. Do you agree with his position?

2. What is the issue Carlson addresses with his talk of the “what and how question” with regard to nature appreciation? Does he think it easier to answer these questions for art or for nature? Why? Use examples. How does he propose to answer these questions for nature?

3. Identify three of the four models of nature appreciation that Carlson considers and rejects and explain one of his reasons for rejecting (criticizing) each.

4. Identify and explain the two “ramifications” of Carlson’s natural environmental model (NEM) for the appreciation of nature.

5. In your own view, can knowledge of nature, enhance our appreciation of it? Is such knowledge required for the best sort of nature appreciation? Can such knowledge get in the way of appreciating nature? Can one aesthetically appreciate nature fully while ignorant of its nature?

Questions on Carroll, On Being Moved By Nature

1. Describe Carroll’s model of nature appreciation, giving examples.

2. What is Noel Carroll's major objection to Carlson's theory of the aesthetic appreciation of nature? Does Carroll reject the type of aesthetic appreciation of nature that Carlson is advocating? Why or why not?

3. What is the problem of "aesthetic focus" (“the what and how question”)? How does Carlson address this problem? How does Carroll address it?

4. Does Carroll think an uninformed emotional arousal is acceptable in both art and nature appreciation? Do you think he is right?

5. Does Carroll think one can be appropriately emotionally aroused by a natural object about which one has false beliefs? Do you agree with him? Why or why not? Use examples.

6. Given Carroll's account of aesthetic appreciation of nature as emotional arousal, explain how he accounts for the presence (or lack) of objectivity in nature appreciation.

7. How does Carroll respond to the objection that being moved by nature is not a deep kind of nature appreciation, whereas Carlson’s scientific knowledge based appreciation of nature is deep.

Questions on Hettinger, Evaluating Positive Aesthetics

1. Define positive aesthetics (=PA), both traditionally and with the weakened definition I provide.

2. State and explain the four conditions for an adequate positive aesthetic that Hettinger stipulates.

3. Give examples of easy natural beauty and now examples of more difficult natural beauty. How does knowledge of nature support PA for more difficult beauty? Does Hettinger think knowledge will turn both boring and ugly nature into something aesthetically positive?

4. Why might someone think that no negative aesthetic judgments of nature are possible? Is this a plausible view?

5. What is the equal beauty thesis? Does PA entail equal beauty? Does scientific knowledge of nature insure equal beauty? Is the equal beauty thesis good or bad for using nature’s beauty for nature conservation?

6. Explain the difference between individualistic and holistic versions of PA.

7. Explain and evaluate Hargrove’s “no negative aesthetic qualities” in nature view.

8. Explain the “on-balance individualism” version of PA . Is it plausible?

9. Explain Parsons’ beauty making criterion and compare it with the “beauty-maximization” view of interpretation of art. Evaluate this attempt to defend PA.

10. What is Carlson’s “science is aesthetic” argument for PA. Explain Hettinger’s objection that this argument is conceptual/a priori and that arguments for PA should be empirical. What is the “dull world objection” to Carlson’s argument?

11. What does Rolston mean by the systemic beauty of nature? Does nature have systemic beauty?

12. Explain how contextualization of ugly nature might mellow its negative aesthetic value.