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The social construction of aesthetic response.

As in many other disciplines, there has recently been what might be called a 'contextualist turn' in aesthetics. In part this turn has amounted to a move away from formalism or universalism - away, that is, from theories insisting that the only things aesthetically significant are formal properties responded to directly and without reliance on external information such as artist biography or historical setting. The move has also sometimes involved denying claims for the universal accessibility and appeal of (even great) artworks; Beethoven's Ninth Symphony or Shakespeare's Hamlet, for example, are no longer thought by all to be masterpieces that only 'inferior' cultures would fail to admire. In this paper, I wish to examine a contextualist move that is becoming more and more influential in a variety of disciplines and determine the extent of its applicability in aesthetics. Several theorists in the humanities and social sciences support so-called 'social constructionist' theories of human social phenomena. These theories shed light, I believe, on the nature of aesthetic experience. I intend here to examine social constructionist theories of emotion, and to discuss the extent to which they apply to aesthetic response.

One argument might go something like this:

1. Emotion is socially constructed.

2. Aesthetic response, at least to some extent, involves or is significantly similar to, emotions.

3. Thus, aesthetic response is socially constructed.

However, this argument is far too simple, and far too fast, to convince people who resist contextualization. Instead, one must look in detail at the first premiss and then see if it is also true of aesthetic response.


The main tenet of SC[1] is that emotions cannot be reduced to physiological or psychological states of individuals. As Errol Bedford puts it, 'Emotion concepts . . . are not purely psychological: they presuppose concepts of social relationships and institutions, and concepts belonging to systems of judgement, moral, aesthetic, and legal. In using emotion words we are able, therefore, to relate behaviour to the complex background in which it is enacted, and so to make human action intelligible'.[2] SC does not deny that inner physiological or psychological states are part of emotion. It rather insists that additional components figure, e.g., experience, displayed behaviour, cognitive interpretations, and moral assessment.[3] This is particularly obvious, SC's argue, when one considers emotions such as grief and remorse, or shame and disappointment, where the distinctions between them are not made on the basis of inner feeling but rather on the basis of situations in which the agents find themselves. It would be impossible to distinguish grief from disappointment merely by a physical examination - of one's pulse, muscle tension, tears, etc. - for these alone will not establish the difference. Instead one looks for the necessary evidence in the context - at whether a loved one has recently died or a lottery ticket has not paid off. Emotion is an open, or as James R. Averill describes it, 'polythetic' concept, where there is no list of necessary and sufficient conditions for the occurrence of an emotion but instead some combination or sub-set of physiological changes, subjective experience, and expressive reactions that are 'institutionalized' interpretations and responses to particular classes of situations.[4] Understanding emotions requires not just a study of individual bodies or minds but of language, moral systems, social functions, rituals, and other sociological and anthropological phenomena - including art.

To see how SC relates to aesthetic response, we must look at details of the theory. Different theorists, of course, emphasize different points or aspects. None the less, there are three common claims that one can describe and try to apply to aesthetic experience:

1. Emotions are learned.

2. Emotions are culture-bound.

3. Emotions are socially prescribed and proscribed.

I shall first discuss each of these points separately, and then turn to a discussion of the extent to which each is true of aesthetic response.

I Emotions are Learned

According to SC, emotions depend upon one's ability to make appropriate judgements. As knowledge and capacity increase, emotional responses develop and change. How one feels depends to a great extent on how one learns one is expected to feel. One reads, like David Copperfield, 'as if for life', and learns what culture expects and admires emotionally as well as, indeed concomitantly with, behaviourally and morally. 'Having by this time cried as much as I possibly could, I began to think it was no use crying any more, especially as neither Roderick Random, nor that captain in the Royal British Navy had ever cried, that I could remember'.[5] David does not just learn to hold back tears; he learns to be and feel brave by imitating the heroes of children's fiction popular in his community.

There is a significant developmental component to emotion: what one feels as a child one does not necessarily feel as adults in similar situations. One learns appropriate attitudes, the logic and rules for expressing emotions, and the language used to describe, prescribe, and proscribe them. We even learn what bodily states are appropriate and permissible. (In some cultures, women, but not men, can faint from grief or shame; little boys but not grown men are allowed occasionally to beat their fists and feet on the floor in anger.)

