Doing aesthetics with eyes shut : on thought experiments in aesthetics, acquaintance, and quasi-observation

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Imagination has played a major role in theories of numerous aesthetic phenomena: it figures in accounts of the interpretation of art, of our emotional responses to art, and even of what art is, to name but a few topics. But imagination seemingly has a role to play also in aesthetic theorising itself, in particular in aesthetic thought experiments. Thought experiments in general (in science and philosophy) pose an epistemic puzzle: how can a merely imagined scenario yield knowledge? In the paper, I have a look at a special version of this puzzle that some thought experiments in aesthetics occasion. Many thought experiments in aesthetics—e.g. Kendall Walton’s guernica-experiment, or Arthur Danto’s (merely) imagined eight-hour long film of the title page of Tolstoy’s War and Peace—involve making judgements regarding the aesthetic properties of merely imagined works of art. But according to a widely accepted principle in aesthetics (“the acquaintance principle”), one has to be acquainted with a work— seen it, heard it, and so on—in order to be able to judge its aesthetic qualities. But no one has ever seen Danto’s merely imagined film of Tolstoy’s book. So how are we (if we are) in a position to judge its aesthetic properties? I propose a solution to the puzzle by elaborating on Tamar Gendler’s notion of “quasi-observation,” (or, what seems to be the same thing, imagined observation,) which she holds to be a common element of thought experimenting. As a coda, I also give a sketch of how aesthetic thought experiments are not only a tool for theorising about art, but often also figure in the production of art.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages16
Publication statusPublished - 20 Aug 2016
Event3rd Conference on Contemporary Philosophy in East Asia (CCPEA 2016) - Seoul National University, Seoul, Korea, Republic of
Duration: 19 Aug 201620 Aug 2016


Conference3rd Conference on Contemporary Philosophy in East Asia (CCPEA 2016)
Abbreviated titleCCPEA 2016
Country/TerritoryKorea, Republic of
OtherNational University of Seoul
Internet address


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