London Lectures 2022-23

Can Aesthetics Be Global?

Can and should philosophical aesthetics have global significance? Can aesthetic theories find fruitful general application while also respecting the locality and variability of aesthetic sensitivity?

The London Lectures 2021: Expanding Horizons

Eileen John (University of Warwick)

Philosophical aesthetics is to some extent beholden to what I will call personal aesthetics. By personal aesthetics, I mean the phenomena of individual aesthetic sensitivity: how each of us discerns and responds to elements of experience. I take that sensitivity to be finely woven into feeling to some degree at home in the world. What pleases me, what patterns do I pick up on, and what reassures me that I have my experiential bearings? There is something extremely local, and in a certain sense unreflective, about personal aesthetics – it is hard to notice one’s own historically and culturally specific aesthetic formation. Philosophical aesthetics, meanwhile, aspires to understand aesthetic life in a more reflective and general way. Aesthetic theories in the Western tradition, like most philosophical theories, do not set out to have only local application, as they try to articulate generally relevant and illuminating theoretical concepts and values. But if they in fact work best in accounting for the relatively local aesthetic formations of aesthetic theorists – say, in identifying what counts as beautiful or in taking ‘beauty’ to be a core aesthetic concept – what is the appropriate response? Can and should philosophical aesthetics have global significance? Can aesthetic theories find fruitful general application while also respecting the locality and variability of aesthetic sensitivity? What kinds of theoretical ambition and humility are called for in philosophical aesthetics?