This book, now in its second edition, is not the only text one would wish to issue as a course book to undergraduate students of philosophical aesthetics, but it would be among the favourites. It is a supplementary collection of readings. You will not find excerpts from the works of Plato, Hume, Kant or Schopenhauer - the oldest readings date from 1965. This is a collection of essays that offers a disparate philosophical approach to several standard topics in aesthetics from often-oblique and surprising angles. Part one, for example, uses a discussion about cooking to explore the dryish conundrum of the definition of art.
But the book is not quirky and peripheral in its concerns, though it does lack a decent introduction. Instead, there is a preface that seemingly wishes to spike all critical guns that may be levelled at editorial selection. Although the editors refer to contemporary aesthetics, the range of topics one expects in a book on aesