Intention, Action, and the Philosophy of Art: New Boundaries in a Theory of Action

Sponsered by the Portuguese Foundation for Science and Technology (FCT) - PTDC/FIL-FIL/116733/2010 

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Intention, Action, and the Philosophy of Art: New Boundaries in a Theory of Action focuses on theory of action and inquiry on the structures of intention and practical thought, combining it with philosophical debates about art, towards an ‘action-oriented aesthetics’. 

 What business does action-theoretical philosophy have in dealing with art, and what can aesthetics possibly gain from a turn to action? Let us work from the under-formulated etiological view that in ‘art’ people make and appreciate certain sorts of objects in certain sorts of contexts. Traditionally, the discussion on aesthetics has centered on conceptual and theoretical inquiries into what makes these objects, contexts and experiences peculiar, namely, by focusing on 3 principal types of questions: What objects count as ‘art’? What is the experience of art like? What do certain words used in explaining ‘art’ mean (e.g. ‘representation’, ‘expression’, ‘beauty’, ‘pleasure’, ‘aesthetic’)? More recently, these questions have been tackled in analytic aesthetics mostly under the heading of the debate on the definition of ‘art’, for which, over the last five decades, particularly in the last 10-15 years, there have been many significant (if inconclusive) proposals. This pseudo-definition has been put forth to assuage both skeptical and non-skeptical approaches to the definition of ‘art’: ‘Art’ is whatever we treat as ‘art’. The obvious flaw with this formulation is that it begs explanation as to what it means ‘to-treat-something-as-art’. This difficulty has been tackled by attempts to define what ‘art’ is, by appealing to different types of criteria set out by the available definitional projects. Meta-methodological work in this vein is typically devoted to explain (and hopefully settle) why a given set of criteria ought to be adopted or refused, in order to understand the objects, experiences and contexts of art. As alternative, we propose to clarify what it means ‘to-treat-something-as-art’, and thus to bring light to problems of philosophical aesthetics by attempting to describe actions in art, or the structures of action in art. The methodological work required by this approach is however not provided by traditional aesthetics; in our view, help must be sought from contemporary action-theoretical philosophy and the current research on practical rationality. Hence, our choice of procedure. Moreover, believing that examples drawn from art provide a demanding case study for action-theoretical philosophy, our ‘action-oriented’ approach to art will focus on intention, action explanation, models of process control, direction of fit, value sensitivity, specification of ends, evaluative judgment, collective action, mental acts, desiring and belief. Action theorists have not yet been seriously concerned with art-related issues. This is mostly due to the transitional stage in which current debates seem to stand. Mapping out new boundaries in action theory is therefore a pressing task, which our focus on art aims to bring about.

Research Group


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