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The Rational Justification of Aesthetic Judgments

This article is concerned with the rational justification of aesthetic judgments.1 In the first section, I briefly characterize the experiential aspect
of making aesthetic judgments. In the following
section, I describe two different notions of justifyingor arguing foran aesthetic judgment, taking
into account the debate between aesthetic realists
and antirealists. For the purposes of this article,
what distinguishes a realist from an antirealist is
that the former regards aesthetic judgments as assertions with truth conditions, while the latter regards aesthetic judgments as quasi-assertions, expressing a beholders reaction to the work.2 When
it comes to the issue of aesthetic justification, realists tend to think that justificatory relationships
can only be rightly characterized by linking aesthetic properties to a more basic set of nonaesthetic properties. On the other hand, antirealists
hold that, strictly speaking, we cannot talk about
justifying an aesthetic judgment given that its content is not a property in the full sense of the word;
at most, they hold, we can aspire to persuade others to perceive an object in a certain way. In short,
the point of arguing about aesthetic judgments is
not to justify a given description of the object but
to persuade others to perceive it as the speaker
perceives it.
The central question at this point will be
whether, given an aesthetic judgment, we can
point to certain evidence in support of the judgment and whether the evidence provides rational
justification of the judgment. So the divergence
between realists and antirealists at this point goes
down to the ontological status of aesthetic properties. Hence, it looks as if accounting for aesthetic
judgments and their rational justification has some
relation with ontological debates about the status
of aesthetic properties and the way in which they

figure in aesthetic judgments. One of the purposes

of the present article is to see the extent to which
this is so. In the third section, I offer an initial
approach to what I think must be some of the
constraints upon aesthetic justification.

i. setting the scene

There are many different kinds of aesthetic judgments and descriptions. Some fit quite well the
notion of seeing-as or aspect perception, such as
seeing a building as labyrinth shaped or as whale
shaped, but others might be less amenable to the
aspect perception model, such as the claim that a
certain movie is sentimental or a certain painting
is dark (even if it is painted in bright yellow). It
is likely that a wider and finer distinction can be
provided, but the purpose of identifying at least
these two kinds of aesthetic description is related
partly to the discussion I want to develop here;
for the question of aesthetic justification has been
usually framed in terms of the special justification that seeing-as descriptions might demand.
Some have argued that all aesthetic judgments
are, indeed, reports of aspect perception experiences and, thus, develop the problem of aesthetic
justification within the boundaries of this notion
and its particular logic. The benefit of this approach is its apparent ability to explain a common fact of aesthetic attributions; namely, given
a specific artwork, it is likely that more than one
aesthetic description of it might be provided. A
critic may experience a painting as exciting and
yet another critic as boring. Actually, it is perfectly
normal for art critics to have greatly differing experiences of the same work. If the aspect view
is correct, aesthetic judgments would be reports

The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 66:3 Summer 2008

c 2008 The American Society for Aesthetics

of experiencing the objects in different ways. But
this view has the consequence of leaving any reference to aesthetic properties as the putative content of aesthetic judgment outside the pictureor,
at least, of reducing the notion of aesthetic property to the less objective notion of aspect. This
seems intolerable to some authors who have certain realist intuitions about aesthetic properties.
I will now introduce a couple of constraints on
aesthetic judgments that both realists and antirealists generally agree on.3 These constraints distinguish, in turn, aesthetic judgments from other
kinds of perceptual judgment, such as color judgments.
The first feature has come to be known as
the Acquaintance Principle (AP) and, following
Richard Wollheims formulation, it states that the
judgment of aesthetic value, unlike judgments of
moral knowledge, must be based on first-hand experience of their objects and are not . . . transmissible from one person to another.4 According to
some versions of this principle, the putative state
in which one assents to an aesthetic judgment cannot be achieved without experiencing the object
oneself.5 According to this principle, no matter
how many aesthetic descriptions I am provided
with by someone who has perceptual access to a
specific work, I cannot genuinely assent to them.
To genuinely assent to them I must experience
the work myself.6 AP, in turn, might be understood as denying two different things, or both at
the same time: (1) it may deny that aesthetic beliefs can be acquired by testimony; (2) it may deny
that aesthetic beliefs can be acquired by argument.
Though some have tried to challenge the idea that
aesthetic knowledge cannot be acquired by testimony, I will pay more attention to the second
case, for it seems directly related to the problem
I am interested in here, that is, the possibility of
aesthetic reasoning and justification.7
The second constraint has its roots in Kants
characterization of the autonomy of the judgment
of taste and its subjective character, and can be
named, following Philip Pettit, the Perceptual Elusiveness of Aesthetic Descriptions (PE). According to Pettit, [V]isual scrutiny of a picture, necessary though it may be for aesthetic knowledge,
is not always sufficient to guarantee it. One may
look at a painting and fail to come to a position
where one can sincerely assent to the aesthetic descriptions which are true of it. One may look and
look and not see its elegance or economy or sad-

