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Doing Aesthetics with Eyes Shut: On Thought Experiments in Aesthetics, Acquaintance, and Quasi-observation

Mikael Pettersson
Lingnan University, Hong Kong

Thought experiments in science and philosophy pose an epistemic puzzle: how can a merely imagined scenario yield knowledge? In the talk, I have a look at a special version of this puzzle that some thought experiments in aesthetics give rise to. Many thought experiments in aesthetics—e.g. Walton’s guernica-experiment, or Danto’s imagined eight-hour long film of the title page of Tolstoy’s War and Peace—involve making judgements regarding the aesthetic properties of merely imagined works of art. But according to a widely accepted principle in aesthetics, one has to be acquainted with a work—seen it, heard it, and so on—in order to be able to judge its aesthetic qualities. But no one has ever seen Danto’s merely imagined film of Tolstoy’s book. So how are we (if we are) in a position to judge its aesthetic properties?