Original Articles

Aesthetic, Ethical, and Cognitive Value

Published in: South African Journal of Philosophy
Volume 26, issue 2, 2007, pages: 216–227
DOI: 10.4314/sajpem.v26i2.31475
Author(s): Cain ToddDepartment of Philosophy, U.K.


This paper addresses two recent debates in aesthetics: the ‘moralist debate’, concerning the relationship between the ethical and aesthetic evaluations of artworks, and the ‘cognitivist debate’, concerning the relationship between the cognitive and aesthetic evaluations of artworks. Although the two debates appear to concern quite different issues, I argue that the various positions in each are marked by the same types of confusions and ambiguities. In particular, they demonstrate a persistent and unjustified conflation of aesthetic and artistic value, which in turn is based on a more general failure to explicitly tackle the demarcation of aesthetic value. As such, the claims of each side are rendered ambiguous in respect of the relation that is supposed to hold between all these types of value and artistic value. These issues are discussed in light of a recent argument proposed by Matthew Kieran, to undermine, to some extent, the conceptual distinction between aesthetic, cognitive-ethical, and artistic values in our appraisal of art works. In rejecting his argument, I defend the conceptual distinction and a pluralistic conception of artistic value that allows for cognitive and ethical values to count as artistic, but not aesthetic, values.

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