The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism

ness, for example.8 That is, acquaintance is necessary but not sufficient to perceive the object under
the aesthetic description that is allegedly true of
it. Very few deny this feature of aesthetic experience. A recent attempt has been made by Robert
Hopkins, who has tried to defend the claim that
a perception can be the outcome of an argument
or a piece of reasoning, so that we can expect to
make it at least possible to rationally motivate an
aesthetic judgment in someone who at first fails
to notice a certain aspect or feature of a work.9
His conclusions do not necessarily imply that PE
must be rejected, but they at least significantly
reduce its strength. Someone might fail to notice
a certain aesthetic aspect of a work, but there is
hope, if Hopkins is correct, that he or she can be
rationally motivated to make the adequate aesthetic judgment and to perceive the missed aspect.
Moreover, Hopkinss argument for a kind of aesthetic reasoning will also restrict the scope of AP;
for if aesthetic reasoning can provide the basis for
an aesthetic judgment, then AP can still be understood as banning knowledge through testimony,
though it seems less clear that it must also ban
the possibility of acquiring aesthetic knowledge
through arguments.
As I have pointed out above, no ontological
picture can be derived necessarily from the acceptance of these constraints of aesthetic judgments, since both realist and antirealist defenders
seem to agree on them. However, it seems that
some arguments have been suggested that appeal
to these features in order to support certain ontological claims about aesthetic properties and aesthetic judgments. The present discussion is concerned with how these arguments are entangled
with some views about aesthetic justification.

ii. aesthetic justification within a realist

ontological framework
Most of the defenders of aesthetic realism tend to
accept some form of supervenience relationship
between nonaesthetic properties and aesthetic
ones.10 This relationship provides an ontological
frame within which the epistemological relationship of justification at first sight finds a good basis. Thus, John Bender holds: Supervenience has
been thought by many writers to be importantly
related to the logic of aesthetic justification, since
it both explains why certain properties of works

Alcaraz Leon
The Rational Justification of Aesthetic Judgments
are cited in defence of ones aesthetic ascriptions
and also seems to lend metaphysical respectability
to aesthetic properties.11
It follows from accepting the supervenience
claim that no aesthetic difference will take place
without a change in the nonaesthetic base.12 However, this does not imply that a whole description
of the base can provide a justification of the applicability of a given aesthetic term to a given work,
nor that we can infer from the description alone
which set of aesthetic properties the object possesses. That is, it does not do the work of entirely
justifying an aesthetic judgment.
But, although supervenience alone cannot tell
us what justifies an aesthetic judgment, for it
merely determines the ontological status of aesthetic properties, it seems that it can at least provide a framework within which aesthetic ascriptions are taken as assertions and thus can be true
or false. This could also be expressed in a negative
way: without supervenience it may not be possible
to justify aesthetic judgments. As Bender puts it:
The second difficulty of a realist without supervenience comes in producing an adequate account of
the justification of aesthetic ascriptions. Supervenience relations help to explain why it is relevant
to cite certain of a works non-evaluative features
when justifying the assertions that the work possesses some aesthetic property.13
Supervenience accounts are compatible with
the response-dependent character of aesthetic
propertiesa feature nobody seems to denyand,
thus, allow that the same base properties yield different aesthetic properties in other worlds.14 They
rule out, however, the possibility of two different,
conflicting aesthetic descriptions of the same object in the same worldsomething that, as we have
already seen, fits perfectly well within the aspect
perception model embraced by some antirealists.
This implies that within the realist-supervenience
model there cannot be genuine disputes in aesthetics, or, at least, it is rather difficult to accommodate
them within the realistic framework.15 The expression genuine dispute might be confusing because it may be understood in two different senses.
It may be understood in a strong sense, such as
when two people judging a work offer two completely different aesthetic descriptions and neither
of them is able to see the work as the other does;
in this sense, aesthetic disputes are understood
as the output of PE. Normally, this is the sense
appealed to by an antirealist and that a realist


