Category Archives: Activities

Conference: Experimental Approaches to Aesthetics

Wittgenstein claimed the idea of a science of aesthetics ‘is almost too stupid for words’, but there is a long history of scientific investigation of the arts and other aesthetic phenomena. Even philosophers have begun to take notice of this empirical work and, in fact, there is an emerging area of experimental philosophical aesthetics. This conference brings together psychologists, neuroaestheticians, philosophers and semioticians from around Europe to talk about the state of the art in experimental approaches to aesthetics.

We have co-organized a conference on experimental approaches to aesthetics, in conjunction with the Center for Semiotics at Aarhus University in Denmark. The conference will take place on November 21-22, 2014 in Aarhus. For more information, please visit the Center for Semiotics’s website.

[MOVED TO FRONT Nov 11: The program for the conference is now available!]


Public Event: Charitable Giving and the Myth of Win-Win

As part of George Newman‘s visit to our project, we are co-sponsoring (with Inter-Disciplinary Ethics Applied Centre) a public event on the psychology of charitable giving, which will take place on Thursday, 13th November, 2014, 6:00pm-9:00pm. In addition to being another research focus of Dr Newman’s, charitable giving is a topic that we are passionate about and, in our view, closely connected to the continuity of public art institutions.

You can find more information about the public event here. Attendance is free but spaces are limited, so book your place now!

(Don’t forget: Dr Newman will be participating in a workshop on authenticity and art the day before. You must reserve your place for the workshop separately!)

Workshop: Authenticity and Art

In general, we seem to have a preference for “the real thing”. We tend to like people who we find genuine. We tend to find authentic food more delicious. However, nowhere is this preference more apparent than in the domain of artworks. We look down upon copies, replicas, and forgeries because they lack the aesthetic virtue of authenticity. But why is this? This workshop explores recent advances in the cognitive science of art, and their philosophical implications.

Wednesday, November 12th, 2014

03:30pm-04:30pm George Newman
04:30pm-05:30pm Gregory Currie
05:30pm-06:00pm (General Discussion)

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

The workshop is free and open to all. Please register using this form to help our event planning. There is limited space for dinner. Please make a note in the registration form if you would like to come.

Gregory Currie (philosophy, University of York)
“Authenticity and the Traces of Making”
Authentic Rembrandts are Rembrandts, and vice versa. What does “authentic” add? I argue that its role is metalinguistic in the way that “not” sometimes is. But there is a substantive issue raised by authenticity: why do people care about an object’s history? Newman and Bloom consider two hypotheses: Contagion and the Quality of Making. I suggest that there is a way of taking contagion which brings these two hypotheses close together.

George Newman (management, Yale University)
“The Valuation of Authentic Goods”
Why do people value original artworks more than identical duplicates? What explains consumer demand for celebrity memorabilia or luxury products? This talk explores the psychological mechanisms underlying people’s preferences for authentic objects. I will discuss the results of several empirical studies aimed at uncovering the key psychological factors, as well as broader questions surrounding the origins of this phenomenon.

The issue of authenticity and art has ramifications beyond philosophy and psychology of art. Nina Simon, the Executive Director of the Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History, recently highlighted some implications of this research for museum professionals in a blog post,

“In museums, we care about both perceived authenticity and real authenticity. We want the power of the story–and the facts to back it up. This can come off as contradictory. We want visitors to come experience “the real thing” or “the real site,” appealing to the spiritual notion that the personhood in the original artifact connotes a special value. At the same time, we don’t always tell folks that what they are looking at is a replica, a simulation, or a similar object to the thing they think they are seeing.”

This workshop thus holds interest also for museum professionals, art historians, and others in cognate professional and academic fields. All are welcome!

This event is a part of the Experimental Philosophical Aesthetics and Human Nature project workshops, supported by Marie Skłodowska-Curie Action Grant PIIF-GA-2012-328977. It is also part of the Ethics / Aesthetics Seminar Series at the University of Leeds.

Minorities and Philosophy

As the name makes clear, our project is committed to increasing the methodological diversity of philosophical aesthetics. However, we hope it is also clear from the workshops we have organized, our project is just as committed to increasing the demographic and cognitive diversity of philosophical aesthetics.

Building on this commitment, we recently worked (with Centre for Metaphysics and Mind as a co-sponsor) on a kick-off event for a potential Minorities and Philosophy chapter at the University of Leeds.

