Contemporary Aesthetic Theory Applied to Dance as a Performing Art

Dissertation, The University of Nebraska - Lincoln (1981)

The purpose of this dissertation is to sketch, within an analytical framework, a theory of dance as a performing art. This method presupposes one of the main tasks of the philosophy of dance is to clarify the logic of the aesthetic concepts of dance as a performing art. Moreover, I assume that conditions for the truth of sentences involving these words must be stated in terms of publicly observable states of affairs for their application. ;Until recently, theories of dance were of two types, viz., the Imitation Theory and Expression Theory. The former theory is traced from its Aristotelian seeds to its full flowering in the eighteenth century. The latter theory is discussed in its naive and sophisticated forms. The assumption underlying these theories, as set out by their exponents, presupposes that the concepts of imitating and expressing are closed, that is, governed by sets of necessary and sufficient criteria. This is an assumption which I have tried to undermine. ;Recent developments in analytical philosophy have made it possible to sketch a systematic account of dance as a performing art. These developments derive from the works of Ludwig Wittgenstein, Morris Weitz and Peter Achinstein in which they have argued that many of our empirical concepts are open-ended. ;In my analysis of the concept of dance, I turned to the work of Peter Achinstein, whose detailed exploration of the concepts of the social and natural sciences seemed to capture the logical structure of the concept of dance. It seems to me that many of the properties which are relevant to dancing are so only because they occur along with other, more basic properties. Achinstein explains this as a relation between descriptively relevant properties and semantically relevant properties. ;More formally, the distinction between semantic and descriptive relevance can be expressed by saying: Given that x is a candidate for an instance of dancing, a property is semantically relevant for 'x is dancing' provided that x's having that property tends to count in and of itself, to some extent, toward an x is dancing classification. On the other hand, given that x is a candidate for an instance of dancing, a property is descriptively relevant of 'x is dancing' provided that x's having that property tends to count toward an x is dancing classification solely because it occurs along with the semantic properties. ;Having devoted considerable space to working out the logical nature of the criteria governing the use of the notion of dancing, I turned, in the latter part of the dissertation, to discussing dance as a language. Until Nelson Goodman published Languages of Art, no systematic theory of dance as a language had been developed. For Goodman, dance is a language just in case it satisfies his five criteria for a notational system . The overall view which has emerged, then, is that dance is not, as some argued, a discursive language, but is a symbol system of a special sort
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