Towards an Experimental Philosophy of Aesthetics

Swiss Centre for Affective Sciences

The Cogito Foundation



 Project leader: Dr. Florian Cova, Swiss Centre for Affective Sciences, University of Geneva

Experimental philosophy is a recent trend in philosophy that aims at enriching the philosopher's toolbox by approaching traditional philosophical questions with methods coming from cognitive sciences. Our aim here is to apply this new methodological approach to the field of aesthetics.

We will show how empirical methods can illuminate three different philosophical puzzles:

The relationship between morality and exposure to artworks: is it true, as many philosophers seem to think, that a better engagement with beauty can improve our life as moral persons? This will be investigated by testing whether prior exposure to 'moving' films and music makes people more altruistic and less selfish.

The nature of the emotion we feel for fictional characters: how can we feel emotions for characters that do not exist? A widespread approach in aesthetics answers this question by denying that we feel emotions for fictional characters: we only feel quasi-emotions. We will investigate the empirical adequacy of this answer by testing to which extent emotional reactions to a film differ in nature and intensity depending on whether participants believe it to refer to a real situation or not.

The nature of aesthetic judgment: are judgments about beauty different from mere statements of preference? Most philosophers think they are, based on the observation that people claim some sort of universal validity for their aesthetic judgments. However, some have put this observation to doubt. Our goal here will be to empirically investigate the way people conceptualize their own aesthetic judgments and engage in aesthetic disputes.

 Duration: 01/09/2014 - 31/08/2016