Art and the Nature of Belief
On 11th and 12th of October the Department of Philosophy at the University of York hosted an international conference on the topic of Art and the Nature of Belief, organised by Helen Bradley and Ema Sullivan-Bissett. The aim of the conference was to bring together philosophers of mind working on belief and its connection to truth with aestheticians working on beliefs gained from artworks. We thought that there was an opportunity for a significant philosophical interaction between belief theorists and aestheticians which would illuminate the nature of belief for both parties. The interaction was intended to present the belief theorist with pertinent questions regarding the status of beliefs formed as a result of engaging with art and, in turn, encourage aestheticians to further consider the relations between art, belief, and truth. The conference had 52 delegates, and a summary of each paper is given below.
Stacie Friend (Heythrop College) opened the conference with her paper ‘Reading and Representation’ in which she suggested new approaches to several issues concerned with our engagement with fiction.
Greg Currie (University of York) and Anna Ichino (University of Nottingham) then co-presented their paper ‘Getting (More or Less) Rational Beliefs from Fiction’, Anna has blogged about their paper for imperfect cognitions here.
James Young (University of Victoria) then gave his paper ‘Art, Perspectives, and Justified Beliefs’, in which he argued that the experience-taking which can take place when we engage in fiction, can give rise to not only beliefs, but justified beliefs.
Next we had a session on alief, beginning with Maria Forsberg (Stockholm University) presenting her paper ‘Explaining Phenomenological Proximity in Painting – on the Nature of the Causally Active Mental States’, in which she argued that an appeal to alief could explain the phenomenological difference between experiencing an original painting, and experiencing a copy of that same painting. This was followed by Allan Hazlett (University of Edinburgh) giving his paper ‘Alief that Amounts to Knowledge’ in which he argued that some aliefs which come about as a result of engaging with fiction can amount to knowledge, in those cases where such aliefs stand in the right relationship with the facts.
Peter Lamarque (University of York) finished off the first day of the conference with his paper ‘How Fiction Shapes Belief’. Here Peter argued that the content of a work of fiction is constituted by its mode of presentation, so content is identified opaquely in the narrative, under the perspective of narrative description.
The second day of the conference was opened by Lucy O’Brien (University College London) with a paper entitled ‘Novels as a Source of Self-Knowledge’. Lucy argued that we form beliefs when we engage in fiction, some of which are about ourselves, and which are epistemically respectable, because both the content of novels can act as evidence, as can our reactions to those contents.
We then had a session on aesthetic testimony. The session started with Daniel Whiting (University of Southampton) giving his paper ‘Rational Belief and Aesthetic Testimony’ in which he put forward a new argument for pessimism (the view that one cannot acquire aesthetic knowledge via testimony). Jon Robson (University of Nottingham) then gave his paper ‘Against Aesthetic Exceptionalism’ arguing that there are no good arguments for pessimism.
Our final session started with Geert Gooskens (University of Antwerp) presenting his paper ‘Photography and Trust’ in which he questioned the assumption that seeing a photograph of p is a good reason to believe that p whilst seeing a handmade picture of p is not a good reason to believe that p. Geert wanted to show that in both cases (not just the latter), a ‘leap of faith’ is involved on the part of the viewer.
Eva-Maria Konrad (University of Regensburg) closed the conference with her paper ‘Signposts of Factuality: On Genuine Assertions in Fictional Literature’. In this paper she presented a theory of fictionality which she claimed solved the problem of how we can gain knowledge from literature even though literary works are, at least sometimes, fictional works.
All twelve speakers really embraced the conference theme, and the useful interaction we envisaged was exactly achieved, with a fruitful discussion had by all involved.
Third Annual Conference of the
RMA Music and Philosophy Study Group
King’s College London, 19–20 July 2013, with
pre-conference activities on 18 July
From the 18
– 20 July 2013, King’s College London welcomed 220 delegates for three
days of widely diverse papers and engaging debates on what we mean by music and
what we mean by philosophy. This year, for the first time the usual two-day
conference was extended to include a further day of pre-conference activities
on 18 July, with 72 speakers involved across the three days. After
feedback from previous years, the conference organisers made use of some of the
larger lecture theatres at King’s, and this was appreciated.
