PHL 317K 1 Fall 2017 Overview of Weeks 1 5

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1 PHL 317K 1 Fall 2017 Overview of Weeks 1 5 We officially started the class by discussing the fact/opinion distinction and reviewing some important philosophical tools. A critical look at the fact/opinion distinction was worthwhile, because it is sometimes tempting to react to philosophical positions like the Dude: Yeah, well, you know, that s just, like, your opinion, man. We saw why this temptation should be resisted, however. It rests on the mistaken assumption that facts are opposed to opinions. There is no such opposition. For if facts are worldly states of affairs, and opinions are in essence beliefs or judgments, then opinions can be factual insofar as they accord with the facts. Instead, facts are opposed to falsehoods, while mere opinions are opposed to considered judgments. In doing philosophy, our aim is to determine whether certain statements accord with the facts and whether certain positions can be justified. We shouldn t be particularly interested in who holds this or that opinion. The important (and interesting!) question is always whether an opinion ought to be held, whether or not anyone in fact holds it. 1 To this end, we learned to distinguish two different kinds of attempts to persuade namely, rhetoric and argument. While rhetoric is the attempt to persuade solely through the power of words, argument is the attempt to persuade by giving reasons, which are meant to support or justify a conclusion. Since philosophers are often interested in whether certain positions are sufficiently supported that is, whether there are good arguments for those positions three tasks are central to philosophy: identifying, reconstructing, and evaluating arguments. Oftentimes, in reconstructing a given argument, it is beneficial to put the argument into standard form by concisely listing out and numbering the premises and conclusion of that argument. This makes it both convenient to refer back to those premises and easier to see how those premises are supposed to support the conclusion. Once an argument has been properly reconstructed, there are only two ways to evaluate it: point to some flaw in the reasoning or provide reasons for rejecting (or accepting) the premises. As a result, whenever you encounter an argument whether philosophical, political, everyday, whatever you should immediately ask yourself whether the reasoning it employs is any good and why its premises should be accepted. We also distinguished two different kinds of argument: deductive and inductive. A deductive argument is a valid argument: simply put, it is logically impossible for its premises to be true and its conclusion false. 2 As a result, if you use only valid arguments in your reasoning, then if you start with true premises, you will never end up with a false conclusion. (If the premises of a valid argument are in fact true, then the argument is sound.) An inductive argument, by contrast, is logically invalid, but its premises nonetheless provide at least some support for its conclusion. Since inductive support comes in degrees, we can distinguish weak inductive arguments from strong inductive arguments. While the premises of a strong inductive argument do not logically guarantee the truth of its conclusion, they still make it rational for us to be confident in the truth of that conclusion. (If an inductive argument is strong and its premises are all true, then it is cogent.) Unlike deductive arguments, inductive arguments are defeasible in that their status (strength or weakness) can change (increase or decrease) with new information. Common 1 That is one reason why philosophers sometimes give arguments for (sometimes unsettling) positions that they do not themselves hold. 2 If you take an introductory logic course, you should expect to learn (among other things) the syntax and semantics of a formal language and how to precisely define (and test for) validity on that basis.