view finds difficult to accommodate. There is also

a more flexible sense of the expression, one that
refers to the differences between two people judging an object regarding not the kind of aesthetic
descriptions they apply to the work, but the kind
of values they attribute to the properties identified
in the work. For example, two people may agree
that a work is comical but value this feature differently and so produce a different overall judgment
of the work. This second sense is compatible with
the realist view about aesthetic judgments, but it
is not usually the sense that the antirealist appeals
to in order to ground antirealism about aesthetic
properties. For a realist, given an aesthetic dispute,
there can always be one aesthetic description that
is correct and others that are not.
I have said above that both realism and antirealism agree with AP and PE; let us briefly see how
it is the case with the realist view. It seems that
none of the features of the realist view conflict
with AP. Actually, given the relational character
of aesthetic properties, AP will easily fit within
the realist picture, for the very nature of aesthetic
properties demands that the perceiver respond to
them in an experience of the work to which the
alleged properties are ascribed. PE, on the other
hand, can also be accommodated, since we can
always attribute a failure to see an aesthetic property to some divergence in the input received by
the disputants or to a difference in sensitivities.16
Let us now briefly consider the relationship between those features of aesthetic experience (AP
and PE) and aesthetic antirealism. One of the
usual arguments is that AP implies aesthetic antirealism, such as one given by Roger Scruton.17
He thinks the reason why we cannot allow that
an aesthetic judgment can be reached independently of an experience of the object is precisely
because the properties that are referred to in aesthetic judgments are not properties, strictly speaking, but aspects or features of ones experience of
the objects; hence, regardless of their assertoric
appearance, aesthetic judgments are not assertions but quasi-assertions, for they do not report
something in the object but a certain experience of the object for a subject. The content of
these quasi-assertions is not a certain fact but a certain experience of an object aesthetically judged.
This should prevent treating aesthetic judgments
as statements where the question about their truth
conditions might arise: nothing in the object will
make the aesthetic judgment true or false, given

that there is no matter of the fact that the aesthetic
judgment refers to.
However, Scruton does not defend the view
that any experience of an object fitting the logic
of aspect perception is an adequate one. For him,
only aesthetic experiences can provide the basis
for correct aesthetic judgments. He needs, then, to
provide a definition of aesthetic experience. But
even within the scope of aesthetic experiences it
is possible that disagreement about aesthetic descriptions of a work arises, and so the problem of
aesthetic justification will remain; for the antirealist there will be no further fact to appeal to in order
to show that a particular aesthetic judgment is true
while others are false. Scrutons answer does not
look very promising, for there seems to be no gap
between understanding an aesthetic description
and providing the conditions for its acceptance.
He writes: In aesthetics you have to see for yourself precisely because what you have to see is not
a property: your knowledge that an aesthetic feature is in the object is given by the same criteria
that show that you see it. To see the sadness in the
music and to know that the music is sad are one
and the same thing.18 It follows from this characterization that one cannot understand an aesthetic
judgment unless one has the corresponding experience, and this leaves a very narrow space either
for justifying the aesthetic ascription in question
or for rejecting it. An example might be useful
here. When I understand the aesthetic judgment
that Goyas portrait of Charles IV and his family
is ironic, then I must also have the experience of
the painting as being as the aesthetic description
characterizes it.
But, what happens if you do not perceive it as
ironic but, rather, as sympathetic? I might persuade you to perceive the painting differently by
pointing out other features of the painting that
are coherent with my judgment. However, can I
persuade you that your former experience was
wrong? What kind of reasons might I appeal to
in order to justify that the former experience was
wrong and that mine is right? I take it that as
long as the experience upon which the judgment
is based is an aesthetic one, there is no way to
show that the corresponding judgment is wrong.
I guess Scruton would say that if the experience
has been a truly aesthetic one, most of the viewers
will agree in seeing the irony in Goyas portrait,
but since aesthetic perception is framed in terms of
aspect perception, it is possible to find some other

The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism

cases of aesthetic experience where the work is
regarded under a different aspect.19
The problem with this view as far as the issue of aesthetic justification is that we seem to be
deprived of most of the elements that currently
enter into any picture of what justification means.
I think that this view of aesthetic justification
comes from a certain understanding of the notion
of seeing-as, according to which there is no justificatory role that can be satisfied by certain features of the object. Thus, the only proof of an
aesthetic ascription is in fact the experience from
which it is a report, and the only possible correction would involve, indeed, a different experience
altogether. This has been specifically expressed by
B. R. Tilghman when, in arguing against some realist claims, he holds:
Understanding a painting, for example, is not like that.
There can, of course, be evidence for its attribution,
iconography, or subject matter, but hardly for the balance of its composition, the appropriateness of the treatment of the subject, or for its being perhaps overly sentimental. . . . [T]he features that we cite to bring someone
to appreciate the composition or the appropriateness of
the dramatic subject matter do not work like evidence.
They are, instead, guides to alter ones perception in order to bring one to see the thing in a certain way. To bring
one to realize that this picture is sentimental kitsch may
require a rather radical readjustment in his view of the

