Professor Goodman on the Aesthetic

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Professor Goodman on the Aesthetic

Morris Weitz The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, Vol. 29, No. 4. (Summer, 1971), pp. 485-487. Stable URL: http

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Professor Goodman on the Aesthetic Morris Weitz The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, Vol. 29, No. 4. (Summer, 1971), pp. 485-487. Stable URL: The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism is currently published by The American Society for Aesthetics.

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Professor Goodman on the Aesthetic

bolism, and that aesthetic experience is uninot been friends. Instead their relationship vocal and unique-in each instance illumihas been one of mutual suspicion or con- nating the logical details of the issue and tempt, sometimes even open warfare. One presenting his findings in a prose style but only one among the many dichotomies which in its lean, taut precision is itself an that Goodman destroys in his new book is aesthetic delight. Basic, of course, in Languages of Art is this traditional antipathy between logic and aesthetics. He sees, as all of us must come to Goodman's theory of notation. A notational recognize, that many, perhaps the most fun- system, he argues, consists of a notational damental, problems of aesthetics are logical scheme and its correlated field of reference and, more originally, that at least some of -its compliance class. He states five condithe yet unexplored areas of logic are hidden tions as necessary and sufficient for a notaaway in the fields of aesthetics. That he tional system. First, the notational scheme cons.trues this intimate relationship be- must contain certain characters, i.e., classes tween logic and aesthetics in formalistic of utterances, inscriptions or marks, each of and mathematically logical terms or that he which is character-indifferent or, more preutilizes logic to capture the linguistic na- cisely, disjoint. For example, a mark that ture of art-though of singular importance looks like both a small "a" and a small "d" -is not as significant in the present devel- does not guarantee syntactic equivalence, opment of aesthetics as the striking fact hence is not disjoint and cannot serve in a that he forges this link between logic and notational scheme. Second, the characters, finite or not, must aesthetics. When one of the great logicians of our age offers such tribute to aesthetics be finitely differentiated or articulate. A we are bound in gratitude to hear what he syntactically dense notational scheme, in which between any two characters there is a has to say. In chapter after chapter, on topic after third, is not finitely differentiated; nor is topic, Goodman turns his perceptive eye to there such differentiation when determination of a single mark in a particular class is many of the current clichCs in aestheticsthat artistic representation is imitation, theoretically impossible. Disjointness and that imitation is resemblance. that artistic articulateness are satisfied by familiar alexpression is denotation, that forgery is phabetical, numerical and, most impornonaesthetic, that art is presentational sym- tantly for aesthetics, by musical notations where they function as requisite conditions for a musical score. MORRIS WEITZ is professor

of philosophy at Brandeis University. He is the author of Hamlet and the Third, the notational system must be unPhilosophy of Literary Criticism (1964) as well as ambiguous. This is a semantic requirement Philosophy in Literature (1963). Read at the Symposium, "The Languages of Art," of the invariant compliance relationship be27th Annual Meeting, The American Society for tween a scheme and the class to which it Aesthetics, University of Virginia, 1969. applies. Two further semantic requireHISTORICALLY logic and aesthetics have