As people mature they internalize more and more complex logical and strategic directions for what they should do. Much of the work done on the logic of emotion concerns its intensionality: there must be an object of an emotion - something or someone that one loves, fears, takes joy in. To a great extent learning the appropriate object enables one to differentiate emotions, to distinguish sorrow from remorse, or disappointment from shame, for example. People do not just feel grief, they feel grief at the death of a particular loved one. I am not just 'in love', I am in love with someone. Lust is not general, it has a particular object or set of objects. One learns which objects determine that this is annoyance, that indignation. Learning, thus, is not only a matter of introspection, but of coming to understand the context - the objects, our and others' relation to it and us.

One of the most convincing elements of SC is the claim that language plays a crucial role in emotion. Having or not having 'a word for it' often determines whether or not an individual will have or not have a particular feeling. Thus one must learn the language of a community before one can have or understand specific emotions. Thus learning a language is an essential component of emotion. Examples of this will be discussed in the next section.

II Emotions are Culture-Bound

Since language is crucial to emotion, and since language is culture-bound, it is not surprising that SC views emotion as culture-specific. Emotions develop in and are shaped by a community's beliefs and values. Like philosophers of language such as Hilary Putnam who argue that meaning is not just 'in the head' but world-dependent, SC believes that two individuals can be particle-for-particle identical and have different emotions in different worlds. Emotions are internalized community values; one hates what one's culture hates, for example.

Strong versions of SC maintain that all emotions are culture-dependent, i.e., that there are no natural emotions. Weaker versions allow for some natural, unlearned, universal emotions, but insist that most are cultural products. If all people feel fear when chased by a large animal or when their shelter catches fire, not all people fear the hill folk or certain cloud formations. What counts as a 'delinquent' emotion will vary from culture to culture and even differ between sub-cultures. Age, gender, class - all serve to determine what someone feels in certain circumstances. All are relevant to norms that operate locally, and which must be internalized if one is to be considered emotionally 'normal'.

A great deal of fascinating research has been done on emotions across cultures and times. Rom Harre and Robert Findlay-Jones have discussed accidie - an emotion often referred to in mediaeval Europe but no longer mentioned in the West.[6] Accidie was a feeling of guilt that those leading often tedious, lonely religious (e.g., monastic) lives experienced, not because they failed to do their duty, but because they failed to do it with proper fervour. One prayed, but one's heart wasn't in it, and one felt accidie. Work such as Paul Heelas's on emotions across cultures shows that even basic emotions such as fear and anger show little cross-cultural constancy.[7] The Javanese of Ponorogo, for example, use liver rather than heart-talk to describe their emotional responses. (I cannot help wondering whether they say such things as, 'My liver was in my mouth'!)

In general, the way in which cultures make sense of their world influences the emotions felt and vice versa. For example, when 'self' is defined socially there are enormous differences in how emotions are constructed and described from cultures in which 'self' is defined individually. The way emotions are understood presupposes a whole view of the human and of human action. What one considers oneself responsible for is a crucial part of a community's emotional scheme. Guilt and a sense of responsibility are conceptually and logically linked.

III Emotions are Socially Prescribed and Proscribed

Cultures have histories at least in part because their interests, purposes and needs change. As these change, so do emotions. SC takes this as evidence that emotions play a role in serving the functions of a society; in other words, emotions have a social function.

It follows that there should be a socially prescriptive and proscriptive aspect to emotion, and this is exactly what one finds. Emotions function to promote desirable and regulate undesirable behaviour and attitudes. One learns to hate what one's community views negatively and to feel guilt when one transgresses. One learns to feel angry towards attackers, affection for small children, pity for the infirm - all serve obvious social, not simply individual, interests. The 'rules' one must learn are a cultural creation that serves to internalize social strategies for promulgating mores. 'I'm ashamed of you', expresses not only the speaker's emotion but a direction to the hearer that he or she should also feel shame. Sorrow too openly demonstrated or disappointment too long indulged brings criticism: 'Stop feeling sorry for yourself and get on with your life'. 'Cheer up', or, as in American slang, 'Deal with it!'

