Navigazione – Mappa del sito

HomeNumeri55variaAesthetic pleasure: cognition and...


Aesthetic pleasure: cognition and emotion in the aesthetic concepts. Remarks after Sibley’s works

Giulia Bonasio
p. 183-201


My aim in this paper is to propose a new categorization of a specific set of aesthetic concepts, using Sibley’s theory of the aesthetic concepts as a starting point. I discuss the status of aesthetic concepts connected with pleasure and the role of aesthetic pleasure. I examine Sibley’s theory and the importance of its results for the conceptual art. Then, I compare Sibley’s theory and Kant’s theory specifically on the theme of judgment, universal agreement and pleasure. I finally propose to look at these theories as complementary (they deal with the same problems but Sibley takes an objective position, since his main focus is the object and its properties, while in Kant’s theory the focus is on the subject) since they achieve important results for the theory of aesthetic concepts, both from the perspective of the subject and from the perspective of the object.

Torna su

Testo integrale

1. Introduction

1Are aesthetic concepts the base for objectivity in aesthetics? Could we define a significant relationship between aesthetic pleasure and aesthetic concepts? Could the pleasure be an objective condition for the aesthetics?

  • 1 F. Sibley, Aesthetic Concepts: «When a word or expression is such that taste or perceptiveness is r (...)

2These questions have acquired a new importance after Frank Sibley’s article Aesthetic Concepts (1959) and after the debate that Sibley’s theory generated about the aesthetic concepts1.

  • 2 Ibidem: 5.

3Sibley describes the distinction between aesthetic concepts and non-aesthetic concepts, and he defines the first ones as the concepts that require the capacity of taste in order to be used properly. Nonetheless, Sibley affirms that we cannot deduce the aesthetic qualities, and the corresponding aesthetic concepts, from the non-aesthetic ones, but it is possible to detect a negative condition binding the two groups. Thus, the presence of a specific set of non-aesthetic qualities of the object excludes automatically the corresponding set of aesthetic qualities of the object, based on the fact that the coexistence of those aesthetic qualities with the non-aesthetic qualities observed is impossible (for example it is impossible for a painting to be fiery, if «it consists solely of one or two bars of very pale blue and very pale grey set at right angles on a pale fawn ground»2).

4Even though there is an essential relationship between aesthetic and non-aesthetic concepts, we cannot define precise rules to deduce from a specific set of non-aesthetic concepts, the correspondent aesthetic ones.

5In particular, Sibley defines this relationship with the following statements:

  • 3 F. Sibley, Aesthetic and non-aesthetic, in Sibley 2001: 36-37.

Aesthetic qualities are dependent upon non-aesthetic ones for their existence. They could no more occur in isolation than there could be facial resemblances without features, or grins without faces; the converse is not true.
The non-aesthetic qualities of a thing determine its aesthetic qualities. Any aesthetic character a thing has depends upon the character of the non-aesthetic qualities it has or appears to have, and changes in its aesthetic character result from changes in its non-aesthetic qualities. Aesthetic qualities are “emergent” […].
In addition to being able to state the general truth that aesthetic qualities depend on and result from non-aesthetic characteristics, we can state particular truths about individual objects […].
[…] For often in a work there are some features that strike us as making the most outstanding contribution, usually those in which a small alteration would work a remarkable aesthetic change. This fourth relationship might therefore be called that of notable specific dependence3.

  • 4 Scruton 1974: 32.

6Sibley’s theory has been recognized as a fundamental step toward the independence of aesthetics itself, since it analyzes punctually the function of the aesthetic terms and it defines a new type of “logic”, proper to aesthetics4.

7According to Sibley, we have to distinguish between the logic of mathematics and of the exact truths and the logic of aesthetics. The latter is an independent logic that has proper rules: in the aesthetic realm, it is useless to try to find the exact proofs or the logical deductions of the mathematical realm, in order to justify an objectivity.

  • 5 F. Sibley, Objectivity and Aesthetics, in Sibley 2001: 71-87.

8For aesthetics, a narrow consensus among a group of people could be a solid base for an objectivity5.

9Even though this consideration is self evident if we think of our experience of aesthetics (for example if we think of a discussion among friends regarding a work of art or if we think of Hume’s ideal judges) some problems arise.

10First of all, we have to make a distinction if we are talking of a consensus among friends or among critics of art. In the first example, we are talking about a consensus among people that cannot have any knowledge of the history of art or any education regarding taste and aesthetic sensibility. In the second example of Hume’s ideal judges, we are talking about a different type of consensus since each person shares with the group a deep knowledge of the history of art and a strong sensibility for aesthetics.

11Sibley does not explain this difference but he seems to presuppose a natural capacity, in each human being, to approach correctly the aesthetic experience and to judge accordingly to it.

  • 6 «With aesthetic terms, if they connote properties, there should presumably be, for the reasons give (...)

12In Sibley’s opinion, if we talk of aesthetic properties, we imply that there is the possibility to share an agreement and to judge in the same way, if the conditions in which we experience the work of art are the same for everyone (for example in the case of a painting, if the light is correct, if the people are not color-blind…)6.

  • 7 «We suggest to children that simple pieces of music are hurrying or running or skipping or dawdling (...)

13A recurrent theme in Sibley’s works is that of the child that approaches the aesthetic experience and reacts to it, which seems to speak in favour of a spontaneity of agreement in aesthetics7.

14The child reacts correctly to the aesthetic experience (if we take as the correct way of reacting, the one shared by the majority of the people) and he testifies the spontaneity of the human reaction to aesthetics. On the other side, if we think of some particular works of art, such as the conceptual art, a specific training to approach correctly these works of art is essential.