theme of ‘Embodiment and the Physical’ tied together the variety of papers
given at the conference, with ontological issues an underlying theme of many of
the talks. The opening plenary discussion panel on Friday morning, ‘Is Music a
Bodily Art?’, began with Jenefer Robinson’s talk, and was centred on the
dualism of music as structure and music as performance. She argued that we
might hear music’s bodily functions foregrounded; however, her talk could have
delved into the tension between the inherent dualism of structure and
performance. Nicholas Baragwanath addressed some of these issues, whilst Jeremy
Begbie’s presentation argued that music was the most spiritual of the arts, and
presented an embodied understanding of the transcendental nature of music.
keynote by Peter Szendy on Friday afternoon asked what happens when one plays a
piano in a department store. His rich and imaginative paper focused on the Marx
Brothers film, The Big Store, with
questions about the theatre of bodily commerce, underpinned by the philosophy
of Jacques Derrida and Karl Marx (‘the other Marx’, as he said). Eric Clarke’s
response brought out debates regarding the terms ‘infinite semiosis’ and
‘general fetishism’, as well as highlighting musical episodes from Marx Brothers
films that might be thought-provoking to consider.
Born’s provocative and informative second keynote on Saturday morning directly addressed
many of the ontological issues which were raised in the discussions following the
first keynote paper. Born discussed relational ontologies provoked by the consideration
of the living presence in digital music. She called for a renewed attention to
the social, in response to the rise of the actor-network theory and affect
afternoon following Szendy’s keynote paper, a session entitled ‘Musical
Understanding: A Dialogue’ with Nick Zangwill and Lawrence Kramer, chaired by
Julian Johnson, was held to close the day before the evening’s wine reception.
The two papers opened a discussion on the nature of musical value. Zangwill’s
controversial paper was a throwback to Hanslick (‘who was right’, he said). His
argument was based on a tautology that in order to know what musical
understanding is we must first know what music is. His talk provoked some
unsettlement, perhaps best articulated by Lydia Goehr who advised against his
discourse of ‘purity’ as an exclusionary term. Lawrence Kramer on the other
hand, gave a very different paper in which he argued that an understanding of music and understanding by music are almost identical.
One of the
highlights from the day of pre-conference activities was Goehr’s paper on
Continental Philosophy, as part of a session of ‘Introducing…’ papers. Goehr’s stimulating
and fluid talk discussed the nature of Continental Philosophy whilst defending
the thesis of her seminal book, The
Imaginary Museum of Musical Works. The Thursday morning session opened with
a introduction by Derek Matravers to ‘Analytic Philsophy and Music’. Matravers
reiterated many of the stereotypes surrounding analytic philosophy, in order to
provoke lively debate and some opposition among musicologists.
highlight from the conference was the session on Schubert which took place as
one of the three parallel events on Friday afternoon before the first keynote.
Benedict Taylor and David L. Mosley gave two very different approaches to
Schubert’s music. Taylor’s stimulating paper argued for a reading of Schubert’s
music in terms of memory and temporality, whilst Mosley engaged with debates
surrounding landscape. One of the sessions that coincided with the Schubert
session due to parallel scheduling included a much praised paper by Rachel
Beckles-Wilson on sound and complexities of listening. Following Born’s keynote
on Saturday morning, a session on ‘Gesture and touch’ was part of three parallel
events focusing on ontological debates. I look forward to hearing more of the on-going
research from both papers given, first by Kristoffer Jensen and Søren R.
Frimodt-Møller on capturing the gestures of musicians in performance, and
secondly by Jana Weissenfeld on her research of conductor’s gestures, (staged
or otherwise) from video recordings.
keynote paper by Stephen Davies on Saturday afternoon in many ways presented
the culmination of ideas from three days of diverse talks. His paper focused on
the theme of music and embodiment, and drew on a variety of ideas and examples.
Davies argued that to understand what is ‘going on’ in music, it is necessary
to ‘see’ what has happened, whether physically or in the mind’s eye. Mark Katz
responded by noting that seeing and understanding how music is ‘done’ only
enhances the appreciation of music. The discussion brought to an end three days
of stimulating discussions within the sometimes precariously overlapping fields
of music and philosophy, posing and attempting to answer difficult questions
surrounding ontological debates. Many felt that the conference was the best
yet, and next year’s 2014 conference will most definitely be very eagerly
Ellen Davies begins a DPhil in music at Lady Margaret
Hall, University of Oxford in October 2013, researching musical temporality and
philosophies of time in 1913 Paris.