2 2 inductive arguments include argument from statistics, argument by analogy, and inference to the explanation. 3 Outside of mathematics, most arguments are either inductive or contain at least one premise that is meant to be inductively supported. That is why in the sciences and philosophy, the most we can usually hope for is a high level of confidence not certainty. Perhaps the most confusing distinction we ve added to our philosophical toolkit is that between necessary and sufficient conditions. 4 A necessary condition for counting as a kind of thing or phenomenon F is a condition that something must satisfy in order to count as an F, whereas a sufficient condition for counting as an F is a condition the satisfying of which absolutely guarantees counting as an F. The set of jointly necessary and sufficient conditions for counting as an F is the set of conditions such that (a) satisfying those conditions absolutely guarantees counting as an F and (b) it is impossible to count as an F without meeting all of those conditions. Having four equal straight sides is a necessary condition for a plane figure to count as a square, for example, and having four equal straight sides and four right angles is both a necessary and sufficient condition for a plane figure to count as a square. Why is this distinction so important? First, philosophers are often interested in the real definitions of important phenomena, such as free will, consciousness, and art, and putative definitions of these phenomena can be clearly modeled and evaluated 5 as proposed sets of necessary and sufficient conditions. Second, since conditionals ( if, then statements) correspond to necessary and sufficient conditions, statements of necessary and sufficient conditions often figure as premises in arguments. Thus, it is necessary (no pun intended!) to have a proper grasp of the distinction in order to effectively carry out certain philosophical investigations. We saw all of these tools in action as early as Carroll s (2008) chapter, Film as Art. There, Carroll considers a number of skeptical arguments for the conclusion that film cannot be art. He does so by first putting the skeptic s master argument 6 into standard form and then proceeding to discuss the arguments for each of its premises, including an argument by analogy that reaches a conclusion about photography by comparing photographs to mirrors. Carroll points out that the skeptic assumes (among other things) that it is a necessary condition for something to be art that it express thought. Carroll grants this assumption for the sake of argument and then provides reasons for thinking that film can meet it. In the end, he shows how the everyday opinion that film can be art can be sufficiently supported to rise to the level of a considered judgment. 7 In the process, Carroll situates the debate within a particular historical context. One lesson we can learn from this context is that certain revolutions in this case, an artistic revolution can call into 3 Inference to the best explanation is sometimes classified under the heading of abductive reasoning. See the following article for more information: 4 Of course, most of us already have an intuitive grasp of the distinction, even if we struggle to articulate it with any precision. Fortunately, everyone eventually has that moment when it all suddenly clicks. That moment comes sooner for some than for others; so don t feel bad if you re still struggling with it as with most things, it takes practice. 5 We might, for example, produce a counterexample to the proposal: something that clearly counts as an F but doesn t meet the condition, or something that meets the condition but clearly doesn t count as an F. 6 The master argument for a given position is the main (and often simplest) argument for that conclusion. The subsidiary or intermediate arguments for a given conclusion are meant to indirectly support that conclusion by directly supporting the premises of the master argument for that conclusion. It is sometimes difficult to determine what role a given argument is playing within a larger work or debate. A good writer or debater, however, will strive to make clear what role a given argument is playing within his or her larger work or verbal presentation. 7 Many of us would also be happy to say that this opinion accords with a fact: namely, the fact that film can be art. But prior to this course, how many of us have stopped to ask why we take that opinion to accord with a fact?