15Despite the necessity of training and of the role of the critic of art in some cases, the perception is the primary way to approach aesthetics. In most cases, to perceive in the right conditions is already in itself a guarantee of a correct approach to the aesthetic experience.

16Sibley gives a key-role to taste as the unique and peculiar capacity that allows us to detect aesthetic concepts and to use them properly.

  • 8 Kant 1790: 89.

17The definition of taste resembles the Kantian one: «The definition of taste that is the basis here is that it is the faculty for the judging of the beautiful»8.

18Even though – in the Kantian definition – taste is confined to the beautiful, this definition shares with Sibley’s definition of taste the connotation of taste as a natural capacity that ideally every human being shares.

19According to Sibley, taste resembles one of the five senses because we use it spontaneously.

  • 9 Budd 1999.

20To have taste is the necessary condition sine qua non the possibility of the aesthetic experience. Nonetheless we can make a distinction between taste as the natural capacity that also a child has, and the trained taste that only the critic of art has. Only this second type of taste resembles the Kantian power of judgment, because it implies both perception and understanding, and a specific sensibility9.

21Once again, the relationship between the aesthetic qualities and the non-aesthetic ones is essential for the work of the critic of art, whose work is that of helping other people to train their taste and to reach a deeper level of the aesthetic experience.

22Sibley describes with seven statements how the critic of art could help in experiencing the work of art:

  • 10 Sibley 2001: 19.

We may simply mention or point out non-aesthetic features: «Notice these flecks of color, that dark mass there, those lines». By merely drawing attention to those easily discernible features which make the painting luminous or warm or dynamic, we often succeed in bringing someone to see these aesthetic qualities […].
On the other hand we often simply mention the very qualities we want people to see. […] The use of the aesthetic term itself may do the trick […].
Most often, there is a linking of remarks about aesthetic and non-aesthetic features […].
We do, in addition, often make extensive and helpful use of similes and genuine metaphors […].
We make use of contrasts, comparisons, and reminiscences: «Suppose he had made that a lighter yellow, moved it to the right, how flat it would have been», «Don’t you think it has something of the quality of a Rembrandt?», «Hasn’t the same serenity, peace and quality of light of those summer evenings in Norfolk?» We use what keys we have to the known sensitivity, susceptibilities, and experience of our audience […].
Repetition and reiteration may often play an important role […].
Finally, besides our verbal performances, the rest of our behaviour is important […]10.

23Even though Sibley makes this list in order to show the role of the critic of art, and thus to show how it is possible to reach an objectivity in aesthetics, the statement (5) of the list creates some problems. It seems from this statement that the critic makes some presupposition about the personal experience of the interlocutor and that presupposes more than a natural perception.

24Comparing a painting to a Rembrandt implies some knowledge of the history of art. On the other hand, comparing the serenity of the painting to the serenity of the summer evenings in Norfolk, implies a personal and subjective experience that seems to exclude the possibility of an objective judgment.

  • 11 Beardsley 1973.

25Sibley frequently seems to oscillate between the definition of aesthetic qualities that also a child could perceive and qualities that only a critic of art could properly perceive11.

26What remains central among all the works of Sibley is the idea that objectivity in aesthetics is based on a shared agreement among people.

  • 12 F. Sibley, Colours, in Sibley 2001: 54-70.

27To reinforce this idea, Sibley wrote an article on the theme of colors and on how we generally agree on the name of each color12.

28Colors are simple properties that need criteria in order to judge if they are used in a correct way. In the use of the term properties, it is implied that there is a verifiable way to attest if they are used correctly. Thus, it is necessary to define some criteria that regulate the attribution of colors to certain characteristics of the objects.

29Sibley describes how the attribution of a name to a color is justified by the reference to an original example. In an unspecified time in the past, “the naming time”, a community of people fixed the name of each color, based on the fact that, in the same conditions, they agree on the fact that they see the same color.

  • 13 «People now using colour language learned from their forebears; for this there must have been conti (...)

30Thus, the attribution of the name of the color and the fact that now we understand each other when we talk about a specific color, is based on an agreement and on the persistency of this agreement13.

31This example of colors is emblematic of Sibley’s vision of the importance of the agreement in aesthetics as the ground for objectivity.

32Trying to find scientific proofs in these cases is useless: we could suppose, as Sibley does in his article, that one morning all the people wake up and they discover that they disagree on colors. Similarly, we suppose that they wake up and they agree on colors but they discover that this agreement is different from the one that was valid until the day before. In both the situations it is impossible to find a scientific proof to explain the situation and we have to rely on the agreement only. As a matter of fact, in all these situations we could think that a change has occurred in how the minds of the people work or either in the wavelength of the light. But there is not a reason to prefer an explanation or the other.

33Sibley’s work deals with the problem of objectivity in aesthetics but also with a relevant range of problems that go from the problem of taste and perception, to the problem of the relationship between the subject and the aesthetic object.

  • 14 Cohen 1973; T. Cohen, Sibley and aesthetic language, in Brady and Levinson 2001.

34One of the major critique against Sibley’s position is that of Ted Cohen14, later revised and partially rejected by Cohen himself.

35Cohen criticizes the distinction between aesthetic and non-aesthetic concepts as unjustifiable. But, as Cohen himself wrote later, this critique is incorrect since the distinction between the aesthetic and the non-aesthetic concepts is the premise of Sibley’s theory.

36The fact that the aesthetic concepts cannot be deduced from the non-aesthetic ones is a premise itself and not the conclusion of an inexistent argument, as Cohen wrote in his article of 1973, later rejected by Cohen himself.

