essay introduces the problem of aesthetic unreliability, the variety of ways in
which it is difficult to grasp our aesthetic experience and the consequent
confusion and unreliability of what we take as our taste.
Key Words aesthetic experience, aesthetic judgment, aesthetic reliability, taste
have wandered increasingly from the common ground of aesthetic theory into the
philosophies of particular arts, such as music, film, dance, or literature. The philosophies of the arts offer a
refreshing role for philosophers. By
focusing on particular arts, philosophers have been able to speak usefully to
art historians, musicologists, and literary critics and answer questions in
their disciplines: the nature of our comprehension of film
narrative, pictorial perception, moral education in the novel, or composition
versus performance-based standards in music, to name only a few. As an added bonus, rubbing elbows in one of
the art worlds may also make for a less lonely existence for aestheticians. Perhaps, too, the shift from basic questions
to particular arts reflects the belief that all is well with our conceptions of
taste and aesthetic experience. The
heavy lifting is behind us. Today the
basic questions are the stuff of undergraduate surveys rather than advanced
research. My view, however, is that
aesthetics has not yet faced one the most troubling features of aesthetic life: the
very difficulty of knowing our aesthetic experience and the consequent
confusion and unreliability of what we take as our taste.
problem—let’s call it aesthetic unreliability—returns us to the very
foundations of aesthetics and raises questions about the authority of
individuals’ assessments of their aesthetic experience and all that follows
from those assessments. Aesthetic
unreliability requires us to reconsider the individual as both connoisseur and
consumer. It suggests alternative
explanations for some of the more curious features of cultural life, namely,
that our taste is often incoherent, the practice of criticism largely arbitrary,
and creative practices something of a free-for-all. Aesthetic unreliability supports the view
that our inner aesthetic lives are more anarchic, protean, and unknown than we
have been willing to admit.
stakes are high, at least by the standards of aesthetics: whatever we make of our aesthetic lives is
typically held to depend in part on our ability to more or less accurately
assess our experience of the art that we encounter. Theories of taste presuppose a notion of
contemplation as transparent and unproblematic:
we know the nature, degree and sources of our satisfactions as well as
changes in them over time. Without this
knowledge, our aesthetic lives would be no more than what Ted Cohen has called
“a concatenation of atomistic expressions,” lacking continuity and coherence. Our very ability to direct and enhance our
aesthetic experience—quite simply, to have an aesthetic life—is thought to be
dependent on the reliability or authenticity of aesthetic self-knowledge.
certain features of our aesthetic lives compel a skeptical view of the
reliability of what we identify as our taste, aesthetic experience, or
aesthetic judgment. By these I mean,
broadly, the mental states or episodes that occur when attending to aesthetic
objects like works of art, especially the affective quality of our responses
and the secondary, synthetic process of reflecting on, recalling, comparing,
and ordering these experiences. I submit
that, often enough, we suppress or exaggerate our responses to the point of
self-deception. We have difficulty in
identifying what in an object causes
our response to it. The instability of
our feelings over time is such that we are unsure if our responses are caused
by our mood, factors in our environment, or the object to which we are
attending. The unreliability of
aesthetic responses is, for aestheticians, the long unacknowledged Cartesian
ball of wax, yet to be warmed in the palm.
have long assumed the authenticity of aesthetic experience while focusing
instead on its objectivity. Since the
establishment of the discipline of aesthetics in the eighteenth century,
conflicts of taste between individuals have been among the discipline’s most
intractable and popular problems. The
resolution of the problem has been thought to be essential to an adequate
aesthetic theory. Some of the most
commonly considered notions in philosophical aesthetics, for example, Hume’s
standard of taste and Kant’s sensus communis, arose in part as answers
to this problem. Similarly, the most
familiar folk maxims concerning taste, such as “To each, his own” or “One man’s
treasure is another man’s trash,” are essentially rules of thumb for contending
with conflicts of taste. By contrast,
one familiar saying touching on aesthetic unreliability simply dismisses it: “I do not know anything about art but I know
what I like.”
is easy to see why conflicts of taste have attracted more attention than
aesthetic unreliability. Conflicts of
taste are easily observed. The friction
of cultural differences like race, class, and gender is manifest in them. In a back-handed way, conflicts of taste
remind us that culture matters and, in the right measure, we relish this
reminder. Disagreements over taste reach
the heart of aesthetics: the objectivity
of aesthetic judgments, the catholicity of aesthetic experience, and the very
possibility of good and bad taste. Through
such conflicts, we confront and learn to live with our differences.
even as philosophers have wrung their hands about this conflict between
selves, they have remained oblivious of the confusion within selves.
