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Gatens, Moira, , . The Art and Philosophy of George Eliot
2009, Philosophy and Literature 33(1): 73-90.
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Abstract: Much remains to be said about Eliot as a philosopher. I argue that her novels should be understood as attempts to practice philosophy in an alternative key. Her decision to write novels rather than conventional philosophy reflects her desire to actively engage the imaginative and affective, as well as the cognitive, powers of her readers. On her view the imagination grounds our disposition to feel sympathy for our fellow human beings. It is this disposition and its potential for refinement as moral knowledge that she sought to realize in her novels. An appreciation of her philosophical commitments is necessary in order to understand her efforts to construct an immanent ground for moral life. The parts played by the imagination, reason and emotion in the attainment of moral knowledge were of prime concern to both Spinoza and Feuerbach. Each philosopher offered an account of the relations between these capacities and argued for their reformation. This reformative task is one that Eliot attempted in her novels. The radical holism of Spinoza and Feuerbach resonates throughout her work. She had a deep suspicion of dualistic philosophies that separate reason and imagination. Like Spinoza and Feuerbach, she understood these ruptures within our capacities, indeed within our very being, to derive in large part from religion, especially Christianity. The reform of our habitual ways of understanding the world must therefore begin with critical reflection on religion.

Comment: An article that explains the philosophical standpoint underlying George Eliot’s fiction and argues that her fiction and her philosophical thinking need to be regarded as a whole. Could be used in a course covering nineteenth-century philosophy, either as supplementary reading or as a primary reading perhaps paired with a piece of writing by Eliot.

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Ribeiro, Anna Christina, , . Aesthetic Attributions: The Case of Poetry
2012, Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 70 (3):293-302.
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Added by: Chris Blake-Turner, Contributed by: Christy Mag Uidhir

Abstract: Some claims about poems are uncontroversial: that a poem is composed in dactylic hexameter, as in Homer’s epics, or in iambic pentameter, as in Shakespeare’s sonnets, or in no particular traditional meter, as in most of e. e. cummings’s work; that it rhymes following an abab pattern or that it does not; that it is very long, very short, or any length in between; that it employs sophisticated diction, archaic language, or common everyday words; that its similes and metaphors are novelor clich ?e. Such claims may easily be ascertained by those able to count syllables, those able to distinguish the stressed syllables from the unstressed dones, and those familiar with the varieties of poetic meter; by those able to tell whether two or more words sound alike; by those able to distinguish different text lengths; by those able to recognize when words are of the garden-variety kind. Except for familiarity with the kinds of poetic meter, ‘those’ are most of us. We may call these ‘base,’ ‘lower level,’ or ‘structural’ properties. At another level of description, poems may be tightly knit, unified, balanced, heavy and somber, light and jolly, and so on. The attributions in this case are still descriptive, but an evaluative judgment may be embedded in them, or it may be typically taken to be embedded, or intended to be embedded, in them. That is, a positive or negative valence may sometimes accompany the judgment that a poem is unified and balanced: one may find it good or bad in virtue of those characteristics (though one may also find it good or bad regardless of those characteristics). Further, justifications of why a poem is unified, balanced, and so on are made by reference to the qualities specified at the first level of description: it is unified because all the parts fit well together in some manner. We may call these ‘aesthetic attributions’; as Jerrold Levinson puts it, here we have ‘an overall impression afforded, an impression that cannot simply be identified with the structural properties that underpin it.’ At a third level still, and in part in virtue of facts at the previous two levels, poems may be beautiful, terrific, or horrendously bad: here we have wholly evaluative attributions, or aesthetic judgments properly so-called. Note how there isan inverse proportion in informative value be-tween base properties and aesthetic judgments: base properties are informative about a work (‘is in iambic pentameter’) but not aesthetically evaluative and thus not aesthetically informative; aesthetic evaluations (‘is beautiful’) are aesthetically informative, but tell us nothing about the specific characteristics of a work. Aesthetic attributions fall in the middle also in that they may retain some of the informative value of either extreme: they may be somewhat structurally informative and some what aesthetically informative (‘unified’). If it is true that these three levels are at once distinguishable and intrinsically related, some questions one may ask are: How are they related? How is our perception of a set of words arranged in a certain cadence and with breaks visually or aurally marked related to our perceiving in the mor attributing to them a certain set of aestheticqualities? How do we go from characteristics such as ‘has lines of eighteen syllables, where a marked syllable is followed by two unmarked ones throughout’ to ‘is tightly knit’ to ‘is beautiful’? In other words, how do we move from purely descriptive attributes to aesthetic and evaluative ones? Anyone may count syllables, and most of us can more or less tell when a syllable is stressed relative to another that precedes or follows it. We may likewise be able to judge whether a metaphor is unusual or not simply by recalling whether we have heard anything like it in the past, or how unlike each other the terms of comparison are. That assessment may be accompanied by approval or disapproval; in itself it need not express either (‘That’s a novel metaphor: it is awful’ is a perfectly sensible statement). Finally, when we move to ‘beautiful’ and ‘moving,’ we are making a judgment of taste: our approval is embedded in those terms. My concern in what follows is with the move from lower-level perceptual qualities to the attribution of aesthetic qualities. I am not concerned with how we go from there to an overall aesthetic evaluation. In my proposal, I question the much discussed wisdom handed down to us by Frank Sibley. I am referring to Sibley’s famous claim, defended in ‘Aesthetic Concepts’ and related articles, that we are never, in any art form, warranted in making the (logical) jump from the description of non aesthetic properties to the ascription of aesthetic ones. In his words, Sibley claimed that ‘there are no non aesthetic features which serve in any circumstances as logically sufficient conditions for applying aesthetic terms.’ We cannot, for instance, go from ’employ[s] bright colors’ to ‘is lively and vigorous,’ the way we can go from ‘unmarried male’ to ‘bachelor’ or from ‘enclosed figure with four equal sides and four right angles’ to ‘square.’ Surely we cannot, but why should anyone have thought otherwise? Aesthetic qualities are qualities, not concepts. As an attribute, ‘graceful’ more closely resembles ‘hot’ than it does ‘square.’ There is no reason to expect a one-to-one relationship between base properties and aesthetic attributions, but there is good reason to expect that a range of properties is clearly associated with a range of attributions, just as a range of temperatures is associated with feeling cold. Sibley also claimed that no particular base property or set thereof is necessary for any given aesthetic concept to apply. This is because things may have the same aesthetic quality for different reasons: ‘one thing is graceful because of these features, another because of those, and so on almost endlessly.’ I do not question whether Sibley’s claims are defensible when it comes to vases, paintings, sculptures, or sonatas; indeed, his view is compelling as a general rule. However, it seems to me that some varieties of poetry provide, not an exception to Sibley’s rule – I am not claiming logical entailments here, nor do I think any- one could – but evidence for what may be called a ‘defeasible guarantee.’ In at least some kinds of formal poetry, there is a sense in which a description in nonaesthetic terms sometimes ought to suffice, in virtue of what we may call ‘psychoaesthetic’ associations between the perception of formal features and felt aesthetic qualities, for the attribution of an aesthetic quality. Accordingly, my first goal in what follows is to show in what way I think it is sufficient and to provide some examples in support of that connection. I hope that from this it emerges that Sibley was wrong to hold that unless their relationship is a logicoconceptual one, no base properties ever suffice to warrant the ascription of an aesthetic quality.