There are at least two points that must be noticed

here. In the first place, Tilghman enhances the
guiding role in the perception of the object that
aesthetic descriptions have; in the second place,
he takes it that this role lacks justificatory powers:
its function is a pragmatic one, not a justificatory
one. It is, then, a common feature of the antirealist
view of aesthetic reasoning that, although there
can be reasons for a certain aesthetic judgment,
these never have the justificatory power that we
expect in other kinds of judgment (for example,
nonaesthetic perceptual judgments). They help to
yield a certain perception of the object, but they
do not argue for it. As Bender points out, within
a model that rejects supervenience,
[T]he question of epistemic relevance of the given features to the aesthetic attribution seems to turn into the
rhetorical question whether I can get you to come to
agree to the attribution by pointing out other features

Alcaraz Leon
The Rational Justification of Aesthetic Judgments
of the work. . . . There is a long tradition of pragmatist/rhetorical theories of aesthetic justification and it is
often said that a critics main function is to direct our
attention over a works features in such a way that we
come to see the work as the critic does, i.e., to agree with
his or her aesthetic ascriptions.21

Bender characterizes the difference between

these two views of aesthetic judgment in terms
of their ontological claims and, thus, places the
epistemological problem of aesthetic justification in terms of the ontological assumptions required in order to grant its rationality. His criticism against the antirealist view is focused on
the ontological demands required for granting
aesthetic justification. It seems, then, that an aspect perceptionbased, antirealist model cannot
provide the necessary elements for rationally justifying an aesthetic ascription, but it can merely try
to get the unconvinced observer to see for himself
or herself.
However, Hopkins has argued that the fact that
aspect perception is, in fact, an important source
of aesthetic ascriptions does not conflict with the
possibility of aesthetic justification; his argument
partly rests upon a rather different understanding
of what we take the structure of seeing-as to be and
how some features can be conceived as satisfying
the evidence role.22 His point is that by assuming
a different conception of what critical perception
means, we can allow the conclusion that a perception can be motivated by reasoning. This conception of critical reasoning has some peculiarities,
namely, that the argument leading to a perception
must include within its premises some perceptions.
Thus, he seemingly keeps the AP within the picture. However, as I have pointed out above, his
view also implies that the force of PE diminishes,
at least if we accept the role of critical arguments
for aesthetic perception. Hopkinss picture does
not include any ontological consideration in his
argumentation for the rational motivation of aesthetic judgments, but I assume that his view is
underpinned by realist assumptions.23
I have mentioned in passing the idea that agreement is a kind of criterion for the antirealist; given
that no justificatory relationship can be offered
apart from the very fact of experiencing the work
in a certain way, some reason for adopting one aesthetic ascription rather than another will be that
most viewers share a certain experience, that they


agree in ascribing to a work this or that property.

So, instead of being the result of aesthetic deliberation, aesthetic agreement is appealed to as a sign
of valid aesthetic ascriptions. This would make the
validity of aesthetic judgments somehow dependent upon agreement. Given AP and PE, the only
clue that we have available in order to tell apart
valid aesthetic judgments from invalid ones is that
a big enough group of observers respond to the
work in the same manner.
A further reason why we could reject the pragmatist antirealist model is that it is, if not incompatible, at least incongruent with one feature of
aesthetic discussion. It seems to me that we could
have few grounds to sustain the belief that aesthetic discussion is possible at all if we strictly keep
within that view. For given that the conditions for
understanding an aesthetic judgment are the same
as the conditions for accepting it, that is, having a
certain experience of the object, there is no space
for disagreement, unless we only understand it as
total disagreement. It seems that this view leaves
little space for a shared experience of the object
upon which the aesthetic discussion can be sustained. It is as if the aesthetic experience were
the bedrock upon which one can lie but that one
cannot argue against except by adopting another
aesthetic experience as bedrock.
My worry with this view is that the understanding of aspect perception underlying it leaves no
space for aesthetic arguing or reasoning. If aesthetic justification is to be possible at all, our picture must include some reference to something
else apart from having a certain experience: we
need to characterize how a certain experience is
correct, and that might involve referring to features of the object that are over and above the
experience we are assessing.
Let me briefly summarize the situation so far.
We seem to have two different views of aesthetic justification, both grounded in ontological
assumptions, realist and antirealist, respectively.
On one hand, the realist view provides a strong
model of aesthetic justification, for aesthetic judgments or ascriptions can be rationally justified by
relating the objects possession of them to the objects nonaesthetic properties. One of the virtues
of this analysis is that it does not sacrifice AP
and accommodates PE. The problem faced by this
approach, however, is that it cannot clearly accommodate the case of genuine aesthetic disputes.24