37Cohen criticizes also the role of taste in relation to aesthetic terms, since it seems for him that this relationship is circular: we define the aesthetic terms as the terms that require taste in order to be applied correctly and we define taste as the capacity of applying aesthetic terms.

38As a matter of fact, the role of taste in Sibley’s theory is not totally clear: it appears to have a Kantian character if we apply it at works of art but it seems a refined perception in the case of simple natural objects.

39Cohen revised his first critique in a later article and he recognized the fact that the relationship between aesthetic and non-aesthetic concepts and the non-dependence between the two, is the major premise of Sibley’s theory. He, then, recognized Sibley’s great merit in stressing the importance for human beings of communicating their aesthetic judgments and of sharing them.

  • 15 «Philosophy for Sibley was a matter of critically dissecting our practices – the ways we talk, perc (...)

40Sibley’s aim was neither that of building an omni comprehensive theory, nor that of giving reasons for every step of the aesthetic process of appreciation, but to analyze the role of aesthetic concepts15. Sibley had acquired this method from his professor Gilbert Ryle and from the analytical tradition that heads to Ludwig Wittgenstein.

41Even though Sibley tries to defend a position of moderate objectivism, his theory highlights the role of the subject in the aesthetic experience. Sibley did not write a “grammar” for the correct application of the aesthetic terms but he stressed the spontaneity of the aesthetic process, the natural role of perception in approaching the aesthetic object and the human reaction in front of it.

42Attributing an aesthetic concept to an object implies a complex process of the mind that involves both some spontaneous human reaction and also, especially in the case of contemporary works of art, an interaction of imagination, cognition and emotions.

2. Aesthetic pleasure

43Sibley’s theory can be read in a twofold way. Sibley tries to defend a position of moderate objectivism: he describes the relationship between the aesthetic and the non-aesthetic properties and he finds base for objectivity in the agreement among people.

44Ideally, if it had been possible to find a rule to deduce the aesthetic concepts from the non-aesthetic ones, the problem of the objectivity in aesthetics would have been solved. In this case, we could have learnt the rule and we could have applied the correct aesthetic concept to the object, deriving it from the non-aesthetic ones.

45But, as Sibley states in his theory, there is not such dependence. Thus, we have to rely on the agreement as the only way to share our aesthetic judgment and to measure their correctness.

46Following Sibley’s suggestion, there is another way to approach the same problem. Sibley did not find in the object the condition to derive the aesthetic concepts from the non-aesthetic ones, but he did not try to find them in the natural counterpart: such as in the subject.

47The moderate objectivism that Sibley wants to defend, precludes him from searching these conditions in the subject.

  • 16 «Aesthetic terms span a great range of types and could be grouped into various kind and sub-species (...)

48We can notice that the concepts that Sibley examines, could be defined as “formal”; on the other side the lack of concepts makes explicit reference to the subject and his emotions16.

49If we try to find the conditions for the correct use of the aesthetic concepts in the subject, we can isolate a group of specific aesthetic concepts: beautiful, attracting, lovable, delightful, enchanting, moving, pleasant…

50For each of these concepts we find a correspondent non-aesthetic concept. It is hard to demonstrate that, when we applied one of these concepts, we did not feel any sort of pleasure.

51Thus, we can say that the pleasure is the subjective condition for the correct use of one of these terms.

52Using Sibley’s example of the child, if we look at a child clapping his hand while he is listening to a cheerful music, we clearly see the spontaneity of the pleasure that the child feels when he is listening to the music. Every human being has this natural tendency towards pleasant aesthetic things.

53Sibley’s interest is focused on a specific group of aesthetic concepts that we could individuate as formal concepts and his research states that a relationship of dependence (such as a deduction of the aesthetic concepts from the non-aesthetic ones), is impossible to find. He did not try to analyze other types of concepts, for example the concepts related to pleasure.

54When we use concepts like “pleasant”, “enchanting”, “graceful”…, we perceived a pleasure derived from the perception of the aesthetic object and we felt a spontaneous interest towards these objects. The pleasure is intrinsically bound to this kind of concepts.

55Thus, these concepts are characterized by a peculiar relationship with the subject: they produce pleasure in the subject and they attract the subject’s attention. They do not require specific conditions to be deduced from a set of non-aesthetic concepts, but they have a peculiar condition in the subject: the pleasure.

56When we are looking to a sunset and we judge it beautiful, we feel pleasure from our sight and we suppose that all the other people feel the same way, because we presuppose that the other people feel a spontaneous pleasure from the sight of the sunset.

57As Kant wrote in the Critique of the Power of Judgment, when we see something beautiful, we suppose that everyone agrees with our judgment because our judgment is the product of a complex interaction between the understanding, the imagination and the pleasure. Every human being shares the specific way in which these faculties interact, thus, we presuppose that every human being shares our judgment.

58I want to broaden this Kantian argument, limited to the pleasure, considering Sibley’s theory, to all the group of aesthetic concepts cited above (such as those concepts that imply that the subject has felt pleasure in order to be applied in the correct way).

59When we use one of these concepts, we felt pleasure. It is impossible to demonstrate that one of these concepts is bound with a displeasing sensation, because otherwise we would have chosen another aesthetic concept to describe the object.

60It is necessary to distinguish the use of this set of aesthetic concepts in the case of natural objects and in the case of the works of art.

61In the case of natural objects, we feel spontaneously pleasure and also a child can share this experience. But in the case of the works of art, we often need the explanation of the critic of art.

62In front of a work by Rothko, it is very difficult to understand the intrinsic meaning of the work if we do not have any notion of the history of art. Certainly, in many cases, we do not feel pleasure elicited by these works of art.

