Alan Goldman, “The Aesthetic” (2001)


1.      Three key ideas

         a.      Aes properties

         b.      Aes experience

         c.      Aes attitude: Is there a special state of mind involved in perception of such properties or generation of such experiences?

2.      Three concepts often inter-defined:

         a.      Attitude as necessary for perceiving the properties or getting the experience

         b.      Experience as what perception of the properties generates or what attitude tries to produce

         c.      Properties are content of the experience or targets of the attitude



4.      Types of aesthetic properties:

         a.      A formal property: being balanced, being loosely woven

         b.      An emotional property: serene, angry

         c.      An evocative property: powerful, poignant

         d.      A broadly evaluative formal property: graceful, elegant

         e.      2nd order perceptual property: delicate, vibrant

         f.       (Frank) Sibley’s list of aes properties: Unified, balanced, integrated, lifeless, serene, somber, dynamic, powerful, vivid, delicate, moving, trite, sentimental, tragic, graceful, delicate, dainty, handsome, comely, elegant, garish, dumpy, beautiful

5.      Not aesthetic properties (some of these might be “base properties” on which aesthetic properties depend)

         a.      Being red

         b.      Being rectangular

         c.      Lasting two hours


         d.      Are some of these examples of aesthetic properties?

                   i.       Don’t formalists claim lines, shapes, colors (red) are what one should (solely) pay attention too?

         e.      Isn’t it important to distinguish aes from other kinds of properties?

         f.       Could any property be looked at aesthetically (and become an aesthetic property?)

         g.      Clear cases of non-aesthetic (and non-artistic) properties

                   i.       Weight of painting, its chemical composition

                            (1)    Intrinsic physical properties (relevant if painting had to be moved or hung, not aes)

                   ii.      Cost of painting (economic properties)

                   iii.     Painting’s ability to prop open a door


6.      Some terms both aes and non-aes

         a.      Some terms can pick out aes and non-aes properties depending on what applied to and circumstances of use

         b.      Examples: powerful, pompous, linear, restful, daring,

                   i.       Powerful applied to locomotive generally non aes, but to music, it’s aes

                   ii.      Pompous to professor non aes, but to film it’s aesthetic


7.      Relevance to nature aesthetics

         a.      Are scientific properties of nature aesthetically relevant?

                   i.       Could be aesthetically relevant w/o being an aesthetic property

                   ii.      See below about using non-aesthetic features of an object as reasons for aesthetic judgment

         b.      Rarity of a species, diversity, wildness aesthetically relevant (or an aesthetic property?)


8.      Relation between aesthetic and non-aes properties

         a.      Sibley’s non-entailment (non-supervenient) (but relevant) view

                   i.       No description of artworks in terms of non-aes properties entails any description in terms of aes properties

                   ii.      Though one offers reasons for description of work’s aes properties by citing its non-aesthetic features

                   iii.     Example: Painting contains pale colors and curved lines (non-aes) but this does not entail it is graceful, though one might point to those features to support claim it is graceful


9.      Taste: Does perception of aesthetic properties require “taste”

10.    Sibley yes: Aes properties require taste on part of subject to pick out and this explains lack of entailment

         a.      People with great vision can fail to notice painting is graceful or delicate, but can’t fail to notice its green color or curved lines

         b.      Failure due to a lack of taste

11.    Cohen no:

         a.      Taste is not required in order to apply aes terms correctly

         b.      Anyone can distinguish clear case of graceful from opposite or somber melody from a cheerful one

12.    Goldman rejects taste as being problematically like moral intuition

         a.      Rejects taste as a special faculty beyond ordinary senses whose use is required to apprehend aesthetic properties

         b.      Taste functions in aesthetic discourse like problematic notion of “moral intuition” (special faculty that allows us to perceive moral properties–right/wrong)



14.    Goldman accepts training

         a.      Many aes properties do require some training in the subject before they can be apprehended

         b.      Can’t hear gracefulness in a transition passage in Haydn quartet w/o some prior exposure to music in that style

15.    Training can explain away some disagreements in aesthetic judgment

         a.      “Experts” (those trained, or ideal critics) judgments superior to non-experts’ judgments

                   i.       There are norms for aes evaluation (better/worse, objectivity in a sense)

         b.      Example:

                   i.       Persons who has listened to lots of music of a specific genre can make better judgments

                   ii.      Person thinks Duchamp’s fountain is worthless due to lack of “training” (or knowledge)

16.    Experts can disagree (claims Goldman)

         a.      Disagreements about aesthetic properties of artworks occurs even among knowledgeable critics

         b.      Example: What is vibrant/powerful to one critic is raucous/strident/grating to another

         c.      For related discussion, see Levinson, Artistic Worth and Personal Taste

17.    Better and worse still exist (can make mistakes)

         a.      That experts sometimes disagree does not mean that one can’t be mistaken about judgments of aesthetic properties, especially if one is not knowledgeable or is inattentive.

         b.      Are objective components to aesthetic properties

         c.      Example: False to claim cheerful music is somber

18.    But aesthetic properties are also response dependent

         a.      They involve a response on the part of the subject

19.    Aes properties are relational properties

         a.      Emergent in the experience of observers as they react to the objective properties of aes object

                   i.       Beauty and other aes properties not simply intrinsic properties of objects but involve responses on part of perceiving, cognizing and feeling subjects

                   ii.      Aes properties now defined in terms of aes experience?

