“The Authority of Pleasure: a Neglected Alternative in Aesthetics”

30 May 2018; 16:00-18:00

Senate House – Room 246


Does art have anything interesting to do with pleasure? The aesthetic hedonist answers positively, claiming that the value of artworks qua artworks lie in their power to please those who are properly engaged with them. Recent critics of hedonism answer the question in the negative, arguing that the power to please cannot properly explain the value of artworks. In this paper, I point to a blind spot in the dialectic between the hedonic orthodoxy and its recent critics: though the hedonist is wrong to claim that artworks are valuable because they are endowed with the power to please, the contemporary critic of hedonism mistakenly disconnects art from pleasure. The bulk of the paper consists in a challenge to the two assumptions that underlie this dialectic: (1) the assumption that pleasure is merely subjective and so incapable of disclosing the value of its object, and (2) the assumption that pleasure can be connected to art only hedonically, as the answer to the question “what makes artworks valuable?” By undermining these assumptions, I carve out space for a neglected alternative between aesthetic hedonism and its non-affective denial: this is the view that, though pleasure does not constitute the value of artworks, it does constitute proper aesthetic evaluation. On this neglected alternative, pleasure is connected to artworks insofar as it is the proper response merited by their value, value that the pleasure discloses. It is the value of artworks that gives us reasons to feel pleasure rather than the feeling of pleasure that gives us reasons to attribute value to them. Call this: Affective Rationalism in Aesthetics, or ARIA.