3 3 question a philosophical consensus. Arguably, this is a central theme of the first unit of the course. We saw this theme again when discussing formalism, which we considered as an answer to the general question of why anything (a film, painting, whatever) is art. Representational, 8 expression, and formalist theories of art can all be viewed as reactions to certain artistic revolutions. Formalism, for example, rose to popularity at a time when artists were moving away from representing reality or expressing emotion to producing sounds and images to be admired for their own sake. Nonetheless, formalism is well supported. A formalist theory explains certain aspects of our thought and discourse about art, and the common denominator argument is formidable. If formalism is true, however, it has interesting implications for the medium of film: if story falls on the content side of the form/content distinction, then the story of any art film is always strictly irrelevant to its status as art. So, the next time you encounter a cinematic masterpiece, you might ask yourself why you think that it is a masterpiece and whether formalism can make sense of it. 9 Unfortunately, for the sake of time, we left a number of interesting questions unexplored. What, exactly, is the distinction between form and content? Or is that distinction just incoherent? Why should we think that formalist definitions of art have bearing on the formalist theses that (i) the aesthetic features of a work are wholly determined by the formal features of that work and (ii) works of art are valuable in virtue of having formal features? Even if formalist definitions of art fail, should we still accept (i) or (ii)? Why or why not? Keep in mind that theses (i) and (ii) have bearing on formalist definitions of art, because formalism tends to come as a packaged deal; so if either (i) or (ii) is false, that s going to undercut at least some of the appeal of the formalist definitions. That is one way in which formalism connects up with Walton s (1970) article, Categories of Art. After all, the formalist thesis (i) entails Walton s target: the claim that [c]ircumstances connected with a work s origin... have no essential bearing on an assessment of its aesthetic nature for example, who created the work, how, and when; the artist s intentions and expectations concerning it, his philosophical views, psychological state, and love life; the artistic traditions and intellectual atmosphere of his society (334). Walton rejects the former claim and instead maintains that aesthetic judgments rest on [facts about the origins of works of art] in an absolutely fundamental way (337). Walton argues for this conclusion in roughly two stages. In the first stage, Walton attempts to establish the psychological thesis that a person s disposition to make aesthetic judgments about a given work depends on which category that person perceives the work as belonging to or more specifically, which features are standard, variable, or contra-standard for that person. According to Walton, just as we can see the duck-rabbit as a rabbit and on that basis judge its subject to be long-eared, so also can we see a work as a 8 Remember the skeptic s claim that something counts as art only if it express thought? Though I called this minimal expressivism during my lectures on Film as Art, it is closely tied to what I called neorepresentationalism during my lectures on formalism. (I should have been clearer in my choice of terminology.) 9 If you consider certain formally uninteresting films to be works of art because they tell great stories, the formalist can adopt what we might call an error theory to explain your intuition away: those films merely preserve dramatic art, but they aren t works of art themselves. We first encountered this kind of alternative explanation in the Film as Art chapter.

4 4 painting as opposed to, say, a guernica (Walton s hypothetical example of an unfamiliar artistic medium) and on that basis judge it to be dynamic. Similarly, if you are sufficiently familiar with the genre of extreme metal to perceive a song as an instance of extreme metal, then you may be inclined to judge that song as serene or meditative. That is because features involving distorted guitars and shrieking vocals are standard for you that is, you hear the song as belonging to a category for which such features are standard and so you hear through those features to those features that are variable for you, say, melody and rhythm. By contrast, if you are not sufficiently familiar with that genre, you may focus your attention almost exclusively on the distortion and atonal vocals to the neglect of the melodies and rhythm; from such a perspective, the piece may strike you as aggressive or chaotic. If Walton s psychological thesis is correct, what do we say about the aesthetic judgments themselves? For example, if one person judges Picasso s Guernica to be dynamic (on the basis of seeing it as a painting), while someone else judges it to be lifeless or serene (on the basis of seeing it as a guernica), then which is it dynamic or not? One option is to treat aesthetic predicates (like dynamic ) as we treat the predicate tall. The predicate tall appears to be a one-place predicate, but attributions of tallness really have the logical form of relationality. That is, when we say that x is tall, what we really mean is that x is tall for some (contextually determined) group C. As a result, if I say that LeBron is short, while you insist that LeBron is tall, and we discover that I am talking about shortness-for-a-basketball-player, while you are talking about tallness-for-an-average-man, our disagreement will completely dissolve. Many aesthetic disagreements appear to differ in that respect. We are not inclined to say that Guernica is simply dynamic-as-a-painting and lifeless-as-a-guernica so that there s nothing more to argue about. Rather, we are inclined to say that someone who judges Picasso s Guernica to be lifeless (on the basis of seeing it as a guernica) is simply mistaken. Such an individual simply fails to see Picasso s Guernica in the correct way namely, as a painting. This, however, raises a pressing question: what, exactly, determines whether someone sees a work in a correct way? At this point, the philosophical stage of the argument, I interpret Walton as putting forward an inference to the best explanation. It can t be a shear coincidence that individuals who see Picasso s Guernica as a painting in fact see it in the correct way. This fact cries out for explanation. We want to know what constitutively determines (or makes it the case) that it is correct to see Guernica as a painting. Unfortunately, when addressing this question, Walton appears to sometimes confuse epistemic considerations with metaphysical ones. For example, he claims that one consideration that count[s] toward its being correct to perceive a work, W, in a given category, C... is [t]h fact, if it is one, that W is better, or more interesting or pleasing aesthetically, or more worth experiencing when perceived in C than it is when perceived in alternative ways (357). However, while it may be plausible to think that such a putative fact is evidence for thinking that it is correct to perceive W in C, should we really think that such a putative fact ever makes it the case that it is correct to perceive W in C? Walton is not careful to distinguish these two different claims.