On the other hand, the antirealist view of aesthetic properties cannot offer but a pragmaticoriented account of aesthetic justification, where
the conditions for understanding an aesthetic
judgment and the conditions for its acceptance
are one and the same. Aesthetic judgments are
not, within this view, genuine assertions but quasiassertions and, rather than expressing a fact about
the object characterized, they aim at yielding a
certain experience of itthis being its pragmatic
feature. The nature of aesthetic justification remains, thus, a matter of agreement or consent
among the observers who experience the object
in the same manner. There is no space for arguing
for contrasting descriptions; at most we can aspire
to change the viewers perception, but changing it
does not mean justifying it. We have mentioned
Hopkinss proposal of critical perception as an alternative bias to account for the aspect perception that most antirealists embrace as partly responsible for the lack of justifying space within
aesthetic description. But his account will also be
linked to a realist stance and, so, will fall on one
of the sides of this ontologicalepistemological
I think that the lack of support that these models can bring to any justificatory relationship is
based upon the supposition that a certain metaphysical condition must be met in order to allow
certain justificatory relationships to hold. The difference between the realist and the antirealist is
not, then, in their view about what ontological
demands must be satisfied in order to grant justificatory relationships, but in that the antirealists
do not think that the ontological conditions are
available for the aesthetic case.
Moreover, I think both realists and antirealists misconstrue aesthetic justification partly because they misunderstand the subjective character of aesthetic experience. We have already
seen that aesthetic properties are typical examples of response-dependent properties, that is,
properties whose identification cannot be rightly
brought about without referring to a subjects being affected by them. This phenomenal character
of aesthetic properties (but also of what is usually called secondary properties, such as, colors,
sounds, or smells) has been understood as implying that they are not objective properties. If
these are subjective properties, then they cannot
have truth conditions, for only objective ones have

The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism

However, as John McDowell has tried to make
clear, this claim relies upon confusing two different senses of objective: on one hand, objective
might be understood as something whose nature
may be specified independently of a subject being
affected by it; on the other, it can also refer to what
is part of the world and, therefore, can be the subject of knowledge.25 According to the first sense, it
is quite obvious that response-dependent properties are subjective, for they resist being described
in terms that avoid reference to subjects being affected by them. However, according to the second
sense, response-dependent properties need not be
understood as subjective, that is, as not being part
of the world, as objective properties we can be
affected by. McDowell has pointed out that on a
par with this confusion there is a wrong underlying picture of objectivity that describes the world
as if in it there were no sentient beings that are affected by how the world is. Thus, after McDowell,
aesthetic properties can be rescued from the subjective realm they have been placed inthough,
of course, they remain thoroughly subjective in
the sense of being only characterized by reference
to a sentient being that is affected by them. In
short, in a world without subjects there would be
no aesthetic properties, but in a world with them,
aesthetic properties are no less real than other
Now I think this line of thought can also be
helpful in showing why the aesthetic realism based
upon supervenience lacks the necessary appeal.
For the realist assumes that the reality of aesthetic properties can only be sustained insofar as
we characterize them through some relationship
to nonaesthetic properties, as if the objectivity of
the former could only be guaranteed by its dependence upon the latter.
However, if McDowells line of thought is persuasive, the phenomenological character of aesthetic properties does not amount to their being
nonobjective properties. They are aspects of the
world to which we are sensitive. This, in turn, also
compels us to reject any account of these properties that understands the task as a reductive
one. Hence, taking seriously the phenomenological aspect of aesthetic properties involves giving
up reductive strategiessuch as supervenience.
Contrary to Benders intuition, the ontological respectability of aesthetics properties need not rely
upon its dependence upon other, less controversial, properties.

Alcaraz Leon
The Rational Justification of Aesthetic Judgments
iii. does a proper characterization of
aesthetic justification require a commitment
to an ontological view about aesthetic
Maybe a possible solution to this debate could be
precisely to give up the ontological dispute that
backed each of the positions I have delineated and
concentrate upon the kind of reasons that are usually taken to be justificatory in aesthetic debates.
Is this possible? Can we offer an explanation of
what it is for an aesthetic judgment to be justified without getting involved into disputes about
the ontological nature of aesthetic properties? I
do not think that simply paying attention to the
canonical reasons usually put forward in aesthetic
disputes can help much in solving this question.
Rather than being a true solution to the problem,
it leaves it unresolved; for the dispute over the possibility of justifying aesthetic judgments cannot be
settled just by listing the usual reasons we bring
in our aesthetic disputesthese practices are acknowledged both by those who hold the possibility of aesthetic justification and by those who deny
it. That we argue about our aesthetic judgments is
not disputed; what is under discussion is the justificatory force of these arguments. And it seems to
me that the only way to fully acknowledge the justificatory relationship between an aesthetic judgment and the reasons that allegedly support it is
to provide an explanation of the conditions under
which we take aesthetic judgments to be true; and
this, in turn, brings us back to the issue of objectivity in aesthetics.
Relations of justification cannot, I think, be
properly settled without taking into account the
nature of the content of our judgments; for what
counts as evidence for asserting one judgment
rather than another must be linked to the nature of our discussion. So we still need to provide
some such account for the case of aesthetic propertieswhich I take to be the putative content of
aesthetic judgments. Considering the alternatives
mentioned so far, I think I am more confident in
my rejection of the antirealist model of aesthetic
justification than in my finding persuasive the realist account based on supervenience. I have already
provided some reasons for this, but I will try to offer some more and to tentatively introduce what I
think a plausible realist account can be.
I have rejected the antirealist view of aesthetic
justification because, as it is, it cannot, in my view,