The Philosophy of the Philosophy of Art:
A conference in second-order aesthetics and philosophical methodology
University of St Andrews, Friday 21st and Saturday 22nd June, 2013<
Meticulously organised by Dan Cavedon-Taylor and Miguel F. Dos Santos, and with generous support from the British Society of Aesthetics and the Scots Philosophical Association, The Philosophy of the Philosophy of Art
took place over two days in School II of St Salvator's Quad, at the University of St Andrews. With an impressive host of speakers and an audience of around thirty people, this was an especially thought-provoking, highly reflexive series of talks, in a serious, yet friendly atmosphere, conducive to discussion and criticism alike. The theme of the conference was focused around such questions as how aestheticians do, as well as how they should do, aesthetics. Emphasis was placed on the renewed attention to empirical data bearing on philosophical research, as well as experimental aesthetics. The conference consisted of one-hour-long talks, followed by half-hour-long discussions.
Opening the conference with "Philosophy and Psychology of Art: What Kind of Difference?" Berys Gaut (St Andrews) argued that the recent focus on empirical work on the part of philosophers, of art in particular, rather than a new phenomenon, is best characterised as a new way of doing something old. He claimed that we should welcome this turn of events, insofar as it involves more systematic and careful attention to empirical data than was previously the case. Furthermore, Gaut argued that the difference between the philosophy and psychology of art is one of degree, rather than kind. He proposed that the apparent difference in kind is amplified by institutional, socio-psychological factors, such as the emphasis on different skill sets. Gaut concluded by recommending transdisciplinary work within art-focused disciplines, urging, in Aristophanic fashion, aestheticians to seek their missing halves.
Dan Cavedon-Taylor's (St Andrews) paper, entitled "Are Aesthetic Properties Represented in Perceptual Experience?" partook in the debate between 'conservatives', who allow for such properties as colour, shape, size, and spatial orientation to be represented in perception; and 'liberals', who additionally hold that kind properties and action-orientable properties are perceptible. Examining the arguments and intuitions in favour of a liberal approach, including certain platitudes about aesthetic judgement, as well as work in aesthetics that seems to lend credence to liberalism, such as Walton's categories of art, Cavedon-Taylor maintained that arguments in defence of liberalism are flawed, and that the relevant considerations can be accounted for outwith a liberal view of perception. Cavedon-Taylor concluded that, if tenable, it is certainly more difficult to maintain that aesthetic properties are represented in perception than might naïvely be thought.
In "Should There Be One Approach to Aesthetics? Art Versus Aesthetic Value", Elisabeth Schellekens (Durham) focused on whether it is possible to explain the subject matter of aesthetics in empirical terms, and whether doing so yields good analyses thereof. She argued that it remains to be seen whether empirical data can help with progress in aesthetics, and that the question of whether we should make theories on the basis of empirical data is one that depends to a large extent on what is meant by aesthetic theories––the key question to be settled. This indeterminacy surrounding the nature of the subject matter of aesthetics also makes it incumbent on the aesthetician to pursue flow of information from one discipline to the other, in conjunction with conceptual analysis and clarification.
Dominic McIver Lopes (British Columbia), attempted to alleviate concerns over the rise of empirical work in aesthetics in his "Aesthetics Without Armchairs". Broadly characterising aesthetics as a research enterprise concerned with appreciation, he argued that the modus operandi of aesthetics should be comparable, if not similar, to that of the philosophy of science. Lopes identified specific reasons to be suspect of an armchair approach, grounded in considerations from the empirical literature. Moreover, he urged aestheticians to substitute introspective claims with data from empirical research, and to inform their conceptual repertoire with terminology from empirical work. While acknowledging the importance of caution, Lopes argued that philosophical-empirical integration is to be sought after, not least as an attempt to converge on explananda. The philosopher is well positioned to assist with integration, for instance, by articulating much more finely than has hitherto been done a broad array of phenomena.
The second day commenced with Gregory Currie (Nottingham), whose "On Getting Out of the Armchair to Do Aesthetics" (co-authored with Anna Ichino) questioned the intuition that we gain knowledge how (as opposed to that) from literature, identifying questions that have received considerable attention from the armchair but in answering which, philosophers have neglected a considerable amount of empirical work that casts doubt on intuitions. Examining several philosophical proposals, countered by empirical examples, Currie argued that the task of the philosopher should be constrained to the development of theories about how we might (not how we do), learn from fiction. In light of uncertainty concerning the cognitive rewards of literature, Currie proposed that philosophers should be guarded in their claims, finely aware of the state of relevant evidence, and only put forward empirically testable proposals, lest they engage in frivolous theorising. Philosophers should remain cautious and sceptical towards theories that lay a powerful hold on us, though as yet enjoy little empirical support.
