A Critique of the Aesthetic Attitude George Dickie (From American Philosophical Quarterly 1964)
Aesthetic Attitude The purpose of Dickie’s argument is to show the invalidity of the “aesthetic attitude.”
3 Kinds of Aesthetic Attitude (1) Bollough’s “distancing” (2) Stolnitz’s “disinterestedness” (3) Vivas’ “intransitive attention” (intrinsic attention)
1st Distancing Psychical distance is a psychological process by which one puts an object outside (“out of gear”) with the practical interests of the self. This psychological state is the ideal state for aesthetic appreciation, hence the aesthetic attitude.
Distancing Under-distancing, you cannot detach your personal concerns from the work of art. (e.g., the jealous husband at the play Othello) Over-distancing , you are too concerned with the technical aspects of the work of art. Deliberate distancing, having control over your conscious state so that you intentionally enter into a “distanced” state toward a particular object.
Distance Theory Dickie argues that what distance theorists mean by “distance” is simply when an agent focus’s in the object itself. Moreover, what distance theorists mean by under and over-distancing is a state of consciousness in which an agent is distracted from the object itself. Therefore, distance theorist’s conception of “distancing” does not introduce a special or new kind or state of consciousness than the one that is described by the ordinary conception of “focusing on” or “attention to”.
2 and 3 Disinteredness and Intransitives Stolnitz’s definition: “Disinterested and sympatheticattention to and contemplation of any object of awareness whatever, for its own sake lone.”
Disinterested No ulterior motive. There is no purpose of having the experience except the experience itself. One has an ulterior motive if one has an emotional or financial motive (art collector) One has an ulterior motive if one has a cognitive motive (meteorologist) One has an ulterior motive if one has an evaluative motives (art critic) Being disinterested is not the same as being uninterested.
Dickie Dickie argues that we can only speak of disinterested if we can speak of interested. (However, Stolnitz claims that being disinterested is not the same as being uninterested.)
Disinterestedness-Music Dickie’s Argument: suppose Jones listens to a piece of music with the ulterior purpose of being able to analyze it as part of a homework assignment for an aesthetic course. Smith listens to the same piece for no ulterior purpose. The fact that Jones and Smith have different motivations does not mean that they listen differently.
Only one way of Listening “There is only one way to listen to (or attend to) music, although the listening may be more or less attentive and there may be a variety of motives, intentions and reasons for doing so and a variety of ways of being distracted from music.” In essence, Dickie seems to be suggesting that listening can only be different in degree and not in kind.
Disinterestedness-Art Dickie: Jones sees a painting and one of the portraits in the painting reminds him of a family member. He then begins to reminisce about this family member and about things that are irrelevant to the painting. Attitude-aestheticians argue that Jones is seeing the painting disinterestedly. However, in fact, Jones is not attending to the painting at all. What attitude-aestheticians refer to as disinterestedness is really simply a distracted attitude.
Analyze the two Arguments (1) There is only one kind of listening (2) In the visual arts disinterestedness is really simply a lack of interest (or a lack of attention or being distracted).
Disinterestedness- Plays Using Urmson’s view of satisfaction: Aesthetic satisfaction Moral satisfaction, Economic satisfaction Personal satisfaction Intellectual satisfaction
Economic interest Imagine an impresario who is in the audience but his interest is not in the play itself but rather in the fact that there is a full house. Dickie argues that the attitude theorists here too conflates disinterestedness with a lack of attention or inattention. It is not that the impresario lacks an aesthetic attitude, rather it is that he is distracted from the play altogether.
Intransitive – Literature/Poetry Vivas, “an experience of rapt attention which involves the intransitive apprehension of an object’s immanent meanings and values in their full presentational immediacy.”
No transitive attention Dickie argues that one cannot read a poem transitively. He makes a similar argument as the one above, claiming that what Vivas means by transitive is really inattention to the poem, or simply being distracted.
Poetry as History Reading a poem as history and one simply for its poetic value. “The two readings do not differ as far as attention is concerned. History is a part of these two poetic lines and the two readings differ in that the first fails to take account of an aspect of the poetic lines (its historical content) and the second does not fail to do so. Perhaps by reading as history Vivas means “reading simply as history” But even this meaning does not mark out a special kind of attention but rather means that only a single aspect of the poem is being noticed…”
Reply to Dickie Dickie is not being fair to the attitude aestheticians. On the one hand, there are obvious similarities between the acts of listening of Jones and Smith when they both listen to a piece of music. On the other hand, it is undeniable that their emphasis and focus is not similarly distributed among the different facets of the poem.
Reply Continued Perhaps we can argue that the aesthetic attitude is not about attention and inattention, as Dickieclaims, but rather about distribution and pocus of one’s attention. Attention, we might argue, is a necessary condition for the aesthetic attitude but not a sufficient condition. But then there must be more than ONE way of attending to something.
Interest Why is it absurd to think that we relate to an object differently in virtue of our interest in it. Moreover, given our special interest in an object, it is reasonable to maintain that our contemplation of that object will be selective and the focus of our attention will be driven and influenced by that interest.
Attention as Cognition While Dickie is correct that the act of attention and focus is a similar cognitive act no matter what the interest is; it does not follow that our attention and focus will be identical irrespective of the interest.
Different Ways of Attending What accounts for the “different ways” of attending to something, is not a difference in the cognitive act itself, but rather a difference in the particular aspects of the object in questions that are emphasized. When I look at a play, from an economic interest, I am looking and attending to the aspects of it that will bring in a bigger audience, and I am not emphasizing the aspects and elements of the play that give it its aesthetic value.
Relevance of Aesthetic Attitude (1) Aesthetic appreciations and art criticism (2) Aesthetic appreciation and morality