20.    Aes properties as responses of ideal critics

         a.      Aes properties defined in terms of shared responses of competent/ideal critics (who share particular tastes) to the intrinsic properties of objects


21.    He thinks aes properties are not just relational, but also relative

         a.      Especially if you explain aes properties in terms of aes experience and aes value, for different subjects have different experience and make different evaluations

         b.      Non-aes base properties generate different aes properties in relation to these different subjects


22.    Goldman rejects supervenience

23.    Denies that aes properties supervene on no-naes properties

         a.      For that requires that for a change in aes properties need a change in base properties

24.    Same non-aes base properties (objective properties of object–e.g., being curved) can produce different aes properties relative to different observers

         a.      Means no principles linking non-aes properties with aes properties

         b.      No principles for constructing successful art



26.    Goldman’s idea that aes experience is full/complete involvement

27.    Goldman emphasizes aes experience involves full engagement of all our mental capacities (perceptual, cognitive, affective) and the felt intensity of the experience that results

         a.      All great art–whether uplifting or depressing, arousing or calming--engage us in this way

         b.      Great art challenges our intellects as well as our perceptual and emotional capacities

         c.      Meeting all these challenges simultaneously is to experience aesthetically

28.    I don’t see why aes experiences can’t involve pieces/degrees of this rather than must involve all of it and fully

         a.      Goldman talks like this here:

                   i.       All artforms can give us the value derived from such experiences, though they may vary in degree of expressiveness, cognitive meaningfulness, & perceptual challenge


29.    Perceiving nature aes involves multiple senses and attend not only to sensuous/formal properties but see the natural objects as expressive, uplifting, oppressive, majestic, delicate

         a.      Does he allow a cognitive role to aes experience of nature as he does of art?


30.    Can be negative aes experience

         a.      Although ‘aesthetic’ (like term “art”) is sometimes used “honorifically” in a way that assumes the experience/object is of positive value

         b.      We experience negative aes properties–ugliness and dreariness

         c.      Not all aes experience is pleasurable

31.    Additionally, pleasure is the wrong way to characterize even positive aes experiences

         a.      Pleasure too crass a term to capture the feeling component of positive aesthetic response

         b.      Intrigued by pattern of clouds; Excited by lightening, awed by the falls, being riveted by predator prey interaction

         c.      Arousal of discomforting emotions

                   i.       Descriptions of the suffering of loved characters in novels

                   ii.      Art genres that emphasize the grotesque, the shocking, the morbid, the horrifying, and the ugly can be positive aesthetically

                            (1)    Consider aesthetically appreciating predation

         d.      “Pleasure” is not a good way to describe these feelings

         e.      Aes value only sometimes presents itself as pleasure

         f.       "Aesthetic ‘pleasure’ is better understood as a kind of affective (e.g., feeling or emotional) absorption" (Koorsmeyer)



         a.      Is there a special attitude involved in perceiving aes objects/properties or needed to produce aes experience or proper aes judge?

33.    Goldman’s conclusion (yes, sort of)

         a.      Aes appreciation involves perceptual and cognitive activity and affective receptivity that generates aes experience involving being removed from our typical practical affairs and the illusion of entering another world (lose ourselves in aes experience)

         b.      What does this do to “everyday aesthetics?”


34.    Disinterest (DI) as crucial to aesthetic attitude

35.    DI usually means lack of interest in practical uses of aes objects

         a.      Attend to object only as object of (active) contemplation, pay attention to its phenomenal properties simply for sake of perceiving them

         b.      Savor perceptual experience for own sake, instead of putting it to further use in our own affairs (kind of intrinsic valuing?)

         c.      But sometimes the role of the artwork in practical life is essential to a best appreciation of it

                   i.       Taking part in religious service, using a cathedral for his purpose, can heighten rather than distract from aes experience of building

36.    Dickie argues that DI perception is not really a different attitude or way of perceiving or paying attention, but a freedom from distraction by personal associations, fear, economic preoccupation, daydreams and so on.

         a.      Can’t have aesthetic experience if one is not paying attention to aesthetic object

37.    DI is not

         a.      Passive (not a blank, cow-like stare), but awareness, alertness

         b.      Not emotional detachment, but rather involvement

                   i.       Not detached when cry at tragedy, jump in fear at horror movie, lose ourselves in plot of novel

         c.      Experience of object in isolation from other things, for

                   i.       How one classifies a work, where it fits in art-historical narratives affects those aes properties it appears to have

                   ii.      What is bold, daring or graceful in one style is not in another                

                   iii.     Knowledge of historical context of work including its proper classification is necessary for proper appreciation of its aes qualities

                            (1)    Knowledge that can inform one experience of work includes artist intentions, techniques, attitudes, problems over come and so on

                            (2)    Knowledge that five foot tall tree has overcome 100mph winds and 30 below temperature for centuries can inform one’s experience