How to be a pluralist about art

Christy Mag Uidhir and I coauthored a paper on art concept pluralism. It's now forthcoming in Metaphilosophy. Although their backlog of papers means that it won't be in print for over a year, I have posted a preprint.

Link: Art Concept Pluralism

Wed 02 Dec 2009 06:05 PM


from: Alex

Dear Professor Magnus,

I liked your paper. However, I have some worries concerning art concept pluralism. Suppose that we have three different concepts of 'art': A1, A2, and A3 - that cover all existing artworks. After some time, such artwoks X appear that do not enter into the extensions of A1, A2, and A3. Now we can either (1) change A1, A2, and A3 to include X in, at least, one of their extensions or (2) create a new concept of 'art'. Let us assume that we can not do (1). Then we are left with (2). We create a new concept A4 that covers X and add this concept to the group of A1, A2, and A3. Is it true that, according to art concept pluralism, not only any object may be called 'art', but each of these callings may be substantiated by any concept that covers this object? If it is, then I think the word 'art' becomes meaningless.

Fri 25 Dec 2009 02:25 PM

from: Administrator (P.D. Magnus)

Alex: Any legitimate art concept must do work in some other art related enquiry. So there are two possibilities for your imagined problem case X. If some enquiry (such as art criticism or art history) must reckon with it, then they must employ some art concept that can make sense of it. The pluralist need only defend the concepts that are actually fruitfully employed in enquiry. If (alternately) none of these enquiries need to deal with X, then we can simply deny that X is a work of art. 'Art' remains meaningful in either case.

Fri 25 Dec 2009 08:57 PM

from: Alex

Dear Professor Magnus,

Thank you for your answer. I agree with what you say. But I have another worry. It seems as though the project of art concept pluralism may be successfull even if none of the definitions manages to explain the fact of calling something 'art.' I see no reasons why a pluralist can not create such definitions of art that cope well with the task of specifying all artworks, but do not give any answer why these artworks have been called 'art.' Meanwhile, what philosophers (like Levinson, Beardsley, or Dickie) want to get is an answer to the question why an object is called 'art' and not definitions that only unite objects generally called 'art.'

Sat 26 Dec 2009 05:50 AM

from: Administrator (P.D. Magnus)

Alex: I am more interested in the methodological question of what categories we ought to have than I am in the semantic question of what our preexisting terms mean. Nevertheless, eliminating the term 'art' in favor of more precise ART concepts would have the odd consequence that all prior discourse using the term was empty. I'd say that 'art' is typically underspecified and so the discourse was muddled - but not that it was meaningless.

As an aside: I don't insist on 'professor' even in formal settings. But this is just my blog, and you can call me P.D.

Sat 26 Dec 2009 10:06 AM