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ISSN 1409-6900 | UDK 82+7     Blesok no. 19 | volume IV | February-March, 2001



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                     Peer-reviewed journal
Blesok no. 19February-March, 2001
Essays

The Philosophical Status of Aesthetics

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Mary Deveraux

    I would like to begin with two preliminary questions: what does ‘status’ mean? and what are we asking when we ask about the status of aesthetics? According to the American Heritage Dictionary, ‘status’ can be defined as: (1) position relative to that of others; standing: her status is that of a guest; (2) high standing; prestige: a position of status in the community, e.g., the status of a leader or healer; (3) in law, the legal character or condition of a person or thing: the status of a minor; (4) a state of affairs; situation; (5) a condition of something or someone, e.g., a patient’s medical status.
    Given this general understanding of the term ‘status,’ what specifically do we have in mind when we inquire into the status of aesthetics? There are at least three different questions at issue. (1) A question about the state or internal condition of aesthetics: what is the relative health of the field? what kind of shape are we in? are things going smoothly and well? (2) A question about the de facto standing of aesthetics relative to that of other fields within philosophy: where, on the current philosophical map, does aesthetics fit? what is its reputation, prestige, repute? (3) A question about the proper standing of aesthetics in relation to philosophy: what position should aesthetics occupy? what are its rightful tasks and central philosophical roles?
    The question about the internal condition of aesthetics has two components. One concerns the quality of work being done in aesthetics; the other concerns the professional prospects of aestheticians. About the quality of work being done, the picture is generally optimistic. While contemporary aesthetics has no Kant (a fact that doesn’t distinguish it from other specialties), work by Nelson Goodman, Stanley Cavell, Arthur Danto and other influential figures has had a major impact on the field. Several developments in particular have reinvigorated aesthetics. Let me mention just three.
    The first is that, by roughly the end of the 1970s, philosophers of art had abandoned their armchairs for a much closer scrutiny of the problems and practices of the arts themselves, taking up a broad range of topics in painting, photography, film, music, literature and dance. Like contemporary philosophers of science, who are expected to know a fair amount of science, aestheticians nowadays need to know something about the arts. One result is that now, more than ever in the past, aesthetics involves






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