Our personal aesthetic confusion is not so easily observed. We take our self-understanding of our
aesthetic experience and taste as self-evident.
However, the objectivity of judgments of taste is moot if we are unable
to form them with much reliability. Aesthetic
unreliability is a new problem for the discipline, requiring us to reconsider
the very cognitive and affective bases of taste. In this essay, I want to make the case that
we need to return to the question of taste, not as a point of interpersonal
conflict, but instead as one of personal confusion. It is the difference between, on the one
hand, determining the extent of the objectivity of aesthetic judgments and, on
the other, the extent of their authenticity.
Our problem is not so much the nature of sensus communis as the
extent of sensus ignarus.
The Reliability of Self-Knowledge
of mind have been reluctant to accord much credibility to anti-reliabilist
positions. Arguments against aesthetic unreliability have
emphasized: 1. a non-contingent
relationship between consciousness and self-consciousness, that is, the
impossibility of being unconscious of a conscious emotion or thought; 2. the
assignment of difficulty in self-appraisal to the overall difficulty in
understanding the world itself rather than to the process of self-appraisal;
and 3. a shift in the grounds of authority from accuracy to deliberative or
1. Focusing on the problem of affective
self-knowledge, Christoph Jaeger observes that philosophers commonly accept
that when subjects are in a state of mind, they strongly believe they are in
that state of mind. It is in the nature
of a mental state that, when we are in it, we know we are in it. This principle of self-intimation, as Jaeger
calls it, is taken as “a requirement for minimally (epistemically) rational
subjects.” However, Jaeger argues that it is internally inconsistent to admit
first-person authority but reject the possibility of agnosticism about our own
feelings. If we are necessarily taken as authorities
about our feelings, then professions of ignorance about our feelings must also
be admitted. With them, the possibility
of affective ignorance is also admitted.
Therefore, there is nothing logically impossible about aesthetic
2. It is sometimes argued that skepticism about
self-knowledge is a false problem generated from a Cartesian theory of mind
according to which objects are mistakenly held to appear to the mind’s eye as
“inner objects,” Davidson’s famous “myth of the mental.” However, it is important to recognize
that that we are speaking not so much about our beliefs about objects in the
world as what Victoria McGeer calls our “cognitive and emotional situation.” What is at issue is, as she puts it, “an
agent's ability to use and understand the conceptual repertoire of folk
psychology, particularly with regard to interpreting her experiences and, so,
explaining and justifying her own reactions to, and behavior in, the world.”
By contrast, reliabilism
rests only on what Jaeger calls “positive affective introspection.” What is reliably registered is a simple
valence or state of mind, that is to say, knowledge of whether we are happy,
sad, bored or excited. One of the
staunchest defenders of reliabilism, Sydney Shoemaker, clarifies the limits of
the reliabilist position:
The knowledge I have in mind is
not, as you perhaps hoped, the difficult-to-get knowledge that arises from
successfully following the Socratic injunction "Know thyself"; it is
the humdrum kind of knowledge that is expressed in such remarks as "It
itches," "I'm hungry," "I don't want to," and
be sure, aesthetic responses often involve simple self-intimation. However, we typically expect a bit more of
our aesthetic assessments. And, it is
here that anti-reliabilism finds its footing.
As Eric Schwitzgebel asks, “Does the apparent difficulty in going wrong
in simple judgments of color and pain experiences in canonical conditions
reflect the general security of our judgments about our ongoing stream
of conscious experience, or are those cases exceptional, best cases?” Schwitzgebel suggests that the geography of
reliabilism may consist only in familiar albeit scattered islands in wider seas
of unreliability. Reliability is
undermined not by “humdrum” mental states but rather by complex and ongoing
consciousness. The difference between
mere self-intimation of positive affective states and authentic self-knowledge
is something like the difference between knowing one is unhappy and knowing the
nature of that unhappiness and its causes:
what does this unhappiness feel like right now? Why do I feel it? Was I
happier in the past than I am now? As many a counselor will aver, mere positive
affective intimation is rarely sufficient to contend with unhappiness. As with our emotional life, aesthetic life
requires more of us than mere status reports.