63The role of the critic is essential to understand the work of art and the use of non-aesthetic concepts is essential in the language of the critic to lead us to understand the work of art. The critic uses some aesthetic concepts in order to describe the character of the work of art but we will understand the real meaning of these concepts only when we will have understood the meaning of the work of art.

64In the case of some works of art, especially the contemporary art, if the work of art is pleasant, we feel this pleasure only after a process of understanding the work of art itself.

65Thus, we can conclude that pleasure is not spontaneous in the case of some works of art but it is a pleasure characterized by a cognitive part.

66Moreover, there are no rules to feel pleasure in front of a work of art. The critic of art can help with his description of the work itself and with his using of the non-aesthetic concepts, but what is essential is to have taste. The taste is the minimum requisite to approach the aesthetic object and to feel pleasure.

67The first step to approach an aesthetic object is to perceive it. Perception is essential, also when we try to help someone, who does not perceive at first sight the aesthetic qualities of a work of art, we address his perception. If we pay attention to the use of the language in these occasions, we notice the use of the imperative and of verbs directly connected with the perception: «look at that figure in the foreground!»; «notice the contrast of the colors!»; …

68Taste seems a refined version of perception, it is specifically apt to detect the aesthetic qualities of the object.

69Thus, both perception and taste are necessary to feel pleasure.

70At this point, we have to distinguish two kinds of pleasure: the cognitive pleasure and the pleasure connected with the will. In the first case, we satisfy this pleasure simply contemplating the object because this pleasure arises during the perception of the aesthetic object. In the second case, the will has a central role, the pleasure leads the action and it is satisfied only in the possession or in the reproduction of the object.

71Having in mind this distinction, we have to make some considerations on the evaluative component of some aesthetic concepts. When we use the aesthetic concepts connected with pleasure, we imply a positive evaluation of the object and the will is often involved.

72But this consideration is not a sufficient reason to divide the class of the aesthetic concepts in subjective concepts and objective ones. First of all, we approach both the classes in the same way, we perceive the object, we are guided by our taste and we formulate a judgment using an aesthetic concept.

73Pleasure and evaluation are subsequent steps and we can consider the pleasure as a “subjective condition”, such as a condition for the subject, to detect those specific concepts. The pleasure is not a condition a priori to detect the aesthetic concepts but it is a signal for the subject. As a matter of fact, we firstly have to perceive the object and then we apply the concept.

74This specific class of aesthetic concepts connected with pleasure, has the logical property of being declined in a twofold way: from the object’s perspective and from the subject’s perspective.

75Thus, it is possible to say: «This object is pleasing | I am pleased by this object»; «This object is interesting | I am interested by this object»; «This object is delightful | I am delighted by this object»…

76It is an intrinsic property of these concepts to work both from the perspective of the object and from the perspective of the subject. They indicate a condition of the object and the correspondent reaction of the subject.

77We can define these concepts as “response-dependent”, since they produce a reaction in the subject.

78Even in the terminology, most of the aesthetic concepts derive from an exclamation, such as an expression of appreciation later codified in a fixed expression. Thus, they have a strict connection with the subject and with his emotions.

79Originally, these expressions indicated a state of mind of the subject. Also today, if we describe a song as “sad”, we make an implicit reference to the correspondent state of mind of the subject. Per se, the song is actually not sad but it is structured in a certain way in order to result sad for a person who is listening to it.

80We notice that some aesthetic terms are taken from the language of the emotions.

81These terms are directly related to the emotional state of the subject, in some cases, we can say that having an aesthetic experience is similar to feel the correspondent emotion.

  • 17 Scruton 1974: 71-72.

There are at least two uses of the term “sad”, one in describing a state of mind, the other in expressing a state of mind. […] It is not because the music makes me feel sad that I call it sad – “sad” doesn’t mean “saddening”. How then do we come to use the one term in these different ways? […] When I find a work of art sad, or see it as sad, I am responding to it in some way like the way that I respond (under certain specifiable conditions) to sadness (to the sadness of a human being). […] I use the term “sad” spontaneously to describe all those objects that elicit in me responses analogous to my response to human sadness, and it is this that explains why I do not have to learn any new meaning for the term “sad”17.

82Already in the terminology, the aesthetic experience is strictly connected to the emotions of the subject and, in the specific case of the aesthetic concepts here examined, to the pleasure.

83Since aesthetic pleasure has a key-role for the definition of the aesthetic concepts, it is necessary to define the specific character of this pleasure.

  • 18 Ryle 1964.

84Gylbert Ryle gave a famous definition of pleasure that defines it as a state between the emotions and the cognitive faculties18. Ryle argues that, when we feel pleasure, our attention is automatically involved and we can distinguish clearly between a bodily sensation and a non-bodily feeling.

85Pleasure is definitely a non-bodily feeling, since it is not limited to a corporeal sensation but it implies a consciousness and a rationalization of the subject. Pleasure is not even a feeling as violent and surprising as fear or delusion, since it is felt during a specific activity (perception, in the case of art or nature) and not simply a sensation.

86Another peculiar characteristic of pleasure is the fact that is not estimable in time or duration.

87According to Ryle, the attention of the subject towards the object is an essential requirement in order to feel pleasure. Attention is a signal that pleasure is not only a matter of emotions but it is strictly connected with the cognitive sphere.

88Ryle considers the pleasure as a feeling that is on the border between cognition and emotion.

89Aesthetic pleasure arises from the perception of the object, from the mental image of the object and from the recognition of the aesthetic qualities of the object but it is not a pleasure of the sensation but a contemplative pleasure, that needs the participation of the cognitive faculties to be fulfilled.

