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Virtual Summer Aesthetics Festival: Aesthetic Value as the Highest Good

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Aesthetic Value as the Highest Good: The Very Idea(s)

Thursday 11 August 2022: 10am PDT (6pm BST)

Presenters: Nick Riggle (USD) & Clinton Tolley (UCSD)


In this talk we explore the idea of what we call ‘aesthetic suprematism’: the idea that aesthetic
value has a kind of priority among values or goods — namely, that it is the highest good. Versions of this kind of position have been associated with Plato, various Christian mystics, Schelling, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, Wilde, and Vasconcelos, among others. Our goal here is to try to articulate the basic thought underlying aesthetic suprematism, and to then disentangle various ways of articulating an aesthetic suprematism, and to see how these aesthetic suprematisms compare to what are perhaps more familiar (non-aesthetic) value suprematisms. After a quick sketch of the basic idea of aesthetic suprematism and some of its motivations (§2), we try to outline the more general idea of value suprematism, and also differentiate several senses in which a value can be claimed to be the ‘highest’ (illustrating these ideas through some of its non-aesthetic instantiations) (§3). We then bring this broader framework to bear on a more careful analysis of aesthetic suprematism itself, in order to illuminate how the claim that aesthetic value is the ‘highest’ can be seen likewise to come in these various grades (§4); here we also sketch some of the
arguments or at least motivations that might be taken to support embracing each of the various grades. In conclusion, we will take up some worries that will likely have arisen along the way, and signal some key issues that remain to be discussed (§5). Our overarching hope is to lay some of the groundwork for making aesthetic suprematism both a serious and sophisticated contender in contemporary value theory (in general debates about meaning and value), and also a central topic for people working in aesthetics – who (we hope) would be especially interested in the possibility that aesthetic value reigns supreme.

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