A degree of rumination is involved.
For these experiences, we cannot dismiss skepticism about introspection
(not to mention the empirical studies which support it) as a false problem.
3. Where philosophers have conceded
introspective unreliability, they have been reluctant to accord it much
significance. For Richard Moran,
self-knowledge is authoritative because it is the result of the deliberative
process. Although introspection may
often be less than accurate and sometimes downright self-deceptive, it remains
authoritative not because we always know our own thoughts best but because it
is up to us to know it. As Moran puts
it, it is “our business” to know: “It is
not just the report that the person is author of, but also, in a central
range of cases, the person can be seen as the author of the state of mind
itself, in the sense of the being the person responsible for it.” The
deliberative process makes us responsible for our self-ascriptions, even
illusory ones. Fallibility has no
bearing on authority: we are responsible
for the results of our own deliberation.
Krista Lawlor has argued that even deliberation is not sufficient to secure
authority. Lawlor argues that “one might
be ready and able to deliberate about what one’s attitudes should be, and
successfully deliberate oneself into a particular attitude, but one’s resulting
self-ascription lacks authority nonetheless.” For, as we will see, we often unconsciously abandon
the results of deliberation in future action.
And deliberation itself can undermine accurate self-ascription. Thus, our self-ascriptions built from
deliberation lack authority because they do not play an authoritative role in
will formation. It may well be “our
business” to know our preferences but, when it comes to complex
self-ascriptions like aesthetic preferences, what we claim to prefer has little
relation to what we do.
an alternative, Lawlor roots authority in agency, in what we end up doing. On this view, self-ascriptions may be
considered reliable when they are confirmed by what we do. Lawlor is close to the consensus of social
psychologists who, as we will now see, find self-ascription most reliable when
it conforms to behavior. When it does
not conform to behavior, it is reasonable to doubt its authenticity.
The Paradox of Introspection
studies of consciousness have long been hampered by what Jonathan Schooler
calls the “paradox of introspection,” namely that “experience is subjectively
self-evident but empirically inscrutable.” Despite the introspective sense of
certainty, it has been difficult to empirically determine if introspective
reports are accurate. Nevertheless,
individuals typically have high confidence in their self-appraisals.
cognitive and social psychologists have slowly chipped away at what Timothy
Wilson calls the illusion of authenticity. In Strangers to Ourselves, Wilson synthesizes a
range of empirical research to present a general case against self-knowledge,
reinforcing the findings of his seminal article on the issue from 1977. In recent years, a number of empirical
protocols have enhanced the acceptability of empirical research on
introspection. Methodologically, researchers must rely on the
“triangulation” of introspective reports with physiological and behavioral
evidence. In this spirit, they have
provided a steady diet of studies that reinforce the plausibility of what
Daniel Haybron calls affective ignorance or what John Lambie and Anthony
Marcel call emotion unawarenesss or Eric Schwitzgebel introspective
fallibilism. Even as they argue for the use of
introspection under rigorous methodological conditions, A.I. Jack and Andreas
Roepstorff acknowledge the discontinuities between consciousness and
introspection. They write that “patterns
of behavior, neural processes, and experience exist as distinct facets of the
mental.” Jonathan Schooler has argued that the process
of introspectively representing mental content invites the possibility of error
or distortion. For Schooler, such errors are more
than glitches in research programs; they are part and parcel of everyday life,
including, by implication, aesthetic life.
balanced approach seeks the strengths and weaknesses of introspection under
different conditions. The main problem
with introspection for Schooler is that when we try to characterize an
experience, we risk distorting it. Schooler
discusses the conditions where introspection proves most vulnerable, and he
identifies distortions in the weighting of parts of experience (the peak/end
effect), recollection with verbalization (verbal overshadowing), and hedonic
appraisal as three situations where introspection is weakest.
of the most familiar forms of introspective illusion is the peak/end effect. Our knowledge of prior experiences is often
distorted by biases of recollection. Schooler
writes that introspective reports “fail to fully reflect what was actually
experienced moment-by-moment (even when the episode is brief and the
introspection occurs immediately after the experience ends).” In work exploring recollections of annoying
noises and induced pain, hedonic appraisals rarely capture the overall
experience of an episode. Instead, as
Schooler puts it, “individuals’ retrospective evaluations overemphasize the
pleasure or discomfort at the episode’s most extreme moment and at its ending,
the peak and the end. Other moments have
little effect on global hedonic assessments.” Taste inevitably involves
reflection and recollection of prior experience. As we move to each successive work of art, we
produce comparisons that are fueled by memory and introspection, recollections
of work and experiences, prior measurements.