Such demands on requests or advice would not make sense if emotions were not, to some extent at least, within one's control and valorized by a community. Of course the methods a community has for prescribing and proscribing emotions can be very subtle. David Copperfield succeeds for a while in modelling himself after Roderick Random, but has a relapse. He asks a coachman to give him back the handkerchief they had set on a horse's back to dry. The driver suggests that it is probably best left there. Davy's agreement is a step on the road to emotional maturity, at least as conceived by Victorian culture.

One of the basic tenets of SC is that the use of emotion words is heavily dependent upon the moral order of a culture, for example on rights and duties. Feeling jealous, for instance, depends upon believing that you have certain rights with respect to another persons. Accidie will be felt only in communities that for some reason value tedious activity that must be dutifully and enthusiastically performed.

The social functions of emotions are not only furthered by prescriptive language ('Stop feeling sorry for yourself') but also by justificatory language. Everything from fear to surprise to love can be described as 'unjustified'. Such language would be meaningless, or at least vacuous, if emotions were, like breathing or retching, pure physiological states. And it requires shared analysis of context, e.g., mutual understanding that a situation is dangerous. 'You ought not be afraid of snails'. 'You ought not to love such a scoundrel'. 'You ought not to have been surprised by the salesman's tactics'. All of these oughts, according to SC, prove that there is a social element to emotion.


There is, of course, no single aesthetic response, let alone a single aesthetic emotion. However, there are several emotions picked out by English terms (and terms of other languages, of course) that refer to what we might think of as emotions, and that frequent discussions of aesthetic experience: 'uplifted', 'sentimental', 'amused', 'suspenseful', 'bored', 'moved', 'exhilarated', and 'entranced', for example. Though we do not feel 'pangs' of these the way we feel pangs of fear or regret, there are even some bodily states associated with these responses. One's heart pounds as one reads a novel. One is overcome with the view and grabs one's chest. There are goosebumps, tears, constrictions of the throat as one listens to a song. The hair on the back of one's neck stands up as one watches a film. One's ears hurt when the choir is off-key, or the organ goes into too low a register. But none of these states, indeed, no bodily state, is a necessary component of aesthetic experience. Nor is any of them sufficient; all occur in other types of experiences. Furthermore, I doubt that all aesthetic response has a physiological component. Analysis of a fugue or comparison and contrast of Chinese and Indian Buddha statues may be enjoyable aesthetic experiences in the complete absence of flutterings or palpitations.

None the less, there does seem to be something which is loosely referred to by the term 'aesthetic response', and it is this complex which I want to examine in the light of SC. I do not think that this response can be precisely defined. I shall, however, use the following characterization: 'An aesthetic response is a response to aesthetic properties of an object or event, i.e. to intrinsic properties considered worthy of attention (perception or reflection) within a particular culture'.[8] The fact that the properties attended to are considered worthy of that attention does not necessarily imply that the response is 'positive'. Colour or intonation or rhyme may be characteristics that repay perception and reflection in general. Some may be vibrant, pure, intriguing, others boring, flat, trite. The response will correspondingly be positive or negative. Furthermore, positive aesthetic experiences often involve emotions generally identified as 'negative' - fear or pity, for example. There has recently been a great deal of discussion of this phenomenon.[9] Here all one need acknowledge is that the experiences one identifies as aesthetic are directed at certain properties of things and events and that one is conscious that one's response is causally connected to those properties. Worthiness of attention is a matter of what communities consider worth drawing attention to in general. One's response to particular colours would be neither positive nor negative in the absence of any sustained attention whatsoever to colour. As the definition stands the question of SC is not begged, for it is consistent with the definition that all cultures will pick out the same intrinsic properties for attention because there is a 'natural' human response to some specific properties. To what extent, then, do claims I, II, and III apply to aesthetic response?

Ia Aesthetic Response is Learned

If emotions depend upon a capacity to judge and compare, this is equally true of aesthetic response. Even at the most naive level, learning that a flower is pretty or a garbage dump ugly depends upon contrasting these objects with other sorts of things not picked out for such assessments. Appreciating the clever ending of a Mozart sonata or the exuberance of a Shivah figure is only possible when sophisticated listening and looking skills have been developed. The aesthetic lives of children and adults differ just as their emotional lives do, with pronounced cognitive and behavioural variations. We do not expect senior citizens to swoon or scream at classical music concerts. Experienced readers of spy novels often fail to feel suspense when less sophisticated readers are on the edge of their seats.