Stacie Friend (Heythrop College, London), in "Approaching Fiction Empirically", considered four cases––the paradox of fiction; emotions and rationality; fiction and belief; the definition of fiction––which suggest that empirical research can aid us in approaching several questions, albeit it is not always clear how. Friend enquired as to when empirical appeals are useful, and whether there is a systematic way to approach this issue. She argued that empirical data cannot alone directly answer a philosophical question, nor undermine, support, or elaborate a philosophical account, on pain of its not being philosophical. However, empirical work can help with providing philosophers with important data in that direction; it may offer insights into ways in which we are normatively constrained; and it can provide a backdrop against which philosophical theories may be tested. In seeking assistance from empirical work, philosophers should proceed mindful of conceptual caveats, inconsistencies, relevance, and so on.
David Davies (McGill), in a paper entitled "The 'Pragmatic Constraint' Revisited", argued against Julian Dodd's attribution to him of local descriptivism, namely the view that folk-theoretic beliefs in some way determine the ontological character of artworks. Davies charged Dodd with failing to observe a distinction between constrains on ontology that might be imposed by our practice, and those that might be imposed by our folk-theoretic beliefs about it, only the latter of which would amount to descriptivism, and which Davies rejects. Davies further reflected on the appropriate course of conducting ontology of art; distinguishing between metaphysical constraints and object-specific constraints, he argued that since art is a 'cultural object', as opposed to natural kind, it imposes distinct object-specific constraints. Ontologically, the practice of art in its totality is open to revision, but the object-specific constraint that is distinctive of cultural objects precludes the metaphysician from making revisions that would break the grounding connections between the practices and the products of such practices, on pain of "changing the subject".
The final paper of the conference also served as a coda to the themes broached over the two days, reminding us of the role of the aesthetician amidst numerous other fields of research and art-elucidatory practices. In "Aesthetics in the Third, Second, and First Degrees: Three Easy Pieces", Jerrold Levinson (Maryland) in the third order, lay stress on the porousness of the line between first and second order aesthetics. He argued that second-order work serves to ameliorate and explain the value and purposefulness of aesthetics, and can further play a taxonomical role. Second, Levinson enquired into the future of the discipline, arguing on the basis of three fictional caricatures––the cognitive scientist; art critic; and practising artist––that aestheticians may rest assured, given their virtues in comparison to fellow art enthusiasts. Inter alia, aestheticians are more impartial, able to synthesise disparate data and visions, as well as tackle conceptual and normative questions across styles, periods, etc., and are concerned with aesthetic experience as a whole. In the first order, Levinson reflected on the phenomenon of falling in love with a book: what it means; what distinguishes it from personal love; what differentiates love of artworks from obsession therewith; what are (im)plausible candidate works.
The discussion that followed talks throughout the conference was lively, yet amicable; critical, yet constructive. Nonetheless, while the future of aesthetics received an eight-fold re-affirmation, questions that arose linger, such as how the state of aesthetics relates to other areas of philosophical enquiry; how and why, if at all, aesthetics differs from them; and whether suggestions to the effect that the aesthetician should welcome influence from empirical work should similarly concern other––particularly normative––domains of philosophical discourse. I thus close in anticipation of continuing dialogue, both within and outside aesthetics, over questions of philosophical methodology.
Panos S. Paris
(PhD Candidate, University of St Andrews)
Patterns of Thought: An Interdisciplinary Conference on Aesthetics, Education and the Arts
21st-22nd June 2013, The Bluecoat, Liverpool
This two-day conference organised by the Department of Philosophy at the University of Liverpool in partnership with the Bluecoat—a well-established creative hub with long history in the promotion of the arts located in the centre of Liverpool—focused on the role pedagogical practices do and should play in gallery and museum spaces and the conceptual frameworks that underlie these educational models. Dr Panayiota Vassilopoulou and Dr Daniel Whistler introduced the event by identifying three central concepts – creativity, reflection and wellbeing – which the conference would attempt to elucidate. Some of the questions pertaining to the elucidation of these concepts included: what forms of creativity and reflection should one be educating when confronted with art and museum objects? What is the role of the facilitator in this learning process? What benefit might such creativity and reflection have on participants? And how might this benefit be captured? What contribution could Philosophy, and in particular Aesthetics, make with respect to these issues? Through a series of plenary papers, short reports and workshops, this interdisciplinary conference, including many delegates from the cultural sector, hoped to explore such questions further.