The peak/end effect suggests that there are ways in which retrospective,
comparative assessments of works of art, crucial to taste formation, are
acknowledges that recently recollected visual imagery can be quite accurate. However, it is less accurate when accompanied
by a verbal overlay. In a widely
replicated study, subjects viewed pictures of faces. Later, they were asked to recall the faces,
with one group verbally describing them in detail. Researchers found that when subjects are
asked to provide verbal descriptions, they are much more likely to misremember. The cross-over between the verbal and the
visual seems to create the cognitive difficulty. The very process of translating non-verbal
introspection into words is disruptive. In
attempting to verbally recall features of an object, our memory of other
aspects is interfered with. The verbal
overlay tends to result in an over-emphasis of some features and the
simplification of others. Schooler
speculates that verbalization “breaks apart” the image in ways that are
difficult to later reassemble: “cognitive
operations engaged in during verbalization dampen the activation of brain
regions associated with critical non-verbal operations.”
of our satisfactions are essential to the self-understanding of taste. Relying on methodological triangulation,
researchers can cross-check self-appraisals of preferences and pleasures with
behavior. When our appraisals correspond
with our behavior, researchers have reason to trust their reliability and grant
them authority. If we report liking
something and move on to buy it or use it in a way that optimizes satisfaction,
our report may be considered reliable. Here,
it is the combination of activities that matters. Hedonic self-appraisals become doubtful when
they do not correlate with behavior.
finds that appraisals are “often closely calibrated with external events,
related behaviours, and physiological responses.”
However, when subjects are asked to reflect on experience, reliability
decreases. In an experiment involving
assessments of jam, Wilson and Schooler compared preferences, asking one group
for an explanation for their preference. Preferences for both groups matched the
preferences of experts. But, when asked
for reasons for their preferences, the explainers changed their preferences
with greater frequency. Their new
preferences diverged further from expert opinion than their initial responses. In a study with still greater resemblance to
a conventional aesthetic situation, subjects were exposed to art posters and
asked for preferences, again having one group also provide reasons for their
preferences. Subjects were allowed to
select and take home the poster that they preferred.
Individuals who were asked for
reasons for preferences were less likely later to hang their poster on their
walls at home than those who were not asked to analyze their feelings. The findings suggest that, when asked for reasons,
our reports of our preferences are more likely to vacillate, depart from expert
opinion, and be abandoned later. In all,
preferences accompanied by reasons are less likely to be authentic. We choose our jam, wine, or poster in
accordance with one train of thought; then, with another, we eat, drink, and
findings run throughout the literature on repression, where subjects regularly
adhere to self-ascriptions running counter to observable behavior. These studies identify “top-down
influences,” among them conceptual or normative frameworks that limit our
capacity to acknowledge our real responses.
Top-down influences define our experience independently of what
experimental observers take as our real responses. Taste is especially
vulnerable to top-down influence.
these studies may strike some readers as too simplistic to warrant application
to our engagement with art. Works of
art, it may be argued, give rise to far more complex responses than do jams or
even wines. It might even be argued that
viewing fine art posters in an experimental setting has little to with our real
encounters with fine art. Yet assuming
the greater complexity of real life aesthetic situations scarcely allows us to
increase confidence in our responses. Real
works of art introduce complex art historical, cultural, intentional, and
interpretive contexts, requiring us to appraise our responses under a variety
of rubrics. The difficulties of hedonic
appraisal only increase in real life aesthetic situations.
Reasons for Preferences
and discourse do not in fact generate more reliable self-appraisals. The phenomena of peak/end effect, verbal
overshadowing, and hedonic misappraisal suggest that in situations where
aesthetic experience is accompanied by debate and discussion, the reliability
of our knowledge of the experience decreases, calling into question the very
discourse that is generated by the work of art.
For this reason, critical discourse may be less reliable as a guide to
our experience than we have supposed.
findings run counter to some of the most fundamental convictions of
aestheticians and other arts professionals.
