Aesthetics and Language

Aesthetics and Language

Aesthetics and Language

Aesthetics and Language

Excerpt

By W. B. Gallie

Introductory . In this paper I attempt three things: first, a fairly close examination of the underlying assumptions and characteristic results of Idealist æsthetics; second, on the basis of my criticism of these, a re-statement of the function and method of æsthetics; and thirdly, one fairly detailed illustration of what I take that function and method to be.

I adopt this procedure for two reasons. In the first place the Idealist doctrine that Art is, essentially, Imagination has dominated philosophical æsthetics for the last hundred and fifty years, and during this period the vocabulary and presuppositions of artistic and literary criticism -- from which any philosophical æsthetics must draw its raw material -- have been profoundly affected by this Idealist doctrine. Consequently, in order to deal completely to-day with philosophical problems arising from criticism, one must be equipped to distinguish the critic's relatively direct judgments and appreciations from their Idealist accretions. This is my main reason for approaching my subject historically -- from nineteenth-century Idealist theories. But secondly, I believe that these theories are well worth investigating because they illustrate, in their own way so strikingly, certain very pervasive philosophical fallacies and confusions. For instance, I believe that they are vitiated through and through by the 'essentialist fallacy': they presuppose, that is, that whenever we are in a position to define a substance or activity we must know its essence or ultimate nature -- and know this by methods that are entirely different from those used in the experimental and mathematical sciences or in our common-sense judgments about minds and material things. Now, is their subjection to this fallacy a reason for consigning Idealist æsthetics to oblivion?

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