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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Fine discernment and the priority of the particular Johnston, Joshua James


Recent work at the intersection between ethics and aesthetics has focused on the interaction between ethical value and moral value. The philosophical work being done here arises from asking the interaction question: what is the interaction between moral and aesthetic judgment and value? Some questions are asked regarding the possible interaction between ethical de(merits) and aesthetic (de)merits; for instance, can an ethical flaw ever count as an aesthetic flaw in an artwork? While the work done here has paid off in interesting new positions and has also enlightened the long debate between the possible legitimacy of the ethical criticism of art, much of the work misses out on a more primary question. This dissertation, while at the intersection between ethics and aesthetics, will buck the interaction question in favour of the structural question: what, if any, structural features are shared between moral and aesthetic judgment? I believe there are three such structural similarities. The first is that ethical and aesthetic reasons share a common metaphysics: holism of reasons is true in both ethics and aesthetics. Ethical and aesthetic reasons are capable of changing their evaluative polarity across cases. The second similarity is that, given holism, the particular should be given priority when making appreciative moral and aesthetic judgments. Our appreciative judgments should be informed by the particulars of the case before us. Third, moral and aesthetic emotionism is true: ethical and aesthetic concepts are essentially related to the emotions. Given these three structural similarities, this dissertation argues that the skill of fine discernment is required in order to make appreciative judgments. Fine discernment makes good on the demand that the priority of the particular requires: in order to apprehend the evaluative property of the ethical situation or aesthetic object, we must discriminate and unify the discrete particulars into a coherent whole.

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