The Dennes Room

Event Detail

Thu Nov 15, 2018
Howison Library, 4–6 PM
Graduate Research Colloquium
Erica Klempner (UC Berkeley)
Aesthetic Belief, Firsthand Experience, and Uncancelable Conversational Implicature

Judgments about beauty and art are in some way personal. If you tell me that the Taj Mahal is beautiful or that Middlemarch is a great novel, it may seem strange for me simply to adopt your view, even if I have a lot of confidence in your judgment. Relatedly, simple assertions about aesthetic matters typically suggest that the speaker does in fact have firsthand experience of the item at issue. If I say, “The Taj Mahal is beautiful,” you would be surprised to learn that I have never seen it. The simplest attempt to explain these phenomena flows from belief to assertion: if secondhand aesthetic beliefs are somehow illegitimate, that would explain why aesthetic assertions must express firsthand beliefs. Yet there are no compelling reasons to think that secondhand aesthetic beliefs are always illegitimate. I argue that the actual explanation flows from belief to assertion and back again. The special features of aesthetic belief generate conversational implicatures for aesthetic assertions indicating that the speaker has firsthand experience of the item at issue. The general outline of this pattern can in fact be seen not just in the aesthetic domain but for matters of personal taste and a slew of other cases. For aesthetic matters, the implicatures are uncancelable, and this makes it appear, in turn, that aesthetic beliefs must be acquired firsthand. This is, however, only an appearance: we often acquire aesthetic beliefs through the testimony of others. When we do, we need to choose language to express them that does not carry misleading information about their source.