The Best Articles on Aesthetics

In a comment on the post about Philosopher’s Annual and articles in philosophy of race and gender, Tom Cochrane (Sheffield) writes: 

Note that they haven’t selected article on aesthetics/philosophy of art since 1982 (William Freedman: The Relevance of the Truth-Standard from The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism). And the only other one I see is Stephen Davies on music in 1981. As a standard of comparison, Phil Papers currently indexes over 22,000 articles in aesthetics, compared with 10,000 on gender and race, and 15,000 in epistemology.

That seems to be a good enough reason to get a thread on the best aesthetics articles since 1982. Have at it.

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James Harold
9 years ago

Great thread! I nominate Katherine Thomson-Jones, “Art, Ethics, and Critical Pluralism,” Metaphilosophy 43 (2012)

James Camien McGuiggan
James Camien McGuiggan
9 years ago

This thread is certainly going to be bookmarked!

Aaron Ridley writes wonderful little papers that open really fascinating new questions, and then all but close them in the same paper. His paper with Alex Neill, ‘Religious Music for Godless Ears’ (2010) is an incredibly original and thought-provoking reflection on how/whether atheists can properly respond to religious music; his recent ‘On the Musically Possible’ (2013) asks how we can make sense of counterfactual aesthetic judgements, and answers it in a way which is surprisingly reasonable and exceedingly clear. And again, ‘The Philosophy of Medium-Grade Art’ (1996). He also has some brilliant stuff about Collingwood’s aesthetics; cf., e.g., ‘Not Ideal: Collingwood’s Expression Theory’ (1997).

Lydia Goehr’s ‘On Being True to the Work’ (1989), which I’ve just recently read, is my current favourite paper, because it does an amazing job of showing that the narrow academic ontological debates of analytic philosophers – particularly about the ontological status of musical works – is thick with hidden, controversial and indeed politically exclusionary assumptions. It’s exhilarating!

Michael Tanner’s ‘Sentimentality’ (1976/7) is also a wonderful paper, on a topic which (as far as I’ve been able to see) is poorly under-explored. (Not post-1982, but in the ballpark!).

Danto is one of my favourite ever philosophers, and it is impossible to single out one of his papers. But I guess his defence of Warhol as a (great, naive) philosopher (‘The Philosopher as Andy Warhol’, in ‘Philosophizing Art’ (2001), originally published I know not when or where) is especially important and life-changing.

Richard Kraut’s ‘Why Does Jazz Matter to Aesthetic Theory?’ (2005) is also great fun, and asks a great question.

I’m not at my office at the moment, where I have print-offs of lots of articles, so very possibly I’ve missed something great.

Piers Turner
Piers Turner
Reply to  James Camien McGuiggan
9 years ago

Nothing against Richard Kraut, but ‘Why Does Jazz Matter to Aesthetic Theory?’ is by my colleague Robert Kraut.

9 years ago

I can’t claim to be very well versed in contemporary aesthetics, but I very much enjoyed Peter Railton’s “Aesthetic Value, Moral Value, and the Ambitions of Naturalism.” In fact, I would be curious to hear what aestheticists–rather than meta-ethicists reading the paper primarily for the “moral value” part of it–think of Railton’s take on the Humean approach.

Nick Riggle
9 years ago

Two of my more recent favs:

Moran, Richard. (2012) “Kant, Proust, and the Appeal of Beauty,” Critical Inquiry, 38(2): 398-329

Camp, Elisabeth. (2009) “Two Varieties of Literary Imagination: Metaphor, Fiction, and Thought Experiments,” Midwest Studies in Philosophy

Christy Mag Uidhir
9 years ago

Lest I thought slipping in my dotage, AFB had the scoop first:

I’m currently planning something at AFB akin to the PA but for work in Aesthetics & Philosophy of Art–tentatively titled The AFB Fab Flock Five.

Tom Cochrane
9 years ago

A few off the top of my head:
Flint Schier ‘The claims of Tragedy: An essay in moral psychology and aesthetic theory’ (Philosophical Papers 1989)

Kendall Walton ‘How Marvellous! Towards a theory of aesthetic value’ (JAAC 1993)

Jerrold Levinson ‘Erotic art and pornographic pictures’ (Philosophy and Literature, 2005)

Joshua Landy ‘A nation of Madam Bovarys: On the possibility and desirability of moral improvement though fiction’ (in Hagberg ed,, Art and Ethical Criticism, 2010)

James Harold
9 years ago

I missed that this was “best since 1982” rather than best recent articles. How about Jenefer Robinson, “Style and Personality in the Literary Work,” Philosophical Review (1985)?

In response to anongrad, I am quite fond of that Railton piece and I believe that it is generally well-regarded. However, there is an unfortunately a great deal of mutual ignorance between aestheticians and metaethicists — quite often, metaethicists will make comments about aesthetic judgments that betray profound ignorance of the relevant aesthetics literature, and vice versa. The inclusion of Railton (and Miller) in Levinson’s anthology was a nice step towards dialogue, but unfortunately, things have not progressed much since.

9 years ago

I’d second Robinson on style, and Ridley on… well, most things, though perhaps I like “Against Musical Ontology” best (J Phil 2003).


John Gibson, “Between Truth and Triviality” (BJA 2003) — lovely thinkingthrough of the question whether we read fiction to learn.

James Shelley writes great articles on Hume — they’re good aesthetics, and good history of philosophy (which I bet is another category neglected by the Philosoher’s Annual). “Hume and the Joint Verdict of True Judges” (JAAC 2013) makes brilliant sense of a really puzzling bit of Hume’s essay on taste.

Finally, I think Emily Brady’s “Imagination and the Aesthetic Appreciation of Nature” (JAAC 1998) is not just great on natural aesthetics, but also interesting and suggestive on aesthetic appreciation and imagination more generally.

Of course, there’s lots of other stuff I like, but listing every good paper on aesthetics from the last 30 years isn’t the point, so I’ll stop here.