Through contemplation, deliberation, and discourse, we are expected to
discern what in a given object causes our response. In aesthetics no less than other
philosophical disciplines, we honor the roles played by contemplation,
reflection, and debate in our assessments.
Opinions are considered stronger for having survived scrutiny. Revision is a healthy component of the search
for truth. Criticism is thought to
enhance our experience of art. Judgments
are held to be authoritative to the extent that they are the product of
make things that inspire feelings of beauty or satisfaction. Appreciating art is thought to require not
just liking the right things; it is to know—or at least, attempt to know—what
makes them right. When I ask myself why
I like the Cézanne or why I find the Cézanne beautiful, I am not asking for an
argument. I am asking for an explanation
for a mental state, an aesthetic experience.
In principle, it is the work, not the reason, that causes the experience. I do not like Cézanne because his use of
color happens to be a good reason for liking a painting. Rather, Cézanne’s use of color explains why
I like his paintings, that is, why I have the feeling of pleasure or
satisfaction when I look at the Cézanne.
is this something I can know with reliability? The theory of taste is faced
with the daunting task of explaining why commonplace expressions like “I like
Cézanne because of his use of color” or “Cézanne’s Madame Cézanne in a Red
Armchair is beautiful because of the color” can be reliable statements. Now, the statement, “I like Madame Cézanne
in a Red Armchair because of the blue armchair” is obviously false. Yet, an accurate color ascription to the
armchair does not necessarily make the statement true. It is possible that I appeal to a prominent
feature of the object such as the red armchair only because of its prominence. But do I know that this feature of the object
is also the cause of my pleasure? Consider the art historical theory about
Cézanne, namely, that his special place in our pantheon rests on his innovative
use of color. I am acquainted with this
theory and speculate that the use of color must have a certain aesthetic force,
a certain impact on a viewer like me. It
is possible that, from this theory and not from any aesthetic rumination, I
infer that my satisfaction with the Cézanne stems from his use of color. In this light, art history and art theory are
nothing more than very specialized kinds of folk psychology. What makes these folk psychologies
persuasive? We lack any significant
empirical ground for judging the adequacy of these theories for aesthetic
experience. To the extent that they are
sound, mastery of them is far from widespread.
In all, it is far more difficult to attribute my satisfaction with the
Cézanne to the red armchair than our traditions of criticism and education let
produces its own discoveries. Those discoveries are not
necessarily descriptive of mental states.
When asked for reasons, we are more likely to change our mind than when
unasked. Often, reasons themselves have
their more or less appealing qualities. We
sometimes shift about in our preferences as we seek those that best match the
most attractive reasons. Higher order
deliberations are especially vulnerable to distortion of the weights given to
competing reasons. As advertisers have long known, the search for
status through taste can be helped along by distinctive albeit arbitrary
reasons. Nor must we be motivated by social climbing
when we misattribute our experience. Given
the difficulties of self-attribution, especially the distracting role of what
Nisbett and Wilson call “noninfluential stimuli,” whatever comes to mind
when we look for reasons has a chance to serve as a reason. As Krista Lawlor writes, “a thought that comes
to mind in the course of what one understands to be a search for reasons is
taken to be a reason, simply because it occurs in the context of a search for
reasons.” In these ways, the search for
reasons distorts our understanding of our prior experience. The more complicated the reason-giving process,
the more likely it is to generate confusion and error.
Reason-Shopping and the Art Worlds
aesthetic experience is in fact unreliable, then it is not surprising that
descriptions can be easily mistaken, confused, and replaced. Reason-shopping may account for some part of
the intellectualism in the more avant-gard corners of the art world, such as
art schools, niche publications, and alternative venues. The pretentiousness of some of the art
encountered in these milieus may be due to an overemphasis on the critical
activity that accompanies and frames the work.
Much contemporary creativity, at least in its most avant-garde
manifestations, is no more than a search for interesting reasons. For, reasons have their own beauty, which is
easily confused with the works themselves.
At times, what art world insiders are unwittingly experiencing are the
reasons rather than the works themselves.
If only to impart to their vetting process a sense of rigor and purpose,
insiders are more likely than casual art-goers to form their taste around the
reasons rather than the works themselves.
With reason-consumption replacing genuine aesthetic experience, insiders
end up with conceptually exotic but experientially thin works of art. When outsiders later encounter the very same
work of art and are dumbfounded by its extreme austerity or perversity, what
they miss is that admirers are not so much consuming this austerity or
perversity as the reasons that are attached to it. It is at this point that a misguided “art
education” enters to feed reasons to the outsiders, consolidating the negative
feedback loop which is today’s contemporary art world.
