Weitz and the Role of Theory in Aesthetics
In the past, the main goal of aesthetics has been to formulate a definition of art. A definition is a statement of the necessary and sufficient properties of what is being defined. This statement has to prove its purpose of giving a true or false claim about the nature, or essence of art and what characterizes it from anything else. Many theorists sustain that unless we know what art is, we cannot begin to respond to it adequately or to say why one work is better than the other. Morris Weitz, in his essay “The Role of Theory in Aesthetics” wants to plead for the rejection of this problem. He argues that a true definition of art, consisting of its necessary and sufficient properties is not possible. That a definition only closes the concept of art when in its very use, this concept demands to remain open.
To explain Weitz’s approach to aesthetics, I will first mention Wittgenstein’s approach to language found in Philosophical Investigations, given that many critics including Weitz, have explored Wittgenstein’s refusal to theorize and construct definitions of philosophical entities. In his work, Wittgenstein raises an illustrative question, What is a game? The traditional theoretical answer would be in terms of some exhaustive set of properties common to all games. To this Wittgenstein gives us a list of board games, card games, ball games, and asks if there is something common to them all. Despite the assumption that there must be something common to them or else they would not be called “games,” if we look and see weather there is something common to them all, weather there are any necessary and sufficient properties to “game” will not find it. All we may find are similarities and relationships between different games. If one asks what a game is, we usually pick out sample games and describe them. Weitz, just like Wittgenstein, points out the difference between describing and defining. He...
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