satisfy any of the conditions we usually expect justifications to meet. If what gives content to an
aesthetic judgment coincides with what justifies
it, we lack the typical distancebetween asserting something as true and providing reasons for
it to be suchrequired for a justificatory relationship to take place. This distance is something I will
come back to later.
So, when is an aesthetic judgment justified?
First of all, it must be noticed that a picture of
aesthetic justification need not guarantee that a
justified judgment is totally immune to possible
new aesthetic descriptions that enrich an objects
aesthetic description. As well as the fact that our
sensory capacities may be more sensitive when
trained and thus can provide us deeper access to
aspects of the objects we experience, our aesthetic
sensibility can also develop so that we can eventually aesthetically redescribe an object.
Moreover, and as it is usually emphasized
within aesthetic discourse, aesthetic ascriptions
are not law governed, though this need not prevent any hope of the possibility of aesthetic justification; for, unless we think that only law-like relationships can count as justificatory relationships,
there is no reason to think aesthetic justification
depends on law-like relationships.26 What justifies
a particular judgment may be a matter of experiencing the object in a certain way together with
some beliefs about the object judged, though these
do not need to have the form of generalizations.
Aesthetic justification needs, then, to be framed
in terms that respect these two conditions. When
we say that a work is comic because it is, in a
particular case, X and F, we are not claiming that
anytime a work is X and F then it is also comic,
but that in that particular case X and F amounts
to the works being comic. Why can this relationship not be a justificatory one? A possible answer is that X and F could have amounted to a
different aesthetic property, such as ironic, for
example. So, on what grounds do we assert that
X and F are responsible for the comical aspect
of that work? It is true that X and F can figure
in many objects and that their presence can contribute to an objects being comic, anothers being
ironic, and maybe to some others other properties. Thus, a red background in a painting might be
used in many different ways and with many different purposes. This, however, does not imply that
we cannot explain some aesthetic property of the

representation of a landscape (for example, that
it is threatening) through that particular feature.
Besides, some other properties, not merely perceptual ones, can enter into our justification of a
particular characterization of a work. For example, we can justify our attribution of originality to
a work and not to its copy when we know them to
be the original work on one side and the copy on
the other. Thus, historical information about the
object is also relevant in determining the aesthetic
description that it deserves.
As we can see with these examples, aesthetic
judgment departs from the logic of perceptual
judgments, such as color judgments, in that in
the latter it is usually held that the experience
of seeing red explains and justifies our judgment
of something as red. However, when it comes to
aesthetic attribution, the mere experience of seeing an object as comic is not enough to justify it.
If it were, we could never be wrong in attributing a comical aspect to a work when we perceive
it as comic. But we can be if we historically misplace the work, for example. This does not mean
that aesthetic judgments are not based upon perceptual experiences. They are indeed, but when it
comes to justifying them, we cannot simply rest
content with reporting our experience; we might
need to make reference to some other features,
and some of them might be nonperceptual ones.
I think that if we understand aesthetic ascriptions as not only dependent upon perceptual features of the object but also as determined by its
historical identity, we can get closer to a characterization of the aesthetic value that leaves room
for a justificatory relationship.27 This does not involve, as it might appear to, giving up the perceptual character of aesthetic value identification.
It merely requires that we understand aesthetic
properties as three-place relations: an aesthetic
property is one that (1) an object possesses in
virtue of (2) its appearance for (3) a subject who
is well informed about the historical conditions
within which the object was produced and the intentions that governed its production.
I said before that for a justificatory relationship
to take place in the case of aesthetic judgments,
we need to characterize a certain tie between the
experience that we want to justify and the alleged
reasons that can indeed justify it. I talked then
in terms of a certain distance between the aesthetic experience and the aesthetic judgment, a
distance color judgment does not seem to require

The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism

and that points to a disanalogy between what are
usually called secondary properties and aesthetic
ones, although both are regarded as perceptual or
phenomenological properties.