The conference opened with a plenary talk by Morag Morrison (Education, University of Cambridge), Opening Windows to Possibilities: The Subversive Responsibility of the Teacher, which considered the task facing arts education in view of the general political climate and curricular pressures. Later that day, Sara Liptai from the Philosophy for Children agency, SAPERE, began to consider the philosophical stakes of arts education in a talk entitled, What’s the Point of it? Philosophical Enquiry in Art(s) Education.
In between, there was a series of short reports given by leading cultural institutions and arts organisations in the region and beyond—the Bluecoat, Tate Liverpool, National Museums Liverpool, Manchester Gallery, Manchester Museum, The Conversation Agency—on the existing educational programmes they run, their strengths and weaknesses and the models they employ to capture the changes in wellbeing issuing from them. What particularly emerged from these reports was the wealth of exciting work being done by education and participation departments in cultural institutions that the academia is often ignorant of.
The organisers also gave a short presentation on their philosophically-geared methodology for stimulating aesthetic reflection in galleries, Patterns of Thought. They walked the delegates through the different types of reflection at play in aesthetic experience and the different ways of stimulating it, and concluded with a call for more rigorous case studies on the links between aesthetic reflection and wellbeing.
The first day ended with an extended workshop session with the aim to encourage constructive dialogue on the Conference’s three key concepts of creativity, reflection and wellbeing in the context of arts education. A report on the findings of the workshop (appended) is available through http://www.lyceumproject.com/.
The second day began with a plenary talk by Jeremy Newton of the Princes’ Foundation for Children and the Arts summarising the work done by the Foundation in developing skills and competencies in children as a supplement to their school-based learning. This was followed by a further exploration of the contribution of Philosophy for children-based methodologies for aesthetic reflection by Peter Worley of the Philosophy Foundation, and an inspiring report by Nicola Shaughnessy from the University of Kent of the work around dramatic immersion which she is currently researching with autistic children.
There followed a series of short papers in which the range of interdisciplinary perspectives was further broadened and enriched. Carolina Boehm from MMU spoke of an educational music project she has undertaken, Siobhan Barry from the Manchester School of Architecture of an architectural one. Lin Holland spoke from the perspective of an artist, Jane Sillis from a policy perspective and finally Sarah Hegenbart contextualised recent discussions of the benefits of participatory art projects in terms of the burgeoning discourse of aesthetic virtues.
Finally, to close the conference, Eileen John (Philosophy, University of Warwick) in a plenary paper entitled, Appreciating the Art One Doesn’t Like, explored the role of dislike in the formation of an aesthetically-competent subject. Through a series of case studies, John showed how disliking an artwork can develop taste in a way in which aesthetic pleasure and liking sometimes doesn’t.
One of the main virtues of this conference, noted by the organisers in their concluding remarks, was that it brought together scholars working on Aesthetics and Art Theory from different historical and theoretical perspectives with specialists from Education and the Arts, from Philosophy for Children organisations and, most importantly, practitioners and policy makers from the cultural sector. The papers, dialogue and, most of all, the workshop session allowed for interesting points of agreement and disagreement to be identified and shared by an audience of around 60 participants. Best practice as well as philosophical concepts and the merits of reflection were communicated between the academics and practitioners to the benefit of both. We believe that the conference overall successfully met its aim to bring philosophical aesthetics into a productive interdisciplinary conversation, and, in particular through the workshop, it contributed to the development of the evidence-based part of the research being undertaken under the ongoing Patterns of Thought project and its dissemination.
We are grateful to the British Society of Aesthetics, the AHRC and the School of Arts University of Liverpool, for their financial support. Resources emerging from the conference are to be archived at the project website: http://www.lyceumproject.com/.
On the first day of the Conference we held an extended workshop session with the aim to encourage constructive dialogue on the Conference’s three key concepts of creativity, reflection and wellbeing in the context of arts education. For each of these concepts the same three questions were asked:
1. What is the current state of gallery and museum education with regard to teaching creativity/reflection/wellbeing?
2. What are the challenges that need to be met when it comes to teaching creativity/reflection/wellbeing?
3. What needs to be done in the future to meet these challenges?
Participants were divided into three sub-groups, a discussion facilitator and a scribe volunteered for each group, and a spokesperson communicated to the whole group the outcomes of sub-group discussions.