Implications for Art Institutions
all of modern art education presses upon us the crucial difference between
merely liking great artists and knowing what makes these artists great, that
is, what makes them have their effect on us.
Certain habits of discourse—reviews, theory, crit sessions, docent
tours, and now blogging—are thought to offer us special opportunities to have
deeper experiences and, by implication, better taste. Art historians, critics, curators, and the
artists themselves are eager to provide us with reasons for our experience. Entire institutions—museums, schools,
publications—are built upon the production of reasons.
empirical research on self-appraisal suggests that the institutions and the
discursive habits they favor may not really support the growth and refinement
of aesthetic experience or at least not in the ways we think. Our cultural institutions may be simply the
reification of our illusions about attribution, working more in the manner of a
placebo effect than as efficacious practice.
By encouraging us to pay some kind of attention, criticism and
education accidentally lead us often enough to pay a rewarding kind of
introspection is unreliable, accounts of the effects that works of art have on
us may be less useful than ordinarily assumed.
Admittedly, this is a far-reaching conclusion, but it may capture
something of what is wrong with today’s art institutions. Speculatively, a certain widely observed
cultural demoralization, a stand-off between the so-called philistines and
snobs, may be exacerbated more by the discursive habits of insiders than by the
stubborn ignorance of outsiders.
10. Next Steps for Aesthetics
Reading in philosophical aesthetics, one
is left with the impression that our aesthetic lives are made up of tranquil
satisfactions, with the occasional avant-garde head-scratcher thrown in for
good measure. We contemplate, reflect,
and debate the aesthetic qualities of works of art, aided by well-ordered art
institutions and insightful art critics.
And, happily, our taste, good or bad, is thus formed. From academic aesthetics, one would not be
able to glean that our aesthetic experience may at times be marked by boredom,
ambivalence, and confusion. On closer
inspection, we do not have the kind of aesthetic life long assumed by
philosophers. Taste is far more
anarchic, protean, ambivalent, underdetermined, and confused than philosophers
have allowed. It is marked by
pretending, exaggerating, vacillating, conforming, wishful thinking, and pure
invention. We often lack coherence among
judgments and continuity between what we experience and what we take as our
taste. Often, it is more like Cohen’s
“concatenation of atomistic expressions.” Subjects have a contingent relationship to
their self-appraisals, including those involving aesthetic experience. Yet the theory of taste has little to say
about this side of our aesthetic lives. It
is as if the concept of virtue had developed in moral theory without any
consideration of vice, or truth in epistemology without any conception of bias.
this view of aesthetic experience is correct, what are its implications for the
theory of taste? A better theory of taste may concede that our taste is
probably far more disconnected from our real moment-to-moment aesthetic
experience than we have assumed. To the
extent that aesthetic deliberation is successful, our attributions may be
chalked up to a variety of behavioral and cognitive processes, in addition to
or instead of the contemplating, beholding, or attending emphasized by
conventional models of aesthetic experience.
For instance, blind trial-and-error, unconscious incubation, and
inference from bodily sensation may play influential roles. Inferences from theory (both folk and
academic theory) probably play a considerable role in attribution, leaving us
heavily reliant on the quality of these theories, which is not a promising
order to understand taste, we need to see that it plays a restrictive role in
our aesthetic lives rather than just an enabling one. Often taste is commissive; we adjust our
self-appraisals in order to fit our taste, inhibiting our capacity to grasp
what McGeer calls our “emotional and cognitive situation.”
A commissive notion of taste explains how taste may be thought of as
authoritative, even when it is “top-down” and disconnected from experience. Over time, our accounts of our experience end
up as “true” because we make those attributions work in the ongoing elaboration
of our taste. We create for ourselves
the experiences which live up to the taste we want to have. In tailoring our responses to our taste, we
engage in a form of self-creation through taste. Yet there are surely limits to the docility of
experience before taste. After all, our
aesthetic lives are built around experience.
