Aesthetic Testimony



It is frequently claimed that we can learn very little, if anything, about the aesthetic character of an artwork (or other object of aesthetic appraisal) on the basis of testimony. Such disparaging assessments of the epistemic value of aesthetic testimony contrast markedly with our acceptance of testimony as an important (perhaps even basic) source of knowledge in many other areas. There have, however, been a number of challenges to this orthodoxy of late; from those who seek to deny that such a contrast exists (optimists) as well as attempts by those who accept the distinction (pessimists) to provide an explanation and defence of the contrast. In Section I, I outline a little of the nature and history of the debate over aesthetic testimony. Section II, focuses on the opposing positions on aesthetic testimony, optimism and pessimism, and takes steps to clarify what exactly is at issue between them. In Section III, I survey considerations which have been adduced in favour of pessimism ranging from brute appeal to intuition to complex argumentation before turning in Section IV, to look at motivations for optimism. Finally, in Section V, I consider some alternative views which claim that, for a variety of reasons, it is a mistake to construe the debate over aesthetic testimony as concerned (or at least as primarily concerned) with the epistemic standing of aesthetic beliefs formed on the basis of testimony.