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Ribeiro, Anna Christina, , . Intending to repeat: A definition of poetry
2007, Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 65 (2):189-201.
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Added by: Chris Blake-Turner, Contributed by: Christy Mag Uidhir

Abstract: In light of the enormous variety of poetic traditions we find around the world and across the ages, any attempt at finding a defining feature of poetry that would encompass all and only poems would seem to be in vain. What can Stabat Mater, Beat poetry, Shakespeare’s sonnets, Goethe’s Faust, and Japanese haiku possibly have in common? At-tempts to provide positive accounts, with necessary or sufficient reasons for what counts as a poem, often meet with the counterexamples that human creativity is wont to produce. Consider these excerpts from two twentieth-century poems. Are there any commonalities between the Georgian poet Galaktion Tabidze’s ‘Without Love’ and the Mexican Octavio Paz’s ‘The Poet’? [transliterated:]usi Kvarulodmze ar sufevs ts-is kamaraze,sio ar dahqris, T-Ke ar krtebasasixarulod…El hombre es el alimento del hombre. El saber no es dis-tinto del so ?nar, el so ?nar del hacer. La poes ??a ha puestofuego a todos los poemas. Se acabaron las palabras, seacabaron las im ?agenes. Abolida la distancia entre el nom-bre y la cosa, nombrar es crear, e imaginar, hacer.1Aside from being literary texts, at first glance the similarities are hard to find. Even line breaks, a feature we typically associate with poetry, are ab-sent in Paz’s prose poem. Neither is there a rhyme scheme in it as we find in the Georgian example(abca), which also combines the rhymes with specific line lengths. The passage from Paz’s poem is filled with metaphors (‘Man is the food of man,’ ‘to name is to create’), whereas Tabidze’s has no metaphors (though there is imagery in it: ‘the sun does not shine in the heavenly spheres’). In view of such dissimilarities, even those who are most familiar with the art form have shied away from drawing strict boundaries between poetry and other types of verbal art. Thus Robert Pinsky, a former laureate poet, says he ‘will be content…to accept a social, cultural definition of poetry: poetry is what a bookstore puts in the section of that name.’2It barely needs remarking that such a definition is inappropriate on many levels; I will note only that it leads to a regress that, while not infinite, would likely land us back precisely at the doors of people like Pinsky himself, that is, poets, inasmuch as bookstores follow rather than create the categories under which they sort their books. In a recent article, Robert Pierce examined six contenders for a defining criterion of poetry: rhythm, imagery, beauty, unity, strangeness or playfulness, and ineffability of meaning.3None of these, he argues, does the job of separating poetry from other literary arts: there is no ‘essential core of meaning’ of the word ‘poetry,’ nor a ‘clearly delimited entity that is poetry’ according to Pierce.4While rhythm, imagery, and so forth may be typical features found in poems, none of them is necessary or sufficient for a text to count as one. Rather, he says: ‘What the term ‘poetry’ refers to is a group of publicly visible things in the social world that we call ‘poems.”5Hence all we can do is see what these things are and learn to use the term on the basis of how newly encountered texts resemble them. I will not review Pierce’s arguments for a family-resemblance approach to poetry here. I agree with him that none of the features he considers passes muster as a characteristic all and only poems must have. Nevertheless, even if we fail to find a feature intrinsic to poems that will set them apart from other forms of literature, we may still be able to accomplish our definitional goal on the basis of a relational feature. I will rather argue for a historically-grounded poetic intention, one that I believe will provide us with the necessary and sufficient conditions for a satisfactory definition of poetry. If my definition is right, it will in addition provide a partial explanation for what is the ubiquitous characteristic of all poetries of the world – the use of repetition devices.

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