Truth, Art, and Knowledge (A commentary on James O YoungÂ's Art and Knowledge)

Abstract

While much of James O. Young’s Art and Knowledge is devoted to showing how works of art might be of cognitive value, we will focus on a prior claim, defended in the first chapter of Art and Knowledge, that “art” ought to be defined such that only works with cognitive value count as artworks. We begin by noting that it is not very clear—despite the considerable attention Young devotes to the matter—just what it is for an artwork to have cognitive value. If by this claim he means only that we can learn something from a work, then the claim is trivial. We might learn from Marcel Duchamp’s Fountain, for example, that a urinal can become an artwork. But Young assumes that if Fountain is a work of art, then some works of art do not have cognitive value. So he must have a richer, narrower conception of cognitive value in mind. For the moment let us not worry what this richer, narrower conception of cognitive value is. Rather, let us just assume, along with Young, that Fountain does not have cognitive value. Why, then, is this not a counterexample to Young’s claim that “art” ought to be defined such that only works with cognitive value counts as artworks? Shouldn’t we define “art,” if we are going to define it, such that all and only works of art count as art? Why ought we adopt a definition of something which excludes from the category being defined things that, on the definer’s own grounds, are properly within that category. Surely, for any definiendum the definiens ought to pick out all and only those things that have the necessary and sufficient properties for being labeled by the definiendum.

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Sheldon Wein
Saint Mary's University

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