Today, we are very fortunate to have Professor Shirley Tate, the director of Centre for Ethnicity and Racism Studies, to give a talk entitled “Critical Race Theory and Universities” (adapted from her “Racial Affective Economies, Disalienation and ‘Race Made Ordinary’“).* In addition to the theoretical talk, the event also included a practical panel and discussion session, in which faculty and postgraduate students talked about ways of making philosophy and the university a more welcoming place for demographically and cognitively diverse perspectives at all levels.

We look forward to playing a role in the continuing dialogues on minorities and philosophy at Leeds, and we hope to help generate further dialogues in philosophical aesthetics at large as well!

(* We must also thank Nathaniel Adam Tobias Coleman for introducing us to Professor Tate!)

Meta-Analysis of the Day

Adam Feltz and Florian Cova have recently made publicly available their excellent meta-analysis on the influence of affect on determinism intuitions. Their paper, entitled “Moral Responsibility and Free Will: A Meta-Analysis“, is forthcoming in Consciousness and Cognition.

Here is the abstract:

Fundamental beliefs about free will and moral responsibility are often thought to shape our ability to have healthy relationships with others and ourselves. Emotional reactions have also been shown to have an important and pervasive impact on judgments and behaviors. Recent research suggests that emotional reactions play a prominent role in judgments about free will, influencing judgments about determinism’s relation to free will and moral responsibility. However, the extent to which affect influences these judgments is unclear. We conducted a metaanalysis to estimate the impact of affect. Our meta-analysis indicates that beliefs in free will are largely robust to emotional reactions.

As far as I know, this is the first published meta-analysis in experimental philosophy. Substantively, it provides convincing evidence that the original explanation for the abstract / concrete determinism asymmetry, which was given in Shaun Nichols and Joshua Knobe’s “Moral Responsibility and Determinism: The Cognitive Science of Folk Intuitions“, cannot be correct as it stands. Methodologically, it represents another encouraging step toward an open and collaborative field.

And, for those readers in the UK, you can catch Florian Cova on September 19th in Oxford at the British Society of Aesthetics annual meeting, and on September 23rd in Leeds at our workshop on values and concepts of art!

Early Career Workshop

One of the goals of the Experimental Philosophical Aesthetics project is to facilitate the transfers of knowledge and skills between researchers of diverse backgrounds. We think promoting works of early career researchers is an effective way to accomplish that goal.

Monday, September 22nd, 2014
10:00am (Coffee & Welcome)
10:15am Annelies Monsere (Comments: Tom Baker)
11:00am Miguel Dos Santos (Comments: James Rimmer)
12:30pm Simon Fokt (Comments: Shen-yi Liao)
01:15pm Kris Goffin (Comments: Nicole Hall)

Mentors: Catharine Abell, Christy Mag Uidhir, Jonathan Weinberg, Florian Cova, and Aaron Meskin.

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

All the workshop papers are pre-read. Please contact Shen-yi Liao if you would like to attend.

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

Workshop: Values and Concepts of Art

“What is art?” is arguably the most central question in philosophical aesthetics. This international, interdisciplinary workshop aims to make progress on this question by thinking about the interplays between values and concepts of art.

Tuesday, September 23rd, 2014
10:00am (Coffee & Welcome)
10:30am Shen-yi Liao and Aaron Meskin
11:45am Florian Cova
12:45pm (Lunch)
01:45pm Christy Mag Uidhir
03:00pm Catharine Abell
04:00pm (End)

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

The workshop is free and open to all.

Catharine Abell (philosophy, University of Manchester)

“Art: Definition and Value”
Proposed definitions of art vary according to whether or not they attempt to shed light on the value of art. Functionalist definitions of art often attempt to explain its value in terms of the value of the function that works of art serve. Such definitions face the problem that there does not appear to be any single function common to all works of art. Proceduralist definitions define art works in terms of the processes by which they are produced, rather than by appeal to their functions. This enables them to accommodate the variety of functions of works of art, but leaves them with no obvious way of illuminating their value. I argue that an adequate definition of art should explain the value of art, and examine how such an explanation can accommodate the variety of disparate functions that works of art may serve.

Christy Mag Uidhir (philosophy, University of Houston)

“Artistic Value & the Concept of Artistic Luck”
I begin by sketching a minimal notion of artistic luck (as compared to its moral and epistemic kin), distinguishing the descriptive sense (a thing being an artwork as a matter of luck) and the evaluative sense (an artwork having its artistic value as a matter of luck). I argue that from the following two basic assumptions:
1. artistic value is, minimally, the value of a thing qua art
2. artworks must be products of intentional action
it follows that:
3. The concept of artistic luck is descriptively trivial and evaluatively incoherent.