5 5 In any case, Walton does seem to think that the explanation for why someone correctly perceives a work as belonging to a certain category is often historical. What makes it the case that someone who perceives Picasso s Guernica as a painting perceives it correctly? Because Picasso intended Guernica to be a painting and his audience was happy to view it as such. Walton also tells us: [T]he relevant historical facts are not merely useful aids to aesthetic judgment; they do not simply provide hints concerning what might be found in the work. Rather they help to determine what aesthetic properties a work has; they, together with the work's nonaesthetic features, make it coherent, serene, or whatever. (364) In other words, in many cases, historical considerations are not simply pieces of evidence for thinking that it is correct to perceive a work in a certain way; they constitutively determine (at least in part) that it is correct to perceive a work in that way. And if the fact that it is correct to perceive a work in a certain way constitutively determines (at least in part) that a work has certain aesthetic properties, then historical considerations also constitutively determine (at least in part) that a work has those aesthetic properties. Putting it all together, we end up with something like the following picture: This picture tells us that the judgment that Guernica is dynamic is true if and only if it is dynamic. That shouldn t be all that controversial. To bring things back to the fact/opinion distinction, we might put the point like this: the judgment is factual if and only if it accords with a fact. In this case, the putative fact involves the possession of a particular property namely, the property of being dynamic by the work. 10 The blue lines here represent constitutive determination: historical considerations make it the case that Guernica is correctly perceived as a painting, the non-aesthetic features of the work make it the case that it has certain formal 10 Thus, we might represent the putative fact as an ordered pair: < Guernica, being dynamic>.

6 6 features, and the fact that the work is correctly perceived as a painting and the fact that the work has certain formal features together make it the case that it is dynamic (and thus that the judgment is correct). 11 Since constitutive determination is transitive, we can infer that historical considerations partly determine the fact that Guernica is dynamic. The formalist can t accept the above picture. Instead, the formalist is committed to something like the following: In other words, for the formalist, the fact (if it is one) that Guernica is dynamic is wholly determined by the fact that it has certain formal features features of the work that are in turn wholly determined by its non-aesthetic perceptual features. Historical considerations do not even partly determine the aesthetic features of the work. If Walton s philosophical thesis is correct, it has a number of interesting implications. First, as we have seen, it entails the falsity of the formalist thesis that the aesthetic features of a work are wholly determined by the formal features of that work. 12 Second, it implies that art appreciation and criticism should not focus on works of art in isolation but rather as belonging to certain categories. Otherwise, there is a risk of incorrectly perceiving certain works and forming mistaken aesthetic judgments on that basis. There is much we could call into question here. For one, how far-reaching should we take Walton s psychological thesis to really be? It is also worth considering how a formalist should respond to Walton s overall argument. For example, if Walton really does confuses epistemic considerations with metaphysical ones, does that undermine the overall point he s trying to make? While we won t have time to fully explore these questions in class, I encourage you to think about them on your own. You might just get a paper out of it! 11 Alternatively, Walton might claim that the formal features of Guernica play absolutely no role in determining the fact that it is dynamic. 12 What about the thesis that works of art are valuable in virtue of having formal features? Or what about the formalist definitions of art? Can we adapt Walton s arguments to directly refute those claims?

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