With regards to creativity, participants acknowledged that creative activities currently existing in museums and galleries tend to focus on engaging children in “making” art, during artist-led programmes, but highlighted the need to understand more what creativity is, a concept extending far beyond the ‘making’ involved in craft activities. In addition to funding cuts, which present challenges for all working in Education and the Arts, participants also identified a lack of support within the curriculum for such engagement; the difficulty in articulating and capturing the meaning and value of creativity, especially in comparison with science where impact is more tangible; and as problems with public perception and understanding of creativity and its expressions, often accentuated by the inaccessibility of the interpretations that are put forward by the museums and galleries in their displays. In particular, galleries that do not hold permanent collections need to be very quick and inventive, “very creative themselves”.
Another area of concern was that most creative activities designed for children exclude their parents, and hence more inclusive approaches should be sought. Participants suggested ways in which these challenges could be met: that bridges with school curriculum need to be established, in particular that galleries and museums need to “talk the language of the curriculum”, thereby translating and connecting the aims and benefits of aesthetic education with subjects and targets taught at schools; that there is need within cultural institutions for a radical shift in education: this includes changes in institutions’ policy and structure (education/participation officers to hold more strategic positions), as well as a focus on how to educate rather than simply attract audiences on both practical and theoretical aspects of creativity. Research needs to focus on developing more robust impact evaluation models, and the dualism between the aesthetic and the non-aesthetic needs to be challenged.
With regards to reflection, participants acknowledged that although some attempts are being made in order to enhance it, reflection has not been a high priority, and this has largely been the result of a lack of understanding what it involves: What do we need to reflect on? How do people reflect? Does reflection refer only to personal reflection? Reflection is perceived as a challenge to the extended practice of promoting singular or “correct” interpretations of given artworks. Some museums and galleries have tried to encourage “different ways of looking” at artworks, but not systematically ways. The challenges therefore, also concerned the need for a better understanding of reflection, as well as for a shared vocabulary: cultural institutions and academics/teachers need to focus on teaching the “language to conceptualise” and to turn intuitive conceptualisation into articulated thought. The suggestion was to identify ways in which questions could be introduced in the exhibition space, to engage facilitators trained in this process, especially philosophers, so that reflection is systematically applied, and to also include parents, who seem to have more difficulties with this than teachers and who will thus be able to not only benefit themselves but also the children.
Turning then to wellbeing, participants referred to existing wellbeing indicators, especially the five ways to wellbeing (Connect; Be Active; Learn; Take Notice; Give) and identified ways in which their programmes contribute to it. However, the main challenges here were the insufficiency of such indicators/models to capture the impact of the programmes, and, perhaps most importantly, whether delivering the impact agenda was in fact the responsibility of museums and galleries. This remit is very stressful for cultural institutions and perhaps wellbeing managers/experts are needed.
Another area in which the discussion developed was the interrogation of the intimate link between health and wellbeing and the limitations this link presents. One important, yet largely overlooked, connection that participants observed was missing, is the link between wellbeing and contemplation, which might suggest that the way in which cultural institutions and the academia could also contribute to the creation of a better society was to build resilience and “intellectual muscle” through reflective engagement with art. As is the case with other aspects of wellbeing, this too would involve a process which takes time and which should not be expected to yield immediate results; however, the important long-term benefits that justify the importance of engaging in this process, could still be observed in the shorter term, for example, by introducing appropriate indicators.
The organisers concluded the session with an overall summary of the main points of the discussion. The workshop offered a great opportunity to map out the existing and diverse practices employed by galleries and museums and the challenges that they face, but also to identify common patterns, which could lead to co-ordinated action on how these challenges may be met. Participants, both theorists and practitioners, exchanged views and learned from each other, and especially with regard to the aim of the workshop and the more general aim of the conference, the multiplicity of perspectives and experiences pointed to concrete ways in which aesthetic reflection could enhance the educational provision of cultural institutions and make a significant contribution to some of its key challenges (increase awareness, conceptual clarification, translation and vocabulary-building, systematic introduction of personal, critical, and theoretical reflection in exhibition spaces).
We would like to thank all participants for their contributions and would very much welcome further comments on this report.
Dr Panayiota Vassilopoulou, email@example.com Dr Daniel Whistler, firstname.lastname@example.org
BSA-funded Workshop: Philosophy of and in the Short Story
About 40 participants gathered at Warwick on 11 June 2013 for a workshop on the short story, organised by Warwick’s Centre for Research in Philosophy, Literature and the Arts (CRPLA). The audience included philosophers, creative writers, scholars of literature and film, and people who have more than one of those identities. It was an exploratory workshop, to see what emerges from giving attention to a form that has been relatively neglected within philosophy, and to bring literary and philosophical expertise to the topic.