We also respond according to learned aesthetic roles: performer, critic, audience member, artist, tourist; such roles with their special logic and strategies must be learned. People learn to play the audience game, the critic game, and so on. One learns to express being uplifted differently from being bored (although there may be some behavioural overlaps, e.g., closed eyes) and learns how to distinguish the objects appropriate to them (e.g., boredom, not upliftedness, is appropriate for trite interpretations). Training is at least as important as physiology.

One possible objection here is that one often hears such phrases as, 'There's no word for the way I feel', in what one identifies as an aesthetic discussion. Don't such utterances show that aesthetic responses are inner states that are independent of specific language communities?

Rather than undermining the centrality of language in determining aesthetic response, this objection actually supports it. Consider the sorts of occasions in which such statements occur. They are never uttered in isolation. That is, in aesthetic as in non-aesthetic contexts, the speaker always goes on to (or has just) describe the context of the response. 'I can't tell you how I felt when my mother died'. 'My experience upon first seeing Guernica was simply indescribable'. 'The sound of the saxophone affects me as nothing else does - there's no word for it'. In every case, identifying the object of the emotion does provide 'a word for it' (typically a phrase) and hence picks out or individuates a specific feeling. Were the speaker to believe that the hearer really had no idea how the speaker felt, the utterance would be pointless. The speaker assumes some shared understanding - understanding that springs from a shared community. 'I just can't say how I felt at all', would only make sense, I think, if the speaker and hearers were members of radically different societies - when even specification of the object or circumstances would leave the hearer without a clue.

Just as the linguistic determinedness of emotion is one of the most compelling arguments for SC theories of emotion, so, I believe, it is for aesthetic response. One is not born able to distinguish a fugue from a gigue, nor an early from a late Buddha figure. Doing so depends upon acquiring a very specialized vocabulary. Appreciating these things, and the differences between them, is also language-dependent, as is the particular response shaped by the words used to describe something. A guidebook tells us when to be uplifted or amused, deeply impressed or contemptuous. It is hard to imagine feeling sentimental where there is no word for this kind of self-indulgence. As recognition of the linguistic-dependence of emotion leads directly to a recognition of its culture-boundedness, so too with aesthetic response.

IIa Aesthetic Response is Culture-Bound

If such remarks as, 'They have a word for it that we just don't have', apply in the case of emotion, so too do they apply for aesthetic response, and hence SC is strengthened in both domains. Having a word for it is a cultural phenomenon, and having certain kinds of responses is also a cultural phenomenon. Roger Scruton writes of music (and what he says is true of all art forms, I believe), 'To aim to produce music is to aim to produce a musical response. And only in the context of a musical culture is such an aim coherent. It is custom, habit, the intertwining of music with everyday life, which generates the basic discriminations'.[10] One person learns to be thrilled and exhilarated, another to be repulsed, even depressed, at the spectacle of boxing. Rap gives some hope; causes others fear. A fugue enraptures one, bores another.

I have said that aesthetic response is a response to intrinsic properties that a culture values for their capacity to engage and repay attention. Several combinations, therefore, are possible. Culture A picks out P and most members enjoy it. Culture B does not pick out P - doesn't even have a word for it - so no one attends to it with either pleasure or displeasure. But members of B do pick out Q and some sub-cultures of B delight in it while others do not. Culture C picks out P and most members are displeased by it. Within Culture A a few individuals fail to learn either to pick out or to respond to P. Sub-cultures develop; paradigms shift.

