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1 The Glass is Half Empty: A New Argument for Pessimism about Aesthetic Testimony The definitive version of this article is to be appear in the British Journal of Aesthetics ( ). Please refer to the published version. Abstract Call the view that it is possible to acquire aesthetic knowledge via testimony, optimism, and its denial, pessimism. In this paper, I offer a novel argument for pessimism. It works by turning attention away from the basis of the relevant belief, namely, testimony, and toward what that belief in turn provides a basis for, namely, other attitudes. In short, I argue that an aesthetic belief acquired via testimony cannot provide a rational basis for further attitudes, such as admiration, and that the best explanation for this is that the relevant belief is not itself rational. If a belief is not rational, it is not knowledge. So, optimism is false. After addressing a number of objections to the argument, I consider briefly its bearing on the debate concerning thick evaluative concepts. While the aim to argue that pessimism holds, not to explain why it holds, I provide an indication in closing of what that explanation might be. 1 Introduction As I leave work, I meet someone entering the building. She tells me that it is raining. In response, I form the belief that it is raining. In this way, on the basis of testimony , I come to know that it is raining. The next day, as I leave work, I meet the same person. She tells me that Hockney’s recent portraits are lifeless. In response , I form the belief that Hockney’s recent portraits are lifeless. In this way, on the basis of testimony, might I come to know that the portraits are lifeless? It is clear that testimony can provide knowledge in cases like the
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2 first, but can it do so in cases like the second? More generally, is testimony a source of aesthetic knowledge? Call the view that one can acquire aesthetic knowledge via testimony, optimism , and its denial, pessimism . 1 As Robson says , ‘pessimism is more often assumed than argued for’ . 2 1 This terminology is due to Robert Hopkins, ‘How to Be a Pessimist about Aesthetic Testimony’, Journal of Philosophy 108 (2011), 138-157. Hopkins draws a further distinction between unavailability pessimism according to which aesthetic testimony does not make available (is not a source of) aesthetic knowledge and unusability pessimism according to which aesthetic testimony does make available aesthetic knowledge although it is improper to form a belief on its basis. Importantly, the norm according to which the relevant belief is improper is aesthetic rather than epistemic , and so its violation is not knowledge-undermining. For optimism , see Malcolm Budd, ‘The Acquaintance Principle’, BJA 43 (2003), 386-392; Aaron Meskin, ‘Aesthetic Testimony’, Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 69 (2004), 65-91; Nick Zangwill, ‘Two Dogmas of Kantian Aesthetics’, in Richard Woodfield (ed), Proceedings of the 11th International Congress in Aesthetics (Nottingham: Nottingham Polytechnic Press, 1990), 1-12.
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