Aesthetic Adjectives and Context. Aaron Meskin (Philosophy, Leeds) Experimental Aesthetics Workshop. My hypothesis. Aesthetic terms are like ordinary relative gradable adjectives in that they exhibit context sensitivity. Aesthetic gradability.
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Experimental Aesthetics Workshop
Aesthetic terms are like ordinary relative gradable adjectives in that they exhibit context sensitivity.
Aesthetic (and artistic and expressive) adjectives are gradable.
Allow for degree modifiers.
The flower is very beautiful.
The novel is extremely original.
The song is very sad.
Allow for comparative constructions.
That painting is more elegant than this painting.
He is less creative than my aunt.
Durham Cathedral is more serene than York Minster.
(1) John is tall.
“What proposition is expressed by a sentence like  is context dependent, depending on what standard of tallness is given by the context. It might express a true proposition if the standard is set to a value appropriate for talking about jockeys, but a false one if set to a value appropriate for talking about the tallness of basketball players” (Glanzbeg, ‘Context, Content, and Relativism’, 9; see also Stanley “On the Linguistic Basis for Contextualism, 123)
“Some expressions are gradable, yet not context-sensitive” (Stanley, “The Linguistic Basis for Contextualism”, 132).
Examples: “taller than six feet”, “regret”, “justified”
In fact, some linguists argue that one distinctive and large class of gradable adjectives do not exhibit context-sensitive. Do aesthetic terms belong to that class?
Kennedy: “There is a well-defined set of adjectives that are demonstrably gradable but do not have context dependent interpretations...” (“Vagueness and Grammar”, 22).
minimum standard absolute gradable adjectives: impure, damp, wet, open, bent...
application requires some minimal degree of property
maximum standard absolute gradable adjectives: pure, dry, closed, straight...
application requires a maximal degree of property
NO ENTAILMENT TO AN ANTONYM
It is not closed.=>It is open.
It is not wet. => It is dry.
It is not beautiful. ≠> It is ugly.
It is not ugly. ≠> It is beautiful.
NOT MAXIMUM STANDARD
??It is CLOSED but it could be more closed.
It is BEAUTIFUL but it could be more beautiful.
He is CREATIVE but he could be more creative.
My door is more closed than Robbie’s door. => Robbie’s door is not closed.
John is more beautiful than Jim. ≠> Jim is not beautiful.
Jane is more creative than Bob. ≠> Bob is not creative.
NOT MINIMUM STANDARD
??It is not damp but it has some moisture in it.
She is not beautiful, but she displays a bit of beauty.
He is not creative but he possesses a bit of creativity.
The table is more damp than the towel. => The table is damp.
John is more beautiful than Jim. ≠> John is beautiful.
(“John is not beautiful but he is more beautiful than Jim.”)
Mary is more creative than Maisie. ≠> Mary is creative.
Pairs of objects (e.g., 2 cubes, 2 rods, 2 disks) were presented. Experimenter made request using definite description: “Please give me the X one” (X= target adjective) Pairs designed so that neither, both or one of the objects could be modified by the adjective.
In relative gradable adjective case, participant can always shift context to satisfy presupposition of unique existence. So subjects should always conform to request and give the object that possesses property to the greater degree. In absolute gradable adjective case, subjects won’t be able to shift context. So in cases where presupposition is not met, subjects will reject request.
“Please give me the big one.”
“Please give me the long one.”
Result: Compliance at or near ceiling.
“Please give me the spotted one.”
“Please give me the full one.”
Result: Much more rejection of requests.
“Please give me the beautiful one.”