The Aesthetics Seminar

4 - 6pm, Tuesdays Weeks 1, 3, 5, 7 & Monday Week 8

Quarrell Room, Exeter College

Convenors: James Grant, Yuuki Ohta

Postgraduates, undergraduates, and faculty are welcome.

Hilary Term 2017

Week 1 - Tuesday 17 January

Catharine Abell (Manchester), 'Interpreting Fiction: An Epistemological Mystery Story'

We are surprisingly successful at interpreting works of fiction. Our success is surprising because it is very difficult to explain. To date, philosophical discussions of fiction have focussed on metaphysical questions concerning what determines the contents of works of fiction, rather than on epistemological questions concerning how readers work out what the contents of works of fiction are. One concerned solely with metaphysical questions of content determination may provide an account of the determinants of fictive content without providing any explanation of how readers are able to identify the properties that determine fictive content. However, where the form of fictive content at issue is one that readers are in fact generally able to identify, the plausibility of any such account rests ultimately on the availability of some such explanation. If no such explanation can be provided, we have good reason to reject the account of content determination being proposed. I will focus on a fairly basic level of fictive content, what’s explicitly true in a fiction, which readers do not generally experience much difficulty in identifying. I will argue that neither extant philosophical accounts of interpretation nor extant philosophical accounts of the determinants of explicit truth in fiction provide us with the resources to explain how readers are able to work out what’s explicitly true in a fiction. Such accounts are subject to a profound and previously unacknowledged problem. They leave us with an unsolved epistemological mystery which casts serious doubt on the adequacy of their metaphysical claims about content determination.

Week 3 - Tuesday 31 January

Maximilian de Gaynesford (Reading), 'Silencing and Poetry'

I will first set out a new objection to Austin’s remarks on poetry using his notion of uptake: that they sustain a particular form of silencing to whose explication (the ‘Austinian Analysis’) Austin himself contributes. I will then respond critically to those who deny that the Austinian Analysis discriminates and understands this kind of silencing, before suggesting ways we might improve the analysis. Finally, I will use these improvements to look again at Austin's remarks on poetry, showing that if his remarks silence poets, they do so only in a limited sense.

Week 5 - Tuesday 14 February

Alison Hills (Oxford), 'Aesthetic testimony, understanding and virtue'

Much of what we learn about the world comes from testimony. But in certain domains, including aesthetics, trusting testimony seems problematic; there is, at least, a puzzle about its status. I argue for an explanation of the puzzle in terms of the importance of understanding and of virtue. This requires sketching appropriate conceptions of aesthetic understanding and aesthetic virtue. I draw some conclusions about the similarities (and differences) between ethics and aesthetics.

Week 7 - Tuesday 28 February

Emily Caddick-Bourne (Hertfordshire), 'Love's demonstration in Shakespeare's Sonnets'

One of the themes present in Shakespeare's sonnets is the desire to preserve the beauty of one type of thing (a person, the Young Man) through the beauty of another type of thing (poetry). An important problem for this project is that the aesthetic value of poetry seems simply to be incommensurable with the aesthetic value of a young man. Through some observations on the philosophical conceptions of love and of futility which we take the Sonnets to suggest, we will argue that the Sonnets resolve the problem of incommensurability by attempting to create, through poetry, conditions which would enable the Young Man to be identified not by name, not biographically, not by description, but demonstratively, as a relatum of a particular instance of the relation of love.

Week 8 - Monday 6 March

Anne Eaton (U. Illinois at Chicago), The Power of Pictures

This paper is about pictures. My focus is not the usual questions about how pictures represent or how to conceive of their depictive content. Instead, I focus on what pictures can do. In particular, I am interested in how pictures shape their audiences’ sentiments (by which I mean: affect-laden object-directed mental states such as emotions, desires, and also some feelings and pleasures). To this end I outline a model of pictorial persuasion and consider its application in areas as seemingly
diverse as pornography, advertising, high art, and propaganda.

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