iv. conclusion
I have tried to offer an overview of some approaches to the problem of aesthetic judgments
justification. Aesthetic judgments seem to involve
a special challenge as far as their justification is
concerned partly because of the peculiar nature
of aesthetic properties. In order to characterize
aesthetic experience and the corresponding aesthetic judgment, I have introduced AP and PE
as typical principles that are commonly acknowledged as proper to aesthetic experience. Both realists and antirealists have tried to offer a picture of
what an aesthetic judgment is and a corresponding
view about aesthetic justification. I have also tried
to argue that both misconstrue the nature of this
problem partly because of the ontological claims
embraced by each. While the realist guarantees
the ontological respectability of aesthetic properties by establishing a supervenient relationship
between them and what are called base properties,
the antirealist thinks that the response-dependent
nature of aesthetic qualities deprives them of their
I think that we will likely get a correct picture
of aesthetic justification if we achieve an adequate
ontological characterization of aesthetic properties. Although their relational character is undeniable, this need not amount to a rejection of their
objectivity. Hence, if we come to accept this, it
is likely that the supervenience strategy loses its
appeal. Moreover, that there are no law-like relationships governing aesthetic terms need not be a
problem unless we assume that a justificatory relationship can only hold when a law-like relationship is involved. But I think many examples from
our current reasoning and arguing practice confirm the dispensability of this relationship. My suggestion is that we can perfectly well guarantee the
possibility of justifying our aesthetic judgments
once we get rid of some previous misconceptions
about the nature of aesthetic properties. Besides,
a necessary picture of the justificatory relationship within aesthetic discourse needs to take into
account the fact that simply having an experience
of an object as having certain aesthetic properties

Alcaraz Leon
The Rational Justification of Aesthetic Judgments
is not enough to ensure the truth of the corresponding description. Since an object can surely
support more than one aesthetic description, we
need to appeal to features other than aesthetic
ones in order to support one description rather
than another.28


Department of Philosophy
University of Sheffield
Sheffield, United Kingdom S10 2TN
internet :
1. This article has been possible thanks to the finan y Ciencia
cial support from the Ministerio de Educacion
de la subjetividad en
to the research project La expresion
las artes HUM200502533 and the postdoctoral research
scholarship EX-20061137.
2. Thus, Philip Pettit writes: What does it mean to regard aesthetic characterizations realistically? At a first level
it means two things: that one believes that under their standard interpretation, under the interpretation which respects
speakers intentions, they come out as assertions; and further
that one believes that the standard assertoric interpretation
is unobjectionable. For the purposes at hand assertions may
be taken as utterances which are capable of being true or
false. Philip Pettit, The Possibility of Aesthetic Realism,
in Aesthetics and the Philosophy of Art: The Analytic Tradition: An Anthology, ed. Peter Lamarque and Stein Haugom
Olsen (Oxford: Blackwell, 2004), pp. 158171; quote from
p. 160.
3. Although there are some authors who reject some of
4. Richard Wollheim, Art and Its Objects (Cambridge
University Press, 1980), p. 233. As far as I know, the first
explicit formulation of this principle was given here. For
some criticisms of this principle, see Malcolm Budd, The
Acquaintance Principle, The British Journal of Aesthetics
43 (2003): 386392; and Paisley Livingston, On an Apparent Truism in Aesthetics, The British Journal of Aesthetics
43 (2003): 260278.
5. For other formulations of this principle, see Roger
Scruton, Art and Imagination: A Study in the Philosophy of
Mind (London: Methuen, 1974). He derives an antirealist
interpretation of aesthetic judgments out of this principle
together with the frequent employment of metaphorical expressions in aesthetic characterizations. See also Pettit, The
Possibility of Aesthetic Realism, pp. 158171, for a realist
version of aesthetic attributions compatible with AP.
6. A contrast with the color case is usually called upon
to clarify this principle. While if someone tells me that the
car parked in front of the Arts Tower is white, I may acquire
this knowledge and know what experience will be obtained
if I look out and see the parked car, but no similar situation
obtains if someone comes back from the gallery and says
that the painting he or she saw was beautiful.
7. For a rejection of AP, see Livingston, On an Apparent Truism in Aesthetics, and Budd, The Acquaintance