In order to understand how an emotion-word differs across cultures or across time, one must obviously know a lot about these cultures. Accidie provided one clear example. This is true of aesthetic response as well. I have written elsewhere about the negative connotations of 'sentimental' as used in English. Eduardo Crespo points out that being sentimental is much more positive in Spanish culture.[11] Aesthetic response-talk as well as emotion-talk varies with languages, and hence one must be fluent in a language in order to understand its nature within a given culture. For people not fluent in Japanese language (and hence in Japanese culture) the term 'makoto' can at best only be glossed as 'a sincere or genuine expression of an appropriate emotion'.[12] For one thing it is most often attributed to haiku, a genre with which most westerners have at most a fleeting acquaintance. For another it involves not just an indication of 'real' feeling, but requires knowing which emotions are appropriate to the particular kind of place being described and what constitutes the improper use of forms and techniques with respect to a particular magnitude of feeling. Clearly these will all be socially determined. How should one feel about a lake in the sun as opposed to a lake in fog? Which forms would be improper when describing a frog jumping into a foggy lake?

Of course, one has an aesthetic analogue to the problem of whether any emotions are completely 'natural', i.e., not socially constructed. There may be situations that stimulate aesthetic response cross-culturally. While admitting that responses to Bach are not universal, standing on a cliff on the Oregon coast watching waves crash against rocks, it is hard for me to believe that there is anyone who would not feel as I do - that way that experience which, as I suggested above, perhaps can only be called 'the-way-you-feel-when-you-see-waves-crashing-against-rocks-experience'. None the less, a typically American response on the cliff (saying 'Wow!', shouting, 'Hey, Joe, You gotta see this!', hurrying on to the next viewpoint, etc.) will probably not be exactly the same as the response of a person from a more subtle culture. 'Oh, isn't it lovely', may be as exaggerated as it gets. And there will be age, gender, and class variations within a single culture. Enthusiasm is not always obstreperous; it may or may not be accompanied by reaching for one's heart or camera. These behaviours, varying as they do across cultures, will result in different teaching and learning methods and styles. Just which practices result in which aesthetic responses will, of course, themselves be largely socially constructed.

Aesthetic response, like emotion, has a history. Research is required for specific responses. As I said above, I do not claim that aesthetic response is only possible within socially constructed contexts; I do not know this and I doubt that at this stage of cognitive science anyone does. But some aesthetic responses certainly are. The one I know something about in detail, sentimentality, certainly has changed, and the changes tell one a great deal about how social constructionism applies to aesthetic response. In its original eighteenth-century British use it was positive, but within a generation had become negative. In some periods it was permissible for women, but not for men to be sentimental. There is some indication that now, as it becomes permissible, even laudable, for men overtly to express their feelings, sentimentality is becoming more generally positive again. 'Lacks a sentimental tug' was a derogatory remark recently made about a play.[13] We have seen convincing arguments within SC that emotion is a complex of which inner states are only a single component. So it is with aesthetic response. It too is a complex of behaviour, attitude, belief, object, and physiology - all of which can and do change over time.

IIIa Aesthetic Response is Socially Prescribed and Proscribed

With respect to emotion SC asserted that there is a history because cultural interests and purposes change. Emotions have social functions, and so are prescribed and proscribed. Can the same be said of aesthetic response? This is, I think, the most controversial or at least most difficult claim to articulate and to justify. But in many ways it is the most interesting and important.

Two arguments, analogous to ones we met in SC, support the position that aesthetic response is socially prescribed. The first is that some aesthetic responses depend upon a culture's moral order and since the latter is obviously a matter of social prescription, so is the former. The second is that aesthetic responses are justified, and justification of such responses only makes sense in a context of prescription. A nagging question remains, however. But first the arguments.

There are two important ways in which aesthetic response is connected to a culture's moral order. One must, first of all, know and understand a culture's moral system in order to appreciate much of its art. Novels such as Middlemarch or Things Fall Apart cannot be understood without a deep understanding of the moral values both explicit and implicit in them. A grasp of accidie may be required if one is to have access to a particular painting of a religious hermit such as St Jerome. Examples such as these can be found in all the arts. What one does not understand one cannot fully respond to. Thus aesthetic response to such objects is often connected to understanding a culture's moral order.

In the second place, certain experiences themselves will not obtain in the absence of shared moral values. An emotion such as jealousy or pride depends upon sophisticated internalization of a society's system of rights and responsibilities. There are equally convincing examples of such a connectedness in aesthetic experience. I have argued elsewhere that sentimentality is, and requires, both an aesthetic and moral component.[14] Indulging sentimentality like indulging grief not only has moral parameters but cannot be understood without attention to such moral notions as self-deception, shallow character, or failure to act in approved ways. There are, I suspect, other aesthetic responses and judgements where this interplay is at the core: sincerity, cleverness, offensiveness, poignancy, for instance.

