Ideal Observer Theories in Aesthetics



I examine the prospects for an ideal observer theory in aesthetics modelled on Roderick Firth’s 1952 paper ‘Ethical Absolutism and the Ideal Observer’. The first generation of philosophers to consider an Ideal Aesthetic Observer (IAO) found fault with Firth’s omniscience condition; more recent writers have criticized the affective component of an IAO’s response. In the end, most discussants reject the possibility of an IAO theory. Though the IAO theory gets the model wrong for answering meta-aesthetic questions, revisiting the debate prompts useful reconsideration of the role of the critic and the nature of aesthetic appreciation.