The five papers were diverse in their concerns. Eileen John (Warwick) opened the day by proposing that short stories have special potential to probe the ‘tractability’ of ethics. Considering stories by Borges, O’Connor, Melville and Kafka, she tried to show that the stories, while not nihilist, in various ways challenge our ability to address the question of ‘how to live’. Steven Earnshaw (Sheffield Hallam) ‘pitched’ a book that would pair short story writers and philosophers, around the theme of names and naming, and provided a number of intriguing name-themed story scenarios. Seeing descriptive-cluster and rigid designation accounts of proper names each as problematic, and taking our theory of naming to be important to understanding human beings, Earnshaw argued that philosophical theorising about names needs to be supported by more narratives that are less driven by pre-established theories. Aaron Meskin (Leeds) began by documenting the neglect of the short story, especially within analytic aesthetics, and then took on the central question of whether the short story can be defined as an art form, constituting a distinctive appreciative kind. While arguing that the short story is a literary hybrid, with characteristic aesthetic virtues, Meskin also suggested that its characteristic features go some way toward explaining the philosophical focus on the novel—the longer form has ethical and cognitive potential lacking in the short story.
Nick Lawrence (Warwick) spoke on the ‘riddle-like character’ that can be found in short stories, thinking about them as ‘broken allegories’ that elude realist representational construal. Drawing on Adorno and Benjamin, and giving a rich reading of Hawthorne’s story of an enigma, ‘The Minister’s Black Veil’, he gave the intensity and difficult legibility of the short story a socially critical significance—they hold a kind of incomprehensibility that resists commodification. He furthermore brought in a wonderful visual aid, opening our eyes to Chris Ware’s Building Stories. Michael Gardiner gave the final paper, putting stories into a contemporary British social and political context, in which stories are needed to defeat a nostalgia-laden embrace of ‘heritage’. Stories can both mark fragmentary experience in the present and make history accessible for philosophically substantive critique. Gardiner linked these issues specifically to pressures on the British university to provide a positive ‘student experience’, rather than engagement with an open and to-be-debated present. The papers were chaired by five PhD students from Warwick’s Philosophy and English Departments: Phil Gaydon, Jemima Johnson, Andrea Selleri, Karen Simecek, and Rhys Williams.
At the end of the day, former CRPLA Director and Emeritus Professor of English Michael Bell introduced and chaired a roundtable discussion, and he provided a very helpful distillation of the issues ‘on the table’. He thought the upshot of some of our discussions had been that it is a false question to ask whether the short story or the novel is more ethically valuable; we should ask whether they pose different kinds of ethical questions. He cited Borges as a writer who chose to write short works because they could do things long works cannot. Discussion following the papers and during the roundtable was lively, wide-ranging, and challenging. We were very glad to have a great mix of people participate, some familiar and some new to CRPLA events, and many of whom were drawn to the workshop, I think, by deep appreciation for what can be achieved in the short story. We perhaps opened up more problems than we resolved, but a set of worthwhile topics to pursue emerged: the roles of socially marginal or isolated subjectivity, of spatial form, of humour within short stories; the short story’s relation to older forms of story-telling, to film and to comics; and the importance of story-telling for philosophical questioning and theory development.
The day concluded with a convivial dinner for the speakers and chairs. We are very grateful to the BSA for making this event possible.
University of Warwick
Go Figure 2013 Report
Institute of Philosophy, London, UK, 20-21 June 2013
This workshop was organized by Dr. Mihaela Popa and Prof. John Barnden of the University of Birmingham as part of Research Project Grant F/00 094/BE from the Leverhulme Trust, entitled "Metaphor and Metonymy: addressing a debate and a neglected problem" to Barnden. Popa is the Research Fellow on the grant.
General Motivation and Orientation
In recent years there has been much discussion, largely in philosophical and linguistic circles, of the interaction between the specialized topic of figurative language and certain general topics concerning language. These topics have included the semantics/pragmatics boundary, the nature of truth-conditional vs. non-truth-conditional meaning and the types of inferencing characteristic to each type of meaning, as well as reports of propositional/evaluative attitudes in language. Another significant concern in the field has been the (putative or actual) distinctions and interactions between different types of figurative language, particularly metaphor, metonymy, hyperbole and irony.