The fact that some emotions are justified, some unjustified, proves, according to many social constructionists, that emotion is more than an involuntary feeling. 'Your surprise was not justified' says more about beliefs than it does about physiology. Are there examples of justified and unjustified aesthetic responses? The constructionist Claire Arman-Jones writes, '[Assessment of emotions] as warranted depends not only upon judgements concerning the extension of the object (e.g. that there really is an x of which M is afraid) but also upon agreement over the agent's construal as being a plausible construal of the object (e.g. that x can be construed as menancing or dangerous)'.[15] Does this apply to aesthetic response? Are there plausible and implausible construals of objects that make some aesthetic responses appropriate, others inappropriate? Or, if someone responds positively to an object - exclaims at its joyfulness for instance - no matter how disgusting most members of his or her culture find it, does it simply end there? If someone stands looking down on a garbage dump, feels goosebumps (positive ones), says, 'Wow! Hey, Joe, wait'll you see this!', grabs her camera, etc., do we, should we, can we meaningfully say, 'Your aesthetic response is not justified'?

Barrie Falk in a paper on the communicability of feeling makes some observations that may help us to answer these questions. Feelings of emotions such as pity, he says, are marked by resonance and salience. Resonance is 'a certain current conative state' - one in which the agent is absorbed by certain features of an object or event; salience is a sense that 'this . . . is what the world is like'.[16] Suppose a scene is pitiful and I in fact feel pity. Falk writes, 'all that has been required of me is the ability to perceive pitifulness when it is there. And when, in such a situation, I do feel pity, the feeling will therefore be the proper one, no more in need of justification than my belief, in appropriate circumstances, that there is a daffodil before me. . . . If my feeling is right, my state will be a communicable one, its proper description transcending reference merely to events occurring within a discrete subject of sensory and affective states'.[17] No more in need of justification - but in need none the less. We suppose that both we and others (in our culture, though Falk is not explicit on the culture-specificity of what is communicable) will be sensitive to what we are sensitive to. Our beliefs, says Falk, 'bestow' resonance and saliance.[18] Where such beliefs are shared, feelings can be communicated. This lies at the heart of the communicability of feelings via art, he argues.[19] The belief and the feeling that a daffodil is beautiful are part of the same phenomena; hence where beliefs differ the response will differ. Beliefs about and attitudes towards garbage dumps make it unlikely that someone in Minnesota culture will have positive goosebumps.

But are aesthetic responses socially prescribed and proscribed to the extent that one is justified in saying, 'You ought not find garbage dumps beautiful'? Do aesthetic responses have a social function; if so, what is it? Do aesthetic responses 'sustain and endorse cultural systems of belief and value',[20] as many social constructionists believe emotions do? Do they help to regulate undesirable behaviour and promote desired attitudes?

I do not believe that aesthetic response has a single function any more than art (or specific emotions, for that matter) does. But that they have some social functions does appear to be the case. We teach art appreciation (i.e., aesthetic response) because we believe it enriches life, but not just individuals' lives. Shared aesthetic experiences are often parts of rituals that serve to bind communities. Ellen Dissanayake has developed an almost Darwinian argument that art is for survival.[21] The connoisseur culture from which many influential aestheticians have come in this century has underplayed the social nature of aesthetic response. But even among 'us' there are aesthetic responses that depend upon collective rather than individual experience: attending concerts and plays, singing in choirs, going to museums with friends or classes; something is absent when we sit in a darkened movie theatre and watch a film all alone. Perhaps one of the failures of contemporary mainstream western art is that it divides the 'in's' from the 'out's'.

The force of 'You ought not to respond to that garbage dump with delight' clearly depends upon shared, i.e., collective values. Only a heartless bean-counter such as Gradgrind would find most mid-twentieth-century low income housing developments beautiful. As technological societies come to a better understanding of causes of social deviance, more and more cities have given up plans that revolve about high-rise concrete structures that have come to be recognized as perfect environments for breeding and supporting criminal behaviour. Many have literally been abandoned. The idea that beautiful behaviour and beautiful surroundings go together is gaining credence. 'You ought to find the architecture in the Mother Cabrini development in Chicago ugly' is not a meaningless statement. And it indicates that aesthetic response, like emotion, is tied to a culture's moral order, and like emotions will be used to prescribe and proscribe the sort of life one has and leads.

