Let’s be Liberal: An Alternative to Aesthetic Hedonism

Friday 7 June 2019; 16:00-18:00

Senate House – Room 243


Aesthetic hedonism—roughly, the view on which an object’s aesthetic value derives from its tendency to generate pleasure—has recently been called the “default view” and the “party line” in philosophical aesthetics. Aesthetic hedonism does meet four key adequacy conditions on an account of aesthetic value, but it does so in a way that makes no theoretical use of the distinctive features of pleasure. For that reason, I develop an alternative to aesthetic hedonism that meets the same adequacy conditions without the needless restriction to pleasure as the ground of aesthetic value. This is aesthetic liberalism. On this view, an object’s aesthetic value consists in its perceptual features’ tendency to generate distinctively merited valuable responses in the right kind of phenomenal experience. To demonstrate the advantages of liberalism over hedonism, I apply both views to analyze the aesthetic value of the Spring Temple Buddha and Anselm Kiefer’s Seraphim. I close by considering an objection adapted from James Shelley’s work on onward hedonism.