Without experience, it would be difficult to imagine what an aesthetic
life would be.
we can imagine a purely moral or cognitive being lacking experience, we can not
imagine such an aesthetic being. The
aesthetic self has a fundamentally different relationship to experience. It remains to be seen just where the point of
equilibrium between commissive taste and mindful experience rests. Wherever it is, we can call this point well-formed
taste. Well-formed taste pertains to
the basis of taste in experience, the extent to which and ways in which taste
must be based in aesthetic experience: entirely
or not at all or somewhere in between.
job for aestheticians is to determine what counts as well-formed taste under
the more complicated description of aesthetic experience advanced here. How do we distinguish authentic and
inauthentic aesthetic judgment? Can my taste be well-formed when it runs
counter to my experience? How much or
what kind of variance is permitted? How
does taste really happen? What is
aesthetic life really like?
these questions, aesthetics has never been more valuable to the various art
worlds. However, the role for
aestheticians may lie less in lending philosophical weight to the questions of
particular disciplines than in bringing to these disciplines a genuine
knowledge of what is known about how human beings respond to works of art. To play that role, aestheticians will have to
return to the basic questions of aesthetics.
Kevin Melchionne is a painter who
writes about art.
Published on September 22, 2011.
 Ted Cohen,
“On Consistency in One’s Personal Aesthetics,” in Aesthetics and Ethics: Essays at the Intersection, ed. Jerrold Levinson (Cornell University Press,
1998), 106–125, here 107.
 My first attempt at this problem is Kevin
Melchionne, “On the Old Saw, ‘I Know Nothing About Art but I Know What I Like',"
Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism,
Vol. 68, No. 2 (Spring 2010), 131-141.
 Among them
are Richard Moran, Authority and estrangement: an essay on self-knowledge (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2001); Tyler
Burge, “Our entitlement to self knowledge,” Proceedings of the AristotelianSociety, 96 (1996), 91–116; John Heil, “Privileged access,” Mind,
97 (1988), 238–251; Fred Dretske, Naturalizing the Mind (Cambridge, MA: MIT, 1995); Sydney Shoemaker “Moore's paradox and
self-knowledge.” Philosophical Studies, 77 (1995), 211–228.
Jaeger, “Affective Ignorance,” Erkenntnis, March 2009, 4.
Moran, “The authority of self-consciousness," Philosophical Topics,
26 (1999), 184.
Krista Lawlor, “Elusive reasons: a problem for first-person authority.” Philosophical
Psychology, 16 (2003), 4, 554.
 Jonathan W. Schooler and Charles A. Schreiber, “Experience, Meta-consciousness,
and the Paradox of Introspection,” Journal of Consciousness Studies, 11 (2004),
 Timothy D. Wilson, Strangers to Ourselves: Discovering the Adaptive Unconscious (Cambridge, MA: Harvard
University Press, 2002).
 R. E. Nisbett
and T. D. Wilson,
“Telling more than we can know: verbal
reports on mental processes.” Psychological Review, 8 (1977), 231–259.
 For an
account of these advances, see Schooler and Schreiber, “Experience,
Meta-consciousness, and the Paradox of Introspection,” 17–39; and Anthony I. Jack and Andreas Roepstorff, “Why Trust the
Subject?” Journal of Consciousness Studies, 10 (2003), 9–10, v–xx.
 Daniel M. Haybron, “Do We Know How Happy We Are?: On Some Limits of Affective Introspection and
Recall,” NOUS, 41 (2007), 394–428.
 J. A. Lambie
and A. J. Marcel, “Consciousness and the Varieties of
Emotion Experience: A Theoretical
Framework,” Psychological Review 109 (2002), 219–259. See also A.
J. Marcel, ‘Slippage in the unity
of consciousness,’ in Experimental and Theoretical Studies of Consciousness,
Block and J. Marsh (Chichester: Wiley, 1993).
Schwitzgebel, “The Unreliability of Naive Introspection,” Philosophical
Review, 117 (2008), 2, 245-273.
 Jack and
Roepstorff, “Why Trust the Subject?” viii.
See also Jack and Roepstorff, “The ‘measurement problem’ for experience: Damaging flaw or intriguing puzzle?” Trends
in Cognitive Sciences, 6 (2002),
372–4. There is a response from
Schooler, “Establishing a legitimate relationship with introspection: Response to Jack and Roepstorff,” Trends
in Cognitive Sciences, 6 (2002),
372–3. Schooler and Schreiber
have a list of protocol in“Experience, Meta-consciousness, and the
Paradox of Introspection,” 22.
