The 2011 Annual Meeting of the American Society for Aesthetics took place October 26-29 at the Sheraton Riverwalk Hotel, in Tampa, Florida.
As 2011 marks the three-hundredth anniversary of the birth of David Hume, the 2011 program committee selected a series of broadly Humean themes for the program, including Hume’s own aesthetic theory; aesthetics and human nature; aesthetics and human diversity; the aesthetics of history; beauty and utility; and experimental aesthetics.
It was with this last theme in mind that the program committee invited Paul Bloom, Professor of Psychology at Yale University, author most recently of How Pleasure Works, to speak at one of the conference’s two plenary sessions. Drawing on a variety of empirical sources, Bloom defended the claim that human beings are “natural-born essentialists” when it comes to aesthetic matters, that is, that our valuing works of art as we do is bound up with our regarding them as possessing hidden essences. Berys Gaut, Professor of Philosophy at University of St Andrews, was chosen to deliver the Wollheim Lecture and therein to speak at the conference’s other plenary session. Gaut’s lecture defended an account of creativity combining elements from both rationalist and irrationalist traditions; the lecture itself constituted compelling evidence that creativity is an unjustly neglected philosophical topic.
The program committee selected for presentation forty papers out of a total of fifty-nine submitted. That several papers addressed one or another element of Hume’s aesthetic theory was not surprising. That an even greater number took up topics in the philosophy of music perhaps was. Other topics addressed by multiple papers included film, dance, literature, developments in contemporary visual art, environmental aesthetics, the nature of fiction, and Romanticism.
The committee received a total of three panel proposals on the topics of the aesthetics of cooking, aesthetic qualities, and feminist interpretations of Hume’s aesthetics. We accepted all three. We also received a suggestion from the membership that we organize a session on the work of Denis Dutton, which we were very happy to do. Six other panels were initiated by the committee. Two of these were author-meets-critic sessions on the most recent winners of the ASA’s Outstanding Monograph Prize – Dominic McIver Lopes’s A Philosophy of Computer Art and Peter Lamarque’s Work and Object. The four remaining took as their topics Hume, everyday aesthetics, the aesthetics of non-fiction, and aesthetic value and the challenges from the sciences.
As program chair, I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate myself on having put together a superb program committee – Maria Jose Alcaraz, Emily Brady, James Harold, Jonathan Neufeld, Guy Rohrbaugh, Murray Smith, and Katherine Thomson-Jones. I would like to thank each of them. I would also like to thank Kevin Sweeney for so ably handling local arrangements, and Dominic McIver Lopes for posting our call for papers and program on the ASA website. Finally I would like to thank last year’s program chair, Danny Nathan, for excellent advice at the beginning of the process, and Dabney Townsend, for excellent and patient advice throughout.