Realism and Antirealism in Aesthetics and Metaethics

August 9, 2014 - August 10, 2014
Trinity Hall, Cambridge University

Trinity Hall, Trinity Lane
United Kingdom


  • British Society of Aesthetics
  • Mind Association


Paul Boghossian
New York University
Angela Breitenbach
Cambridge University
Rob Hopkins
Simon Kirchin
University of Kent at Canterbury
Universitat de Barcelona
Russ Shafer-Landau
University of Wisconsin, Madison
Jessica Wilson
University of Toronto


Daan Evers
Stockholm University
Louise Hanson
Cambridge University

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Are there facts about whether something is beautiful, or is good art, or are such things purely a matter of opinion? Is it possible for someone to be incorrect in an ascription of aesthetic value? What is the relation between judging something to have aesthetic merit and liking it? What am I saying when I say that Picasso’s Guernica is good art: am I making a claim about some feature of the world, or am I just expressing a preference of mine? These are questions in metaaesthetics.

Prima facie, there appears to be a great deal of similarity between metaaesthetics and the much more developed field of metaethics. Just as metaethics addresses questions about the objectivity of moral judgements, the existence of moral properties, and the semantics of moral claims, metaaesthetics addresses these kinds of question concerning aesthetic judgements, properties and claims. Further, these kinds of questions also arise with respect to other subject matter, such as epistemic modals, future contingent propositions and knowledge ascriptions.1

Work in these different felds would benefit from increased dialogue. Firstly, some of the most sophisticated forms of realism and antirealism have been developed outside of aesthetics; most notably in metaethics, but also in the context of other philosophical issues, such as modal discourse and propositions about the future. Secondly, there is a tendency among philosophers who develop antirealist theories with respect to other kinds of discourse to take aesthetics to be susceptible to a similar treatment. Aestheticians could benefit from exchanges with philosophers working on realism and antirealism in other domains, while philosophers in these other domains could benefit from a more detailed understanding of the data in aesthetics. 

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