  • 19 Levinson 1996.

90As Jerrold Levinson wrote, aesthetic pleasure requires the attention of the subject on the content of the object, on its meaning, and on its form19.

91Thus, the set of aesthetic concepts connected with pleasure would be included in the set of concepts characterized by the interest of the subject in the object.

92An aesthetic object can be interesting for a subject but not pleasing. For example, we can consider contemporary works of art, such as The physical impossibility of death in the mind of someone living by Damien Hirst. This famous work of art consists in a four meter shark put in formaldehyde.

93Probably we find this work interesting but it is unusual to find it pleasing. However, this work of art produces in us a specific reaction that can be a reaction of fear in front of the shark, or of melancholy in front of the representation of the death.

94We can describe this work as fascinating or interesting, but not pleasing. As a matter of fact, Hirst’s work of art produces a strong reaction in the observer and it strikes him emotionally.

95We can, thus, include the aesthetic concepts connected with pleasure in the group of aesthetic concepts connected with an interest of the subject.

96At this point, it is interesting to prove whether what we have said until now is valid also for a specific class of works of art: the conceptual art.

97The conceptual art is the art that challenged most the theory of art and the philosophy of art.

98If we try to apply what we have said so far to conceptual art, we notice that we have to revise many statements.

99Both in Sibley’s theory and in the classification of aesthetic concepts proposed above, perception plays a key-role. The primary capacity to approach the aesthetic object is the perception, also the distinction between aesthetic and non-aesthetic object is based on the fact that firstly we have to perceive the object.

100The critic of art has the peculiar job of helping in perceiving correctly the object.

101But, what is possible to say about the conceptual art, being it a non-perceptual art by definition?

102For example, we can examine One and three chairs by Joseph Kosuth. At first sight, the observer does not perceive the work of art as a whole but as a group of objects without any specific meaning. The work of art is made by a real chair, a picture of a chair and a definition of a chair from the dictionary.

103Only if the observer knows the meaning of the work of art, such as what the artist wants to communicate, the work of art assumes a coherence.

104The work of art attracts the observer through the perception of the work of art but perception has little to do with the entire process of acquiring an interest in the work of art and of understanding it.

105The observer is not interested in the content of the perception in itself, the perception is only a way of approaching the object. The real content of the work of art has nothing to do with perception but is a cognitive content.

106The cognitive faculties of the observer are the real protagonists of the process. The work of art requires the participation of the cognitive sphere of the subject to be understood correctly and its meaning is situated on a cognitive level.

107In this case, it is useless for the critic of art to address a more refined perception in the observer in order to make him understand the aesthetic quality of the work of art, but the critic of art has to explain on a cognitive level the meaning of the work of art in order to assure a correct comprehension of the work itself.

108The explanation of the work of art is a fundamental part of the work of art itself and the perception is often a superfluous part, since a detailed description can be sufficient.

109But, what is the role of the aesthetic properties in the works of conceptual art?

110James Shelley reports in his article the main positions in the debate about the conceptual art:

  • 20 Shelley 2003: 364.

(R) Artworks necessarily have aesthetic properties that are relevant to their appreciation as artworks.
(S) Aesthetic properties necessarily depend, at least in part, on properties perceived by means of the five senses.
(X) There exist artworks that need not to be perceived by means of the five senses to be appreciated as artworks20.

111Philosophers tried to ground a theory of art, valid for the conceptual art, on two of these three propositions.

  • 21 Beardsley 1983.

112Monroe C. Beardsley tried to eliminate proposition (X), since he believed that there cannot be works of art that are non-perceptual, thus he did not consider the conceptual art as art21.

  • 22 Dickie 1974: 42.

113Also George Dickie tried to eliminate proposition (X). His argument is based on the fact that also a ready made, such as Fountain by Duchamp, is a work of art that we can perceive and appreciate for its perceptual qualities. Thus, also Fountain is a work of perceptual art22.

  • 23 Shelley 2003; Carroll 1999.

114These positions have received many critiques: James Shelley and Noël Carroll criticized Beardsely’s theory since he did not consider the ready made as works of art. This movement started a new way of approaching the work of art, in which the meaning of the work itself is not what is perceived by the observer but in the peculiar interaction between the work of art and his interpretation23.

  • 24 Danto 1981.

115G. Dickie’s position was criticized by Arthur Danto, since, even though Fountain can have aesthetic perceptual qualities, Duchamp’s intention was not that of attracting the observer’s intention on those qualities but that of making the observer comprehending the meaning of the work of art24.

  • 25 Ibidem.

116Arthur Danto argues that it is possible to eliminate proposition (R), demonstrating that often the works of art have aesthetic properties that are not essential for their status of works of art25.

117According to Danto, the works of conceptual art have properties, different from the perceptual properties, that have the same role of the perceptual properties. In the case of Fountain, the irreverence of the work of art has the main function of the pale colors in Renoir’s paintings.

118The observer who does not grasp the irreverence in Fountain, does not understand properly the work of art in itself.

  • 26 «I think it unnecessary to go on here, because the second-solution advocate, I suspect, will be wil (...)

119As Shelley wrote about all these theories, it seems that the general tendency is that of assimilating the non-perceptual properties and the aesthetic properties, but none of these authors investigated properly the notion of perception, that is the core of the debate26.

120As also Shelley noticed, Sibley’s solution to the problem seems the simplest and the most convincing one: Sibley argues that aesthetic properties are essentially perceptual properties.

121In this case, Sibley redefines the meaning of “perceptual”, and he defines as perceptual properties, all those properties that strike us and that produce a reaction in us.

