Print Page   |   Contact Us   |   Sign In   |   Join ASA
Review of Aesthetics and the Philosophy of Art: The Analytic Tradition
Share |

Peter Lamarque, Stein H. Olsen, eds, Aesthetics and the Philosophy of Art: The Analytic Tradition (Blackwell, 2005)

Reviewed by Anna Christina Ribeiro

Peter Lamarque and Stein Haugom Olsen have had a long and profitable philosophical relationship, and its fruits are always good food for thought. This time they have done a superb job of compiling the key texts in contemporary analytic aesthetics in a volume that is sure to remain the standard reader for a long time to come. The anthology is divided into eleven parts, with the first five focusing on traditional issues in aesthetics (identification and ontology, aesthetic properties, intention and interpretation, and values of art), the next four on major types of art (fiction, pictorial art, literature, and music) and the final two on more recent topics of interest in aesthetics, popular art and the aesthetics of nature. Each part is prefaced by a brief introduction and includes three to seven essays, with ‘Identifying Art’ opening up with seven; ‘Aesthetic Properties’, ‘Literature’, ‘Music’, ‘Popular Art’ and ‘Aesthetics of Nature’ each having three; ‘Ontology of Art’ and ‘Intention and Interpretation’ four; ‘Fictionality’ and ‘Pictorial Art’ five; and ‘Values of Art’ six. This disparity in size among the eleven parts gives us a sense of the editors’ views on the relative importance of the questions with which each part deals – identification and value of art being at the top – but also of where the interests of analytic philosophers of art have lain since ‘analytic aesthetics’ took off some fifty years ago.

The anthology certainly fills a need, especially for advanced undergraduate and graduate courses in aesthetics, whose instructors previously had to procure many of the articles now in this book from the various journals or books where they originally appeared. This is the first reader dedicated exclusively to the works of aestheticians who share the aims and methods of analytic philosophy, and for bringing that to life alone Lamarque and Olsen are to be highly commended. The editors of every anthology in aesthetics to date, even when their philosophical sympathies are with the analytic tradition, have aimed at a breadth of scope that, while admirable, invariably causes their compilations to suffer from a lack of focus. Naturally, this is not to say that Plato or Hume or Tolstoy should suddenly disappear from our curricula; it is to note that anthologies (and their readers) are best served by focus. Even the companion volume to Lamarque and Olsen’s compilation, Blackwell’s Continental Aesthetics: Romanticism to Postmodernism (edited by Richard Kearney and David Rasmussen and published in 20011) lacks the focus the analytic reader has, inasmuch as it includes texts that may be called ‘continental’ only for geographical reasons, such as Kant’s Critique of Judgment or Schelling’s Philosophy of Art. To call them, along with Hegel, Schopenhauer and Coleridge, ‘analytic’ or ‘continental’ in the senses in which these terms are generally understood today, is to be guilty of anachronism. So a third category for aesthetics anthologies, which one may label ‘historical’, is by now called for, though overlaps with other ones be all but inevitable. The emergence of such a need is cause for celebration, for it shows how far the field of aesthetics has come.

Lamarque and Olsen never lose sight of their analytic premise, and they do an excellent job of explaining concisely and clearly, in their General Introduction, how they conceive of the ‘analytic’ philosophy and how it contrasts with ‘continental’ philosophy. In the process, they give their readers a brief history of the emergence and development of analytic philosophy in general and of analytic aesthetics within it. Usefully, they note how the idea of analysis itself underwent various transformations, from being the project of displaying the logical form of propositions heralded by Frege, Russell and Wittgenstein, to seeking the necessary and sufficient conditions for the proper application of concepts, to finding their ‘logical geography’ rather than defining them in the way just described, as proposed by Ryle and the Oxford Ordinary Language Philosophers. While analytic philosophers soon lost their grand hopes of solving or dissolving major philosophical problems merely via the analysis of language, their pioneering work left its mark on aesthetics, beginning with the application of Russell’s analysis of fictional and empty names to issues of fictionality in art. Nevertheless, that mark was not to be felt until mid-century, when prominent analytic philosophers began to turn their efforts toward what had by then long been a neglected philosophical area. It is to the work of Gilbert Ryle, Stuart Hampshire, O.K. Bouwsma, John Passmore, Arnold Isenberg, Helen Knight, Margaret MacDonald, Paul Ziff and others, and to the editor who brought their work together, William Elton, that we owe the existence of a philosophical aesthetics in the analytic tradition (pp. 1-5).

