|Review of Aesthetics and the Philosophy of Art: The Analytic Tradition|
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.
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