Florian Cova (affective sciences, University of Geneva)

“Are the Folk Aesthetic Realists? And If Not, What Are They?” (with Nicolas Pain)
In a paper published in 2012, we challenged an argument that aimed to support Aesthetic Realism by claiming, first, that common sense is realist about aesthetic judgments because it considers that aesthetic judgments can be right or wrong, and, second, that because Aesthetic Realism comes from and accounts for “folk aesthetics,” it is ceteris paribus the best aesthetic theory available. We empirically evaluated this argument by probing whether ordinary people with no training whatsoever in the subtle debates of aesthetic philosophy consider their aesthetic judgments as right or wrong. In the end, our results suggested that laypeople were not aesthetic realists and that the putative ‘intuitiveness’ of Aesthetic Realism might only be a philosophical contrast.

In this paper, we return to these preliminary results and present the results of new studies investigating to which extent these results can be replicated in broader and more representative samples. We also present preliminary results on what we think should be the next step in our research program: determining what is the common-sense stance on aesthetic properties and aesthetic judgments, if it is not a realist stance. We argue that these results suggest that laypeople might actually adhere to a certain brand of relativism, but not the traditional brand of appraiser-relativism.

Shen-yi Liao and Aaron Meskin (that’s us!)

“The Dual Character of Art Concepts” (with Joshua Knobe)
There is an ongoing debate about the concept of art. Some have claimed that the concept of art is essentially evaluative; calling a work “art” involves making a positively-valenced aesthetic evaluation of it. Some have claimed that the concept of art is essentially descriptive; calling a work “art” merely designates its membership in a category. Others say that the concept of art has both senses. What is at stake is one of the most fundamental questions in philosophical aesthetics: what is art?

We aim to re-energize this debate by showing that it is founded on a false assumption: that the concept of art must be evaluative, descriptive, or both. In fact, through a series of experimental studies, we argue that the concept of art is neither evaluative nor descriptive in the senses that philosophical aestheticians have discussed. Instead, the concept of art is normative in a distinct sense — it is what Knobe, Prasada, and Newman (2013) call a “dual character concept”. Calling a work “art” indeed involves making an evaluation, but not about whether a work is good or not. Instead, the evaluation is about whether it realizes the ideals of art or not. Furthermore, we show that this dual character also holds for other central art concepts, such as literature.

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

Call for Abstracts: Early Career X-Phi / Aesthetics Workshop

We are hosting a workshop aimed at early career researchers at Leeds, after the British Society of Aesthetics 2014 annual conference and before our workshop on values and concepts of art. We invite early career researchers to submit abstracts on values and concepts of art, as well as on any experimental work that connects to philosophical aesthetics.

One of the goals of the Experimental Philosophical Aesthetics project (Marie Curie Action Grant PIIF-GA-2012-328977) is to facilitate the transfers of knowledge and skills between researchers of diverse backgrounds. We think promoting works of early career researchers is an effective way to accomplish that goal.

On September 22nd, 2014, we will hold a workshop for early career researchers in aesthetics and in experimental philosophy. We aim to have 4-6 papers of 6000 words or less. All the papers will be pre-read. Each session will start with a short comment followed by extended discussion. Refreshments and lunch will be catered. Drs Catharine Abell (Manchester), Christy Mag Uidhir (Houston), and Aaron Meskin (Leeds) will serve as mentors at this workshop.

We invite papers that are on values and concepts of art or feature experimental work that connects to philosophical aesthetics. Please submit a 500-word abstract suitable for anonymous review, as an attachment, to

The submission deadline is August 15th, 2014. We will notify authors by August 31st, 2014. Abstracts will be selected on the basis of quality, relevance to the project’s aims, and potential interest for all workshop participants. Underrepresented minorities are especially encouraged to apply.

We also invite volunteers for commenters. Each commenter will deliver a 5-minute comment on a workshop paper to start off the discussion. (If you are submitting an abstract, you can simply note that you’d be interested in being a commenter in the same email.)

(An early career researcher, for our purpose, is defined as someone who has not received a PhD, received a PhD within the last three years, or is not currently employed in a tenure-track-equivalent position.)

Again, this is intended as a workshop whose participants are expected to read all of the papers in advance, to attend all of the sessions, and to come prepared for discussion. Please only submit an abstract or volunteer to comment if you plan to be a responsible workshop participant.

Please email if you have any questions!