 Jonathan W. Schooler, “Re-representing consciousness: Dissociations between consciousness and
meta-consciousness,” Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 6 (2002), 339–44.
and Schreiber, “Experience, Meta-consciousness, and the Paradox of
and Schreiber, “Experience, Meta-consciousness, and the Paradox of
and Schreiber, “Experience, Meta-consciousness, and the Paradox of
Introspection,” 29. See also B. L. Fredrickson
and D. Kahneman, “Duration neglect in
retrospective evaluations of affective episodes,” Journal of Personality and
Social Psychology, 65 (1993), 45–55; D.
A. Redelmeier and D. Kahneman, “Patients’ memories of painful
medical treatments: Real-time and
retrospective evaluations of two minimally invasive procedures,” Pain,
66 (1996), 3–8. D. Ariely, “Combining experiences over time: The effects of duration, intensity changes
and on-line measurements on retrospective pain evaluations,” Journal of
Behavioral Decision-Making, 11 (1998), 19–45; C. A. Schreiber
and D. Kahneman, “Determinants of the
remembered utility of aversive sounds,” Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 129 (2000), 27–42.; D. Ariely and G.
Loewenstein, “When does duration matter in judgment and decision
making?” Journal of Experimental Psychology:
General, 129 (2000), 508–23.
 J. W. Schooler
and T. Y. Engstler-Schooler, “Verbal overshadowing of
visual memories: Some things are better
left unsaid,” Cognitive Psychology, 17 (1990), 36–71.
 J. W. Schooler,
“Verbalization produces a transfer inappropriate processing shift,” Applied
Cognitive Psychology, 16 (2002), 989–997.
For an overview of research, C. A. Meissner, “Applied aspects of the
instructional bias effect in verbal overshadowing,” Applied Cognitive
Psychology, 16 (2002), 911–28.
and Schreiber, “Experience, Meta-consciousness, and the Paradox of
Introspection,” p. 28.
 T.D. Wilson
and J.W. Schooler, “Thinking too much: Introspection can reduce the quality of
preferences and decisions,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology,
60 (1991), 181–192.
 T.D. Wilson,
Lisle, J. W. Schooler, S.D. Hodges, K.J.
Klaaren, and S. J. LaFleur, “Introspecting reasons can reduce
post-choice satisfaction,” Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 19(1993), 331–339. For a similar study
using wine, see Joseph M. Melcher and
Jonathan W. Schooler, “The
misremembrance of wines past: Verbal and
perceptual expertise differentially mediate verbal overshadowing of taste
memory,” Journal of Memory and Language, 35 (1996), 231-245.
 For instance, Anthony G. Greenwald, “Self-Knowledge and Self-Deception: Further Consideration,” in The Mythomanias: The Nature of Deception and Self-Deception,
Ed. Michael S. Myslobodsky (Erlbaum, 1997), 51-71. See also
Lambie and Marcel, “Consciousness and the Varieties of Emotion Experience.”
 M. G. Millar and
A. Tesser, “The effects of
affective–cognitive consistency and thought on the attitude–behavior relation,”
Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 25 (1989), 189–202; T.D. Wilson, J.
A. Bybee, D. S. Dunn,
Hyman, and J. A. Rotonda, “Effects of analyzing reasons on
attitude behavior consistency. Journal
of Personality and Social Psychology, 47 (1984), 5–16; T. D. Wilson, D. Kraft and D.
S. Dunn, “The disruptive effects
of explaining attitudes: the moderating
effect of knowledge about the attitude object,” Journal of Experimental
Social Psychology, 25 (1989), 379–400; T.
D. Wilson and S. Hodges, “Effects of analyzing reasons on
attitude change: the moderating role of
attitude accessibility,” Social Cognition, 11 (1994), 353–366.
Dijksterhuis, “Think Different: The
Merits of Unconscious Thought in Preference Development and Decision Making,” Journal
of Personality and Social Psychology, 87 (2004), 5, 586–598 and J. A. Bargh
and M. J. Ferguson, “Beyond behaviorism: on the automaticity of higher mental
processes,” Psychological Bulletin, 126 (2000), 925–945.
Simonson and Stephen W. Nowlis, “The
Role of Explanations and Need for Uniqueness in Consumer Decision Making: Unconventional Choices Based on Reasons,” Journal
of Consumer Research, 27 (2000), 49-68.
Nisbett and Wilson “Telling more than we can