122Sibley wrote:

  • 27 Sibley 2001: 34, Shelley 2003: 371.

It is important to note first that, broadly speaking, aesthetics deals with a kind of perception. People have to see the grace or unity of a work, hear the plaintiveness or frenzy in the music, notice the gaudiness of color scheme, feel the power of a novel, its mood, or its uncertainty of tone. They may be struck by these qualities at one, or they may come to perceive them only after repeated viewings, hearings, or readings, and with the help of critics. But unless they do perceive them for themselves, aesthetic enjoyment, appreciation, and judgment are beyond them. Merely to learn from others, on good authority, that the music is serene, the play is moving, or the picture unbalanced is of little aesthetic value; the crucial thing is to see, hear or feel. To suppose indeed that one can make aesthetic judgments without aesthetic perception, say, by following rules of some kind, is to misunderstand aesthetic judgment27.

123The meaning of perception is connected with its function of producing a reaction in the subject. In this contest, it acquires a new importance the fact of perceiving in person the work of art, and not through the mediation of another person.

124We can comprehend these aesthetic properties as long as we perceive them directly.

125The perceptual properties are not the properties that we can perceive through the five senses, in the case of Fountain, the irreverence is a perceptual property because it produces a reaction in the subject. Duchamp considered his work of art as something that has to strike the subject through its irreverence.

126Since these properties have the peculiarity of producing a reaction in the subject, we can also perceive these properties through our cognitive faculties. Thus, this theory maintains its validity also if we apply it to the works of conceptual art.

127Sibley’s solution has a twofold importance: first of all, it can be applied also to the conceptual art, since he redefines the perceptual properties as the properties that produce a reaction in the subject and as properties that we have to experience directly.

128In addition, he reconciles the division between aesthetics realm and cognitive realm.

129The perceptual properties can be also properties that we perceive through our cognitive faculties and can be directly derived from the meaning of the work of art.

3. Sibley and Kant: a comparison between objectivism and subjectivism

130The connections between Sibley’s aesthetic theory and Kant’s aesthetic theory are interesting for the development of an aesthetics that gathers the results of both these theories.

  • 28 «Now since in the analysis of the faculties of the mind in general a feeling of pleasure which is i (...)

131At the core of these two aesthetic theories there is the problem of aesthetic pleasure: if we look at Kant’s First Introduction of the Critique of the Power of Judgment, we notice that Kant refers to this work as a Critique of the feeling of pleasure and displeasure28.

132According to Kant, pleasure is not an immediate sensation derived from the senses, but a state of the mind, connected to the free play of imagination and understanding, from which the judgment of taste derives.

133The subject experiences pleasure when he approaches an object that shows a particular predisposition to be cognized by the subject’s faculties of the mind.

134Kant describes this disposition of the object to be cognized by the mind, the purposiveness.

135The purposiveness is the a priori principle of the pleasure.

136In the case of the judgment of taste, there are no concepts under which we can categorize the object, but the judgment arises from the mental representation of the object. The free play, such as the peculiar relationship between the imagination and the understanding that arises in the case of the beautiful, is the fundamental base for the judgment of taste.

  • 29 Ibidem: 89.

137Thus, even though the judgment of taste is not a cognitive judgment, it requires the cognitive faculties to be formulated29.

138Surprisingly, Kant’s aesthetic theory is, in this case, more suitable than Sibley’s theory to be applied to certain forms of art, such as the conceptual art, since Kant gives a less relevant role to the perception. While in Sibley’s theory the perception has a fundamental role for applying correctly an aesthetic concepts, in Kant’s theory the judgment of taste arises from the mental representation of the object and not directly from the perception.

139If we look at the recurrent example in Sibley’s theory of the critic of art that tries to lead a person who, at first sight, does not see the beautiful in an aesthetic object, to see the beautiful, addressing his perception and trying to refine the person’s perception, we notice a great difference with Kant’s theory.

140According to Kant, the taste is a fundamental requisite and we could not rely on the perception in order to make a person change his judgment of taste, but the judgment is strictly connected to the cognitive sphere. Thus, we should address this peculiar relationship of imagination and understanding in order to make a person understand what, at first sight, he did not understand.

141In Kant’s theory, the process of formulating a judgment of taste has overall a cognitive character.

  • 30 Ibidem: 103.

142Even though the judgment of taste is not based on concepts, it requires the universal agreement. Kant justifies this universality of the judgment of taste with the fact that this judgment is strictly dependent on the free play of imagination and understanding and on the feeling of pleasure. Since every human being shares the same structure of the mind, we can presuppose the universal agreement for the judgment of taste30. We can presuppose this agreement also because the feeling of pleasure has an a priori principle: the purposiveness.

143Comparing the role of pleasure in relation to the aesthetic concepts described above and the role of the pleasure in Kant’s theory, we notice that in the latter, the pleasure can be read as the “objective condition” of the beautiful. It is essential, if the object is beautiful, that we feel this aesthetic pleasure. Thus, this pleasure is a sort of signal of the beautiful.

144From these few remarks on Kant’s theory, we notice a deep connection between Kant’s theory and Sibley’s theory.

145In both the authors there is a specific sensibility for the problem of the judgment, the possibility of universalizing the judgment and of finding a common agreement in aesthetics.

146On the other hand, these theories can be read as complementary: while in Sibley the focus of the attention is on the object, for Kant the center of interest is the subject.