I have tried to show that claims made by SC about emotion are true of aesthetic response. The dependence upon language and culture for a full understanding of the latter as well as the former is thus underscored. The contextualist turn away from formalism and universalism is to that extent justified. It is as difficult to specify what it is in the context that demands and deserves attention as it is to define 'social'. Aesthetic response, like the individual emotions prominent in so many of them, must be investigated as particulars, I urge. Case histories of accidie or sentimentality will disclose factors that shape them. It is unlikely that the same factors will always be present or will play equally determinant roles in all cases. The door is open, I think, for a greater connection between moral and aesthetic considerations than has been allowed by anti-contextualists. Since my own interests lie in examining this connection, SC provides a particularly helpful approach to understanding aesthetic response.

Marcia Muelder Eaton, Department of Philosophy, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, Minnesota 55455, USA.


1 I shall henceforth use this abbreviation to stand for 'social construction theories' or obvious cognates.

2 Errol Bedford, 'Emotions and Statements About Them' in Rom Harre, editor, The Social Construction of Emotions (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1986), p. 30.

3 These are the components identified by Linda Woods in 'Loneliness', in Harre (1986), p. 195.

4 James R. Averill, 'The Acquisition of Emotions in Adulthood', in Harre (1986), p. 100.

5 Charles Dickens, David Copperfield (first published 1850); Bantam Books edition (1988), pp. 52 and 58.

6 Rom Harre and Robert Findlay-Jones, 'Emotion Talk Across Time', in Harre (1986), pp. 220-223.

7 Paul Heelas, 'Emotion Talk across Cultures', in Harre (1986), pp. 234 ff.

8 See Marcia Muelder Eaton, Aesthetics and the Good Life (Cranbury, New Jersey: Associated University Presses, 1989) for more on my theory of the aesthetic. Whatever aesthetic response is, it is not one thing, anymore than emotion is one thing. It would probably be better to speak of aesthetic responses; but for simplicity's sake I shall use the singular term.

9 Much of the recent discussion on this topic was stimulated by Colin Radford's 'How Can We Be Moved by the Fate of Anna Karenina?', Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, Supp. Vol. 49 (1975). A recent discussion of the debate, with the author arguing in favour of the reality and rationality of emotions directed at fictional objects is Alex Neill's 'Fiction and the Emotions', American Philosophical Quarterly, Vol. 30, No. 1 (January, 1993).

10 Roger Scruton, 'Analytic Philosophy and the Meaning of Music', in Analytic Aesthetics, edited by Richard Shusterman (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1989), p. 93.

11 Eduardo Crespo, 'A Regional Variation: Emotion in Spain', in Harre (1986), pp. 213-214.

12 For a fuller discussion of makota, see Paul Reasoner, Japanese Poetry, Objectivity in Aesthetics, and The Aesthetic, Ph.D. dissertation, University of Minnesota (1987).

13 See Marcia Muelder Eaton, 'Laughing at the Death of Little Nell: Sentimental Art and Sentimental People', American Philosophical Quarterly (1990), pp. 269-282.

14 Ibid. pp. 269-282.

15 Claire Arman-Jones, 'The Thesis of Constructionism', in Harre (1986), p. 43.

16 Barrie Falk, 'The Communicability of Feeling', in Pleasure, Preference & Value, edited by Eva Schaper (Cambridge U. P. 1983), pp. 65 and 66.

17 Ibid. p. 72.

18 Ibid. p. 74.

19 Ibid. pp. 8off.

20 Claire Arman-Jones, op. cit., p. 57.

21 Ellen Dissanayake, What is Art For? (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1988).

MARCIA MUELDER EATON is Professor of Philosophy at the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA. She is the author of several books and articles in aesthetics and the philosophy of art. She will serve as President of the American Society for Aesthetics from 1995 to 1997.
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Author:Eaton, Marcia Muelder
Publication:The British Journal of Aesthetics
Date:Apr 1, 1995
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