Workshop: The Language of Aesthetics

How do people use language to communicate their aesthetic judgments to one another? What can philosophers learn from analyzing the language used to communicate aesthetic judgments? This workshop brings together linguistics and philosophy to discuss the nature and significance of the language of aesthetics.

Saturday, March 15th, 2014
1:30pm Kevin Tobia [early career speaker]
2:30pm Alex Plakias
3:45pm Louise McNally

Leeds Humanities Research Institute
29-31 Clarendon Place
Leeds, West Yorkshire LS2 9JT

The workshop is free and open to all.


Louise McNally (language sciences, Universitat Pompeu Fabra)

“Decomposing Aesthetic (and Other) Adjectives”
In this talk I discuss some work I have been carrying out with Isidora Stojanovic and Berit Gehrke. As a prelude to a discussion of what makes a judgment aesthetic, we have asked what potentially subject-dependent meaning components adjectives have and on the basis of an analysis of these components divide adjectives into various subclasses. The resulting classification is rather more fine-grained than what we have seen in the aesthetics literature. While the question of what is involved in an aesthetic judgment is somewhat orthogonal to the specific words (in this case adjectives) used to make such a judgment, we consider it methodologically important to ensure that any philosophical discussion properly controls for possible confounds from the nuances of the linguistic data, and indeed we might hope that a clearer picture of the data might result in clearer answers to the philosophical questions.

Alexandra Plakias (philosophy, Northern Institute of Philosophy, University of Aberdeen)

“A Little Less Conversation: Relativism and Data”
In the debate over relativism about aesthetics and morality, much is made of our intuitions regarding whether two people ‘really’ disagree, or are ‘really’ contradicting one another. I argue that, as typically used, appeals to such intuitions are problematic, since there is good reason to doubt whether our intuitions track semantic features of these discourses. I suggest an alternative route to relativism, one which is empirically informed but does not rely on intuitions about dialogues or utterances. Along the way, I raise some methodological issues regarding philosophers’ use of empirical data.

Kevin Tobia (philosophy, Oxford University)

“The More You Know, The Less It Matters: Mystery, Wonder, and Value”
Can knowing less about something make it seem more valuable? In the case of art, it might appear that just the opposite is true; the more we are told about a piece of art, the more we appreciate and value it. Linguistic or textual accompaniment to art often, in addition to other functions, aims to achieve such an effect. But perhaps knowing less about an object also invokes a sense of mystery, one that inspires wonder. Might this even lead to greater aesthetic appreciation and valuation? In a field study conducted at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford I tested this hypothesis, that in at least some cases, knowing less about a work of art or an object increases its perceived mystery and felt feelings of emotional wonder towards the object, resulting in greater attributions of aesthetic value to the object.


To make the workshop more family-friendly, childcare has been arranged for participants who need it. Please contact us for more details.

This event is a part of the Experimental Philosophical Aesthetics and Human Nature project workshops, supported by Marie Curie Action Grant PIIF-GA-2012-328977.

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