147As noticed, Sibley defends a position of moderate objectivism, his aim is to disambiguate the aesthetic terminology and the way in which we use aesthetic concepts. He investigates the relationship between aesthetic concepts and judgments but the aesthetic experience is, first of all, an occasion to discover the world. Formulating a correct aesthetic judgment means, according to Sibley, having the correct educational background and discerning the aesthetic properties of the object.

148On the other hand, in Kant’s theory the aesthetic experience is an occasion to get to know the subject and how his structure of the mind works. The judgment is the result of a complex process of the mind and the beautiful is strictly connected to the reaction of the subject and his capacity to cognize the beautiful in the object.

149Looking at the definition of the pleasure that emerges from the theories, considering Sibley’s theory as a starting point, the pleasure is the reason why we decide to apply certain aesthetic concepts to an object. In the case of the child, the pleasure is a spontaneous reaction, while for the critic of art, is an intellectual pleasure.

150For Kant, the pleasure has little to do with the perception and the spontaneity of a reaction, but it origins in the free play of imagination and understanding and it is situated in the cognitive sphere.

151Concluding, these two theories offer multiple suggestions for the foundation of a future aesthetics that deals both with the problem of the definition of the subject in the aesthetic experience and with the problem of the aesthetic object and its properties.

152Sibley’s theory appeared during a period of renovation of the artistic scene, with the introduction of the ready made at the beginning of the XX century and the development of the conceptual art. Thus, it marks the necessity of a renovation also in the theory of art and in the philosophy of art. The necessity of rethinking the subject in the aesthetic experience and the status of the aesthetic object.

153Surprisingly, Kant’s theory reveals an unexpected actuality for its ability to focus on the subject and on an aesthetic experience that has a cognitive character.

154Considering the two theories that deal with similar problems, one from the perspective of the subject and the other from the perspective of the object, the pleasure acquires a fundamental role. This role of pleasure reveals the necessity of rediscovering the aesthetic experience as a pleasant experience that involves both the cognitive and the emotional part of the human being.

155A deeper investigation into this specific set of aesthetic concepts could lead to interest results both in the study of aesthetics itself, in the philosophy of mind and in the psychology.

Torna su


Allison, H.E.
– 2001, Kant’s Theory of Taste, A Reading of the Critique of Aesthetic Judgment, New York, Cambridge University Press

Beardsley, M.C.
– 1973, What is an aesthetic quality?, “Theoria”, 39: 50-70
– 1983, An Aesthetic Definition of Art, in P. Lamarque and S.H. Olsen (eds.), Aesthetics and the philosophy of art, Malden, Blackwell, 2004: 55-62

Brady, E. and Levinson, J. (eds.)
– 2001, Aesthetic Concepts. Essays after Sibley, Oxford, Clarendon Press

Budd, M.
– 1999, Aesthetic judgments, aesthetic principles, and aesthetic properties, “European Journal of Philosophy”, 3: 295-311

Carroll, N.
– 1994, Institutions of art: reconsiderations of George Dickie’s philosophy, Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania University Press
– 2002, Aesthetic experience revised, “British Journal of Aesthetics”, 2: 145-168
– 2004, Non-perceptual aesthetic properties: comments for James Shelley, “British Journal of Aesthetics”, 4: 413-423

De Clercq, R.
– 2002, The concept of an aesthetic property, “Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism”, 2: 167-179

Cohen, T.
– 1973, The possibilities of art: remarks on a proposal by Dickie, “Philosophical Review”, 1: 68-82
– 1973b, Aesthetic/non aesthetic and the concept of taste, “Theoria”, 39: 113-152

Currie, G.
– 1990, Supervenience, essentialism and aesthetic properties, “Philosophical Studies”, 3: 243-257

Danto, A.C.
– 1981, The transfiguration of the commonplace. A philosophy of art, Cambridge-London, Harvard University Press

Dickie, G.
– 1974, Art and Aesthetic: An Institutional Analysis, Ithaca, Cornell University Press
– 2004, Reading Sibley, “British Journal of Aesthetics”, 4: 408-412

Elton, W. (ed.)
– 1954, Aesthetics and language, Oxford, Blackwell

Ginsborg, H.
– 1990, The Role of Taste in Kant’s Theory of Cognition, New York, Garland
– 1997, Lawfulness without a law: Kant on the free play of imagination and understanding, “Philosophical Topics”, 1: 37-81

Goldman, A.H.
– 1990, Aesthetic qualities and aesthetic value, “Journal of Philosophy”, 1: 23-37

Guyer, P.
– 2003, The cognitive element in aesthetic experience: reply to Matravers, “British Journal of Aesthetics”, 4: 412-418
– 2003 (ed.), Kant’s Critique of the Power of Judgment: critical essays, Maryland, Rowman and Littlefield

Hermeren, G.
– 1988, The nature of aesthetic qualities, Lund, Lund University Press

Kant, I.
– 1790, Critique of the power of judgment, trans. by P. Guyer, New York, Cambridge University Press, 2000

Levinson, J.
– 1996, The Pleasure of Aesthetics: Philosophical Essays, Ithaca, Cornell University Press
– 2002, Hume’s standard of taste: The real problem, “Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism”, 3: 227-238
– 2006, Comtemplating Art, Oxford, Clarendon Press

Levinson, J. and Matravers, D.
– 2005, Aesthetic properties, “Proceeding of the Aristotelian Society”, 79: 191-227

Longuenesse, B.
– 2005, Kant and the Human Standpoint, New York, Cambridge University Press

Matravers, D.
– 2003, The aesthetic experience, “British Journal of Aesthetics”, 2: 158-174

Ottobre, A.
– 2007, La sopravvenienza estetica, “Rivista di estetica”, 36: 209-217

Ryle, G.
– 1964, Pleasure, in D.F. Gustafson (ed.), Essays in Philosophical Psychology, New York, Anchor Books

Schaper, E. (ed.),
– 1983, Pleasure, Preference, and Value, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press

Scruton, R.
– 1974, Art and Imagination, London, Metheuen and Co.

