Report on the BSA Connections Grant for the ‘Aesthetic Emotions’ Conference
Senate House, London August 22-23, 2017
The primary aim of this conference was to explore and foster important but under-researched connections between emotional experience and aesthetic experience by drawing together an international group of philosophers and psychologists working on issues in aesthetics and emotion research. As a starting point we suggested certain guiding themes for discussion. These were: 1. Comparison of Emotional and Aesthetic Experiences; 2. The Rationality of Our Emotional Responses to Aesthetic Objects; 3. Sentimentalist Value and Aesthetic Value; 4. The Role Of Imagination in Emotion and Aesthetic Engagement; 5. Methodological Issues
Within the scope of the second theme, Carolyn Price’s (Open University) talk ‘Emotions In Balance: Countering Emotion’s Distorting Power’, examined the ways in which emotions can be epistemically distorting, and offered a potential solution for some cases which involved balancing competing emotional perspectives. Michael Brady (University of Glasgow) also touched on the epistemic role of our emotional engagements in aesthetic contexts in his talk ‘Aesthetic Emotions and Aesthetic Wisdom’. Covering issues in themes 1 and 2, he defended the notion of aesthetic wisdom by drawing an analogy with non-aesthetic cases, in which wisdom essentially depended on certain negative emotional experiences. Fabrice Teroni (University of Geneva) too, in his talk ‘Emotions, Fiction and Rationality’, approached the epistemic role of emotions in our engagement with fiction, but in a wide-ranging talk covered issues from all of our suggested themes. In particular, drawing on fitting-attitude analyses of value, he raised an important distinction concerning how we should think of the justification for emotions for fictional and non-fictional entities.

Touching on issues within themes 1 and 4, Jenefer Robinson (University of Cincinatti), gave a talk entitled ‘Aesthetic Emotions and Garden Variety Emotions: The Case of Literature’, in which she argued against the idea that our engagement with literary works involved anything more than everyday ‘garden variety’ emotions. Derek Matravers (Open University) explored similar issues in his talk ‘Are Readers Empathetic?’, in which he argued against the idea that empathy with fictional characters was necessary for engaging with literary works. The role of empathy in fictional engagement was also was also a key topic for Amy Coplan (California State University) in her talk ‘Bottom-Up and Outside-In: Automatic Affect and Film’, in which she defended the role of bottom-up affect in our emotional engagement with film. Finally, touching on fundamental issues across themes 1 and 5, Agnes Moors (Catholic University Leuven) and Tom Cochrane (Sheffield University) explored the very notion and nature of the purported class of aesthetic emotions. In her talk ‘Aesthetic Emotions Through the Goggles of Dual Process Models of Action’ Moors proposed a new model of understanding such a class through the dual-process framework familiar from psychological accounts of emotion, while in his talk ‘Do Aesthetic Emotions Exist?’, Cochrane argued that there is no distinct class of such emotions.

We were very happy that all the speakers managed to address one or more of our main themes and that there was very good audience participation. Indeed, the turnout for both days was very good, approximately 50 (out of 73 registered participants). We also feel that the relaxed format – allowing speakers flexible time periods for their presentations with a minimum of 30 minutes discussion time – worked very well. As such, and from informal feedback we received, the conference seemed to be a great success and has already borne fruit in ideas about future research projects with some of the speakers and with the Institute of Philosophy.

Alex Grzankowski and Cain Todd