In their efforts to distinguish analytic from continental philosophy, Lamarque and Olsen point to differences in methodology as well as in theoretical presuppositions. While the distinctions they draw are generally fair, some continental philosophers might take offense at the editors’ characterization of the analytic method as involving “the commitment to rational methods of argument” and “the emphasis on objectivity and truth” (p.2), which (in addition to being vague) suggests that continental philosophers somehow argue in an non-rational manner and emphasize subjectivity and falsity or, at least, are not concerned with truth. They will doubtless be amused, however, to see Lamarque and Olsen characterize the analytic style as “eschewing overly rhetorical or figurative language” (id.) only to cite J.O. Urmson’s ‘What Makes a Situation Aesthetic?’ (included in the anthology) as a paradigm of early analytic aesthetics a few paragraphs later:

Philosophers have hoed over the plot of aesthetics often enough, but the plants that they have raised thereby are pitifully weak and straggling objects. The time has therefore not yet come for tidying up some corner of the plot; it needs digging over afresh in the hope that some sturdier and more durable produce may arise, even if its health be rather rude. (p.3)

The remaining items on their analytic methodology list are not susceptible to any such reservations. I think it will be readily accepted by analytic and continental philosophers alike that the former emphasize the use of “logic and conceptual analysis;” that they feel a “need to define terms and offer explicit formulations of theses;” that they use a “quasi-scientific dialectical method of hypothesis/counter-example/modification;” and that they have a “tendency to tackle narrowly defined problems, often working within on-going debates” (p.2). Some continental philosophers might take issue with the latter part of this last item, since it is not true that continental philosophers work in a vacuum, but it is arguably true that analytic philosophers tend to engage in a more active ‘back-and-forth’ exchange that is roughly scientific in spirit.

This spirit is evinced in what Lamarque and Olsen take to be one of the theoretical presuppositions shared by most, though perhaps not all, analytic philosophers: “the treatment of scientific discourse as paradigmatic” (p.2). The other presuppositions are “a tendency toward ontological ‘parsimony’, realism about science, and physicalism about mind;” and “the belief that philosophical problems are in some sense timeless or universal, at least not merely constructs of history and culture” (id.). The last assumption, they claim, is what most obviously distinguishes the analytic from the continental tradition, and it is certainly the case that analytic philosophers generally do not much concern themselves with the historical context of the problems they analyze, while continental philosophers not only tend to focus on the cultural background of philosophical problems, but sometimes exhibit a reverence for historical figures that can cause their arguments to verge on the fallacy of appeal to authority. But the proclivity of some analytic philosophers to disavow all philosophy done prior to the late 19th century as unworthy of serious study is no less distressing. There is no sign that the editors are guilty of such inclinations.

Aesthetics and the Philosophy of Art includes forty-six essays by the following philosophers: Morris Weitz, J.O. Urmson, Arthur Danto, Jerrold Levinson (3 essays) George Dickie, Monroe Beardsley (2), Stephen Davies (2), Joseph Margolis, Peter Kivy (2), Gregory Currie, Frank Sibley, Kendall Walton (3), Philip Pettit, Stein Haugom Olsen (2), Robert Stecker, P.F. Strawson, Frank Sibley, Anthony Savile, Malcolm Budd (3), Peter Lamarque (3), Berys Gaut, Colin Radford, John Searle, Jerome Stolnitz, Roger Scruton (2), Jack Meiland, Richard Wollheim, Jenefer Robinson (2), Noël Carroll, Bruce Baugh, R.W. Hepburn, and Allen Carlson. The list represents a crème de la crème of analytic aesthetics, and I do not question the inclusion of any of these philosophers. However, one cannot fail to notice that there is only one woman aesthetician on this list. Surely place could have been found for some additional selections by accomplished woman philosophers such as Emily Brady, Eva Dadlez, Mary Devereaux, Susan Feagin, Cynthia Freeland, Lydia Goehr, Carolyn Korsmeyer, Mary Mothersill, Diana Raffman, Stephanie Ross, and Amie Thomasson. It is also surprising, restricting ourselves now to senior male aestheticians, not to find anything by Ted Cohen, George Wilson, or Nicholas Wollterstoff. While space constraints naturally forbid the inclusion of all of those the editors might have wished to include in the reader, the argument could be made that the debates in some of the sections could have benefited from the work of some of the aestheticians just listed. More importantly, in the case of the women philosophers, the present selection could give the undergraduate student and the general reader either the unrealistic view that philosophy continues to be a game played by men only, or the uncharitable impression that the texts of those not included in the anthology are of marginal importance. Still, in fairness to the editors, the anthology was plausibly guided, above all, by the principle of presenting the key texts in the analytic tradition; that is, those that served to initiated that tradition in the first place, and those that have subsequently been most influential. This aim is achieved with precision. Lamarque and Olsen also strive to acknowledge absentees in the ‘Further reading’ sections at the end of the General Introduction and of the Introduction to each of the eleven Parts. Those sections are nonetheless unnecessarily short and, sadly, most of the women listed above do not make it even there.2