ments, that the compliance classes must be Painting, with or without preliminary disjoint and that they must be finitely dif- sketches that have been compared erroferentiated, parallel but do not follow from neously with scores, is neither syntactically the syntactic requirements. nor semantically notational. Literature, reGoodman formulates these requirements lated to script as music is to score, even of a notational system with great care and with script satisfying the syntactical reskill, as he compares them to the prohibi- quirements, is not a notational system eitive role of a building code, and then ther because-and here it differs notationargues consummatively that they serve not ally from both music and painting-a literto distinguish good from bad notational sys- ary work "is not the compliance-class of a tems, but notational from non-notational text but the text or script itself" (p. 209). systems. "A system is notational, then, if Works of art, thus, are differently localized: and only if all objects complying with in- "In painting, the work is an individual obscriptions of a given character belong to the ject; and in etching a class of objects. In same compliance class and we can, theoreti- music, the work is a class of performances cally, determine that each mark belongs to, compliant with a character. I n literature, and each object complies with inscription the work is the character itself" (p. 210). What, now, have all these notational conof, at most one particular character" (p. siderations to do with aesthetics? Are they 156). Art, science, and modes of experience in relevant or merely an interesting side show general can now be analyzed, compared, for philosophy of language? Here, I think, and contrasted as symbolic systems and as we reach the crucial question for those of us thev adhere to or deviate from a notational who are concerned with aesthetics. Whv aestheticians-read and system. One of the interesting results that should we-as Goodman obtains from this particular in- study Goodman's book? First, let us look at Goodman's answer. quiry is that as symbolic systems or languages, some of the arts are more like some Philosophers, critics, artists, and psycholoof the sciences than the arts or sciences are gists, he begins, have failed miserably to delike each other. Another clichC is exorcised: fine the domain of the aesthetic and to disart and science are not radically distinct. tinguish the aesthetic from the nonaesthGoodman's main concern, however, is the etic. About this, Goodman is woefully right. language or languages of art. Interpreted as There are no established definitive propersymbolic systems, his focal question be- ties of the aesthetic; nor need there be, he comes: How do the various arts satisfy or adds, in order to secure a characterization deviate from the requirements of a nota- of the aesthetic. Rather than definitive or criteria of the aesthetic, there tional system? That is, if art is a language, -properties what kind of language is it? Answers such are what he calls aspects or symptoms. as that art is the language of presentational Among these are the symbolic elements of symbolism or that art is iconic sign-func- syntactic density, semantic density, and syntioning are ruled out as simplistic. Rather tactic re~leteness,each definable in terms of the answer, according to Goodman, is that syntactid and semantic disjointness and difthe arts constitute different kinds of lan- ferentiation. "Syntactic density is characterguages, of symbolic systems, each of which istic of nonlinguistic systems, and is one feacan be best illuminated by comparison to ture distinguishing sketches from scores and and contrast with a notational system. scripts; semantic density is characteristic of Thus, music is score and compliance per- representation, description, and expression formance. However, even though most char- in the arts, and is one feature differentiatacters of a musical score are syntactically ing sketches and scripts from scores; and disjoint and differentiated, music, Good- relative syntactic repleteness distinguishes man says, is not a notational system because the more representational among semantiit is semantically non-disjoint and non-dif- cally dense systems from the more ferentiated in, among other things, its diagrammatic.. . . All three features call for tempi, continuo, and specific notations. maximum sensitivity of discrimination" (p.

Professor Goodman on the Aesthetic

252). T h e fourth symptom of the aesthetic is exemplificationality, i.e., the expressive properties of works of art. None of these aspects or symptoms, Goodman admits, is severally necessary or even sufficient for aesthetic experience. Nevertheless-and this is Goodman's culminating thesis about the role of the notational in the understanding of the arts-these four symptoms may be conjunctively sufficient and disjunctively necessary: "perhaps, that is, an experience is aesthetic if it has all these attributes and only if it has at least one of them" (p. 254). "Perhaps" seems out of place here, since the whole relevance of Goodman's book to aesthetics must rest on a less tentative assertion. For if he is merely recommending or stipulating that we accept density, repleteness, and exemplificationality as earmarks of the aesthetic, and articulateness, attenuation, and denotationality as earmarks of the nonaesthetic, his assertion that his painstaking analysis of the linguistic in art is fundamental in the understanding of art assumes the same arbitrary status as the traditional theories of the aesthetic that he so correctly rejects. All of them, including his, become more or less persuasive definitions. Construed in its strongest sense, Goodman's central claim about the aesthetic. then, comes to this: Any adequate response to the arts must attend to all of their salient features and because among these fundamental, controlling features are density, repleteness, and exemplificationality, sensitivity to them and intelligent apprehension of them are as essential to the aesthetic as anything else. In effect, then, Goodman, like traditional philosophers of art, demands that we attend to certain neglected features of art, much, for example, as Bell and Fry did in their promotion of Formalism, but

without converting these neglected features into a putatively real definition of art. Now, if there are necessary and sufficient conditions of the aesthetic and if, as the tradition has assumed, these are defined at least in great part by the necessary and sufficient properties of art, then Goodman's brief is as cogent as any other aesthetic theory. But we must still ask, as a more fundamental question, Are there such properties of art and, even if there are, must they dictate and limit the range of proper response? That is, even if the symbolic properties of density, repleteness, and exemplificationality are constituent properties of art-and it seems to me that Goodman has given a brilliant defense that they are-why should they and their related syntactical and semantical symptoms be conjunctively sufficient and disjunctively necessary? It is just at this culminating stage of Goodman's whole argument for the relation between the notational and the aesthetic that the argument becomes vulnerable for it assumes, what the entire historical debate about the aesthetic and its range of disagreement deny, that there are or can be any individual or collective necessary or sufficient properties of the aesthetic. T h e concept of the aesthetic, like the concept of art, as its history reveals, is an open, not a closed, concept, subject to perennial debate and disagreement about what is necessary or sufficient for it. Consequently, to assert, as Goodman does, that nothing can count as an aesthetic experience if it does not involve attention either to density, repleteness, or exemplificationality, is to recommend a proper use of "the aesthetic," and not to report on a fundamental, hitherto neglected, truth about the aesthetic. Because-alas!-there is no such truth.