Dr. Aaron Meskin (University of Leeds, UK) & Dr. Shen-yi Liao (Kansas State University, USA) will hold a talk on “A Web-Based Investigation of Aesthetic Adjectives”.
Wednesday, December 12, 2012, 12.00 – 13.30
Sala de Videoconferencia (E211), ESIDE, Deusto University
Abstract: The nature of ordinary and expert aesthetic discourse is of central concern to philosophical aesthetics. In a series of studies, we investigate one crucial component of aesthetic discourse: the use of aesthetic adjectives, such as ‘beautiful’. The vast majority of aesthetic terms (e.g., ‘beautiful’, ‘ugly’, ‘pretty’, ‘dainty’) are gradable adjectives. That is, they admit of comparative constructions and degree modifiers such as ‘very’ and ‘extremely’. Linguist Chris Kennedy has argued that there are two distinct categories of gradable adjectives: relative gradable adjectives such as ‘tall’, ‘long’ and ‘fat’ which are context sensitive and absolute gradable adjectives such as ‘straight’, ‘bent’ and ‘full’ which “are demonstrably gradable but do not have context dependent interpretations”. Semantic data (i.e., patterns of entailment) suggest that many positive aesthetic adjectives such as ‘beautiful’ are relative gradable adjectives and, hence, context-sensitive. Our experimental results complicate this picture. Building on a paradigm developed by linguist Kristen Syrett, we tested the linguistic properties of aesthetic adjectives. We began by replicating Syrett’s experimental methods in an online setting. We then found that ‘beautiful’ functions neither like paradigmatic relative gradable adjectives nor paradigmatic absolute gradable adjectives. What explains this phenomenon? We explore various hypotheses by examining the behaviour of a range of aesthetic terms (e.g., ‘ugly’ as well as ‘beautiful’) and by using a wide range of stimuli from different domains, such as faces, artifacts, and natural objects.