As with the General Introduction, the Introductions to each segment of the anthology are models of clarity and concision. Lamarque and Olsen place each topic in the philosophical context from which it emerged, highlighting, more prominently in the first few Parts than in the later ones, how the topics emerged in the specific context of analytic philosophy. They then proceed to give excellent brief summaries of the essays selected for that segment, making evident how each text engages in a continuing debate with the previous one(s) – one of the hallmarks, as they stress, of the analytic method of philosophizing. They also draw attention to that method by pointing to how specific essays are models of the analytic approach, as in the case of Jenefer Robinson’s ‘Expression and Arousal of Emotion in Music’, in Part IX, ‘Music’ (p. 446). By focusing on particular debates, the editors achieve an internal cogency not frequently found in books of this sort (this is not to say that each Part deals with a single debate; ‘Fictionality’, for example, addresses three3). They also perform a successful balancing act of placing essays that could have belonged in different sections (for example, Jerrold Levinson’s ‘What a Musical Work Is’) in the Part where they belong best (in this case, ‘Ontology of Art’ rather than ‘Music’). When this happens, they invariably call attention to these essays in their introductions, making the reader aware of such interconnections within the book.

As for Lamarque and Olsen’s selection of the eleven Parts in which the anthology is divided, a remarkable absence in this otherwise topically comprehensive reader is that of a section on aesthetic experience. Although it belongs to a long-standing tradition, the topic certainly has been a focus of attention in analytic aesthetics from its early days. Surprisingly, nowhere do Lamarque and Olsen even acknowledge it, much less explain why they should have decided against a section on it. So the well-known debate between Monroe Beardsley and George Dickie about the nature of a distinctively aesthetic type of experience, as well as more recent incursions into this difficult terrain by Roger Scruton, Kendall Walton, Malcolm Budd, Gary Iseminger, Jerrold Levinson, Richard Shusterman and Noël Carroll, are all left out.4 This is to the detriment of the book and to the inconvenience of instructors, who will have to supplement their courses with copies of articles from journals or of chapters from books. If anything need be altered for a possible future second edition, that may be a good place to begin. Also welcome would be a section on a more recent development within aesthetics, namely its engagement with and use of cognitive science.

Despite these minor cavils, Aesthetics and the Philosophy of Art: The Analytic Tradition compares well with other contemporary readers such as David Goldblatt and Lee Brown’s Aesthetics: A Reader in the Philosophy of the Arts (2nd edition, Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 2005), which suffers from over-inclusion; Alex Neill and Aaron Ridley’s The Philosophy of Art: Readings Ancient and Modern (Boston: McGraw-Hill, 1995); and Susan Feagin and Patrick Maynard’s Aesthetics (Oxford Readers Series, 1997), both of which combine historical and contemporary as well as continental and analytic works. While these readers are excellent choices for undergraduate courses and for the general reader, Lamarque and Olsen’s will be a terrific resource for more advanced research in analytic aesthetics. An undergraduate course based on it, however, would be well supplemented by a historical reader as well as by an introductory book such as Noël Carroll’s Philosophy of Art: A Contemporary Introduction (London: Routledge, 1999).

Lamarque and Olsen rightly note that there is a fair number of philosophers on the European continent who follow the analytic method, although the analytic style of philosophy is most entrenched in the Anglophone countries. Undergraduate students all over the globe will be surprised and perhaps inspired to know that most of the writers from this anthology are still alive and have their own web pages on the internet, in contrast to more traditional anthologies which leave one with the feeling that philosophy is something that was done long ago and far away. And undergraduate students in English-speaking countries, particularly in America and in the United Kingdom, will be especially privileged to have the chance to encounter some of these philosophers in their own classrooms, and thus be able to engage first-hand with the first-rate minds that have brought the field of aesthetics to the felicitous state it is in today. Lamarque and Olsen have done a superb job of crystallizing the tremendous contributions of these philosophers for all of us. Their stated aims, namely “to present in a single volume some of the key texts form the analytic tradition in aesthetics and philosophy of art; to display the development of this tradition from its beginnings in the 1950s to the present day; to illustrate the broad range of topics and problems addressed by analytic aestheticians, from general issues of a theoretical nature to more specific issues relating to particular art forms; [and] to provide a valuable reference resource for teaching and research purposes” (p. 1) are all admirably accomplished. My comments and suggestions above notwithstanding, I recommend their anthology wholeheartedly.


2005 © Anna Christina Ribeiro

more Meetings

9/29/2017 » 9/30/2017
Conference: Race, Art and Aesthetics

11/15/2017 » 11/18/2017
ASA 75th Annual Meeting

Featured Members
Jeanette BicknellLocal arrangements chair: 2018 Annual Meeting in Toronto
Sondra BacharachVice-Chair of Feminist Caucus & 2016 ASA Faculty at UCSD Summer Program for Women in Philosophy

Membership Software Powered by YourMembership  ::  Legal