Shelley, J.
– 2003, The problem of non-perceptual art, “British Journal of Aesthetics”, 4: 363-378

Sibley, F.
– 2001, Approach to Aesthetics. Collected Papers on Philosophical Aesthetics, J. Benson, B. Redfern, J. Roxbee Cox (eds.), Oxford, Clarendon Press

Torna su


1 F. Sibley, Aesthetic Concepts: «When a word or expression is such that taste or perceptiveness is required in order to apply it, I shall call it an aesthetic term or expression, and I shall, correspondingly, speak of aesthetic concept or taste concepts» (Sibley 2001: 1).

2 Ibidem: 5.

3 F. Sibley, Aesthetic and non-aesthetic, in Sibley 2001: 36-37.

4 Scruton 1974: 32.

5 F. Sibley, Objectivity and Aesthetics, in Sibley 2001: 71-87.

6 «With aesthetic terms, if they connote properties, there should presumably be, for the reasons given, similar possibilities of ultimate proof making reference to agreement. Again, one might say, the only way to find out whether something is graceful (or moving, or funny) is to look and see in suitable conditions» (ibidem: 76).

7 «We suggest to children that simple pieces of music are hurrying or running or skipping or dawdling, from there we move to lively, gay, jolly, happy, smiling, or sad, and, as their experience and vocabulary broaden, to solemn, dynamic, or melancholy. But the child also discovers for himself many of these parallels and takes interest or delight in them. He is likely on his own to skip, march, clap, or laugh with the music, and without this natural tendency our training would get nowhere» (ibidem: 21).

8 Kant 1790: 89.

9 Budd 1999.

10 Sibley 2001: 19.

11 Beardsley 1973.

12 F. Sibley, Colours, in Sibley 2001: 54-70.

13 «People now using colour language learned from their forebears; for this there must have been continuously overlapping agreement between teachers and learners, in such a way that familiar things we would now agree are green would have been called green, unless people had noted a change at any previous time. If initial agreement permitted the establishment of colour language, continuing agreement permits it to continue in existence» (ibidem: 60).

14 Cohen 1973; T. Cohen, Sibley and aesthetic language, in Brady and Levinson 2001.

15 «Philosophy for Sibley was a matter of critically dissecting our practices – the ways we talk, perceive, and think – rather than a matter of erecting grand theories and sweeping philosophical models which obfuscates issues and end up in muddles from their failure to examine differences and relations: “a theory that boldly highlights some facets of a subject inevitably hides others, just as simple model is inevitably Procrustean. The understanding we seek in philosophy will come in great part in the grasp of that detail”» (Brady and Levinson 2001: 5).

16 «Aesthetic terms span a great range of types and could be grouped into various kind and sub-species. But it is not my present purpose to attempt any such grouping; I am interested in what they all have in common. Their almost endless variety is adequately displayed in the following list: unified, balanced, integrated, lifeless, serene, sombre, dynamic, powerful, vivid, delicate, moving, trite, sentimental, tragic» (Sibley 2001: 1).

17 Scruton 1974: 71-72.

18 Ryle 1964.

19 Levinson 1996.

20 Shelley 2003: 364.

21 Beardsley 1983.

22 Dickie 1974: 42.

23 Shelley 2003; Carroll 1999.

24 Danto 1981.

25 Ibidem.

26 «I think it unnecessary to go on here, because the second-solution advocate, I suspect, will be willing to concede these similarities and others I might allege. She will be willing in part, I think, because nothing I have said takes us to the hart of the matter, namely perception. The second-solution advocate may maintain that, whatever else we say about them, aesthetic properties are essentially perceptual. And I agree. My disagreement with the second-solution advocate concerns only what we mean, or perhaps ought to mean when we say that aesthetic properties are essentially perceptual» (Shelley 2003: 371).

27 Sibley 2001: 34, Shelley 2003: 371.

28 «Now since in the analysis of the faculties of the mind in general a feeling of pleasure which is independent of the determination of the faculty of desire, which indeed is rather able to supply a determining ground for that faculty, is incontrovertibly given, the connection of which with the other two faculties in a system nevertheless requires that this feeling of pleasure, like the other two faculties, not rest on merely empirical grounds but also on a priori principles, there is thus required for the idea of philosophy as a system (if not a doctrine then still) a critique of the feeling of pleasure and displeasure insofar as it is not empirically grounded» (Kant 1790: 12).

29 Ibidem: 89.

30 Ibidem: 103.

Torna su

Per citare questo articolo

Notizia bibliografica

Giulia Bonasio, «Aesthetic pleasure: cognition and emotion in the aesthetic concepts. Remarks after Sibley’s works»Rivista di estetica, 55 | 2014, 183-201.

Notizia bibliografica digitale

Giulia Bonasio, «Aesthetic pleasure: cognition and emotion in the aesthetic concepts. Remarks after Sibley’s works»Rivista di estetica [Online], 55 | 2014, online dal 01 mars 2014, consultato il 19 juin 2024. URL:; DOI:

Torna su

Diritti d’autore


Solamente il testo è utilizzabile con licenza CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. Salvo diversa indicazione, per tutti agli altri elementi (illustrazioni, allegati importati) la copia non è autorizzata ("Tutti i diritti riservati").

Torna su
Cerca su OpenEdition Search

Sarai reindirizzato su OpenEdition Search