These matters are the subject of the ongoing Leverhulme Trust grant mentioned above. The workshop encouraged new thinking about topics such as the following, some of which have seen relatively little exploration:
1. The relationships between different figures of speech (metaphor, irony and hyperbole)
2. The embedding of figurative aspects within the content of propositional attitudes
3. The challenges raised for the semantics/pragmatics distinction by the embedding of figurative language within constructs such as conditionals and propositional attitude reports
4. The epistemic value of figures of speech and limits of debates around propositional vs. non-propositional models for understanding figures.
Talks by keynote speakers
All the talks apart from our own were by invited keynote speakers. Each talk occupied a slot of one and a half hours, allowing much time for presentation and discussion. The talks were as follows, with key points of novelty briefly noted:
Mitchell Green: Learning from Metaphors: Self-expression (as designedly showing of introspectible states) and conveyance of affect and imagery as fundamental to understanding the nature of metaphor.
Anne Bezuidenhout: Categories and Analogies: Comments on Hofstadter & Sander: Categorization is more fundamental than analogy and thus not fully explicable in terms of analogy. Analogy rests on a different kind of categorization.
Stephen Schiffer: Figures of Speech: A neo-Davidsonian view of metaphor on which the appreciation of metaphor involves non-propositional effects, with strong emphasis on a parallel with jokes.
Ofra Magidor: Category Mistakes and Figurative Language: Category mistakes as being meaningful, contrary to a popular view, and thereby leaving open a wide range of theories of figurative language.
Emma Borg: Figurative Meaning and the Semantics/Pragmatics Divide: Doubt about the notion of explicature (rather than what’s said) as crucial in warranting implicatures, and emphasis on the role of speaker/hearer negotiation in meaning construction and metaphor understanding.
John Barnden: Metaphorical Attitudes: common-sense, metaphorical explication of mental states as a new approach to the “meaning intention” problem whereby meaning theories impossibly impute abstruse thoughts about mental states to ordinary people.
Laurence Horn: Lie-Toe-Tease: Double Negatives and Unexcluded Middles: explaining litotes and other phenomena via a MaxContrary principle about the operation of negation.
Catherine Wearing: Hyperbole and Other Figures: Systematic exploration of the various similarities and differences between hyperbole, metaphor and irony, arguing for greater kinship of hyperbole to irony than to metaphor.
Deirdre Wilson: Figurative Utterances and Speaker’s Meaning: non-paraphrasable effects of poetic metaphor as actually being a reflection of a pervasive feature of all language, so that excluding them from theories of intended communication is radically inadequate.
Stephen Neale: Speaker’s Meaning and Figurative Utterances: Pointing out mistakes in the interpretation of Grice’s thinking, and criticizing pragmatism and contextualism for taking inferences and context respectively to be constitutive aspects of speaker meaning.
Stephen Barker: The Said and the Unsaid Meets Figuration: Analysis of speech acts used for saying vs. implicating in terms partly of speaker’s disposition to ‘defend’ vs. ‘manifest’ his/her mental states. Metaphor ranges with defensive acts; irony with non-defensive acts.
Mihaela Popa: Embedded Irony, Speech-Acts, and the Said/Unsaid Distinction: Need for new approach to compositionality, based on Barker’s approach above, because of cases where irony is embedded in, for example, the antecedents of conditionals.
Reflective Summary of Day 1: Guy Longworth: thought -provoking systematization of the day’s considerations in terms of inputs of, processing within and outputs of the interpretation of figurative language.
Summary of Day 2: Robyn Carston: linkage of the day’s considerations to her (and Barnden’s) view of some metaphor (or much metaphor, according to Barnden) as involving a meta-representational act of building a complex source-domain (= vehicle-based) scenario.
As well as the discussion periods after talks, the workshop hosted the speakers at dinner on both evenings, with any other delegates encouraged to come (at their own expense). Discussion during breaks, dinners and talk slots was energetic and very disputative at times. Highlights of the disputes included the question of whether metaphor speakers intend any non-propositional content and whether embedded figurative language raises new problems for compositional construction of meaning. But most speakers were roundly taken to task by both non-speakers and other speakers.
We are considering various avenues for producing a set of collected papers based on the workshop.
We are very grateful for the support from the British Society of Aesthetics, which allowed an enhanced meeting. We are also happy that other funding bodies have followed your example: Mind Association, Aristotelian Society, Analysis (which supplied student bursaries), and Leverhulme Trust. We benefited from the kind hospitality of the Institute of Philosophy, who funded the venue as well as lunches.