8. Pettit, Aesthetic Realism, p. 162.

9. Robert Hopkins, Critical Reasoning and Critical Perception, in Knowing Art, ed. Dominic McIver Lopes and
Matthew Kieran (Dordrecht: Springer, 2006), pp. 133157.
10. To my knowledge, the only realist account of aesthetic properties that explicitly rejects supervenience is
that of Marcia Muelder Eaton. See her Intention, Supervenience, and Aesthetic Realism, The British Journal
of Aesthetics 38 (1998): 279294, and The Intrinsic, NonSupervenient Nature of Aesthetic Properties, The Journal
of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 52 (1994): 383397. Though
it is true that supervenience has been mostly embraced by
realists, supervenience is also compatible with an antirealist
view of aesthetic properties; thus, we cannot take this relationship as the mark of aesthetic realism. Rather, as has been
said above, what distinguishes a realist from an antirealist is
the way each regards aesthetic judgments as assertions with
truth conditions or as expressive statements. For an antirealist view with a role for supervenience, see Alan Goldman,
Realism about Aesthetic Properties, The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 51 (1993): 3137.
11. John W. Bender, Realism, Supervenience, and Irresolvable Aesthetic Disputes, The Journal of Aesthetics and
Art Criticism 54 (1996): 371381.
12. Bender has offered a more refined supervenience account and distinguishes between the supervenient base and
the determining properties of an aesthetic property. It is beyond the scope of this article to discuss his arguments, but
it must at least be mentioned that in distinguishing between
the relationships of aesthetic determination and supervenience, he seems to avoid some of the current arguments
against supervenience accounts. See his Supervenience and
the Justification of Aesthetic Judgments, The Journal of
Aesthetics and Art Criticism 46 (1987): 3140.
13. Bender, Realism, Supervenience, and Irresolvable
Aesthetic Disputes, p. 377.
14. The relational analysis of aesthetic properties
claims that a works having an aesthetic property, F, such
as grace, power or starkness, is for it to have some set of
(other) features and relations which makes the work evoke
in some relevant class of perceivers or critics certain responses and judgments, including the judgment that it is
appropriate to call the work F. Difficult details aside, the
plausibility of viewing at least many aesthetic properties as
higher order relational properties connecting the evaluative
responses of a class of standard or ideal perceivers to lower
level properties and relations of the work has long been
acknowledged, especially in the empiricist tradition of aesthetics. Bender, Realism, Supervenience, and Irresolvable
Aesthetic Disputes, p. 371.
15. Bender recognizes that if we do not reduce the problem of aesthetic disputes to a question of the value each
critic attaches to an aesthetic property, then the problem
remains a genuine one for the realist view. See his Realism,
Supervenience, and Irresolvable Aesthetic Disputes.
16. Bender explores the possibility of divergent aesthetic
ascriptions due to the actual divergent sensitivities of the
percipient subjects in Sensitivity, Sensibility, and Aesthetic
Realism, The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 59
(2001): 7383.
17. This is not the only argument offered by Scruton for
aesthetic antirealism. In a former section he adopts antirealism, arguing that metaphorical ascriptions are currently

employed in aesthetic ascriptions and that, if we assume
Donald Davidsons view about metaphoric meaning, we
have no reason to think that aesthetic properties are captured by these ascriptions. For a criticism of this argument,
see Nick Zangwill, Metaphor and Realism in Aesthetics,
The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 49 (1991): 5762.
18. Scruton, Art and Imagination, p. 54.
19. The fact that aesthetic perception is understood in
terms of aspect perception also explains why the antirealist can easily accommodate PE, for there is already in the
Wittgensteinian literature a notionaspect blindnessthat
does exactly the work PE requires.
20. B. R. Tilghman, Reflections on Aesthetic Judgment, The British Journal of Aesthetics 44 (2004): 248260,
quote from p. 257.
21. Bender, Realism, Supervenience, and Irresolvable
Aesthetic Disputes, p. 377. He is not merely referring to
the antirealist but also to the realist proposal put forward by
Marcia Muelder Eaton in The Intrinsic, Non-Supervenient
Nature of Aesthetic Properties, The Journal of Aesthetics
and Art Criticism 52 (1994): 383397.
22. Hopkins, Critical Reasoning and Critical Perception.
23. I take Hopkinss acceptance of realism to be partly
based upon his criticism to quasi-realism in Kant, QuasiRealism, and the Autonomy of Aesthetic Judgment, European Journal of Philosophy 9 (2001): 166189.

The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism

24. It is possible, however, to see in the argument
offered by Hopkins in Kant, Quasi-Realism, and the
Autonomy of Aesthetic Judgment a certain rejection
of AP. If I understand his point correctly, we can have
reasons to modify our aesthetic judgment to the extent
that the aesthetic judgment and the experience might not
match each other. So, he will reject the claim that aesthetic judgments can only be based upon the subjects
25. John McDowell, Values and Secondary Qualities,
in Mind, Value and Reality (Harvard University Press, 1998),
pp. 131150; also see his Aesthetic Value, Objectivity,
and the Fabric of the World, in the same volume, pp.
26. Frank Sibley, Particularity, Art and Evaluation, in
Aesthetics and the Philosophy of Art: The Analytic Tradition:
An Anthology, pp. 243252.
27. In a way this is similar to Kendall Waltons view in
Categories of Art, Philosophical Review 79 (1970): 334
367, or Jerrold Levinsons in The Pleasures of Aesthetics
(Cornell University Press, 1996) and Aesthetic Properties,
Procedings of Aristotelian Society, Suppementary Volume 79
(2005): 211227.
28. I thank Professor Robert Hopkins, Professor Fran
Elisabeth Schellekens, Paul Sludds, and
cisca Perez
the anonymous referees who sent comments about an earlier version of this article.