Beauty is Felt, Not Calculated; and it Does Not Fit in Boxes
This chapter is an empirical psychologist’s reaction to the idea that aesthetic responses are at root a kind of emotion. It follows a natural strategy: it takes a framework that was developed to describe emotion, and asks how well it applies to aesthetic responses. Part of the aim is to offer a basis for judging how similar or different the aesthetic and the emotional are. However, the exercise also serves other purposes. Frameworks derived from emotion research offer structured ways of describing aesthetic responses, and that seems to be interesting in its own right. The approach is rooted in empirical psychology, but it breaks with the discipline in one key respect. Empirical psychology as such expects claims to be supported by controlled observation. The state of the evidence in this area makes it impossible to say very much without violating that norm. Broadly speaking, the ideas that are put forward should be considered as proposals, which ought to be followed up with empirical research. That is sometimes explicit, but often implicit. There are many points where the issues raised connect with more traditionally philosophical discussions. Some of the connections are too striking to ignore, but in general, it seems more useful for an empirical psychologist to concentrate on the issues that his home discipline is placed to clarify. Focusing on aesthetic responses rather than something more abstract is an example of that principle. Empirical psychology is not well-equipped to address traditional questions in aesthetics such as ‘what constitutes art?’; but describing aesthetic responses is something it can do. Readers are invited to consider how that project relates to other perspectives.
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