Experimental Aesthetics. Matthew Kieran University of Leeds. Philosophical Aesthetics v. Psychology.
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University of Leeds
Aesthetic explanation and justification are not susceptible to low level psychological generalization and “aesthetic questions have nothing to do with psychological experiments, but are answered in an entirely different way.” Wittgenstein, Lectures (1967: 17).
The results of and generalizations from experiments concerning subject preferences or reasoning processes are irrelevant to aesthetics and to think otherwise conflates empirical matters with conceptual ones. Thus, for example, “experiments polling subjects on th meaning of a passage of music are pointless since this sort of inquiry is not a scientific one to which the collection of data is relevant; it is a logical inquiry about language.” Dickie, ‘Is Psychology Relevant to Aesthetics?’ (1962: 349-60).
Experimental subjects were not expert appreciators and there is good reason to assume experts would be more robust in the face of priming effects (Hume).
Appreciation and judgement conditions were atypical and unsuitable.
The failure to recognise the usefulness of heuristics or other possible effects on appreciation of familiarity
The possible limitations of effect. Priming might have bite only amongst works or aesthetic objects of a certain worth (i.e. no effect where dealing with bad works).
Consider aesthetic appreciation and judgement in virtue theoretic terms.
It makes sense of why good appreciation and judgement are achievements and makes sense of how it is achievable i.e. grounded in the exercise of appreciative virtues.
By contrast, for example, snobs fail to appreciate works qua aesthetic object properly since they are badly motivated and evaluate works according to inappropriate criteria bound up with social esteem. Hence snobs are to be condemned (i.e. manifest appreciative vice).
Experimental psychology can and should inform the kind of accounts we seek to give regarding epistemic and normative issues within aesthetics.
Attention to such research can present new challenges to traditional accounts (e.g. of appreciation and judgement within aesthetics).
Furthermore, at least to those with anything like naturalistic inclinations, we would surely want and expect our philosophical accounts of the epistemic and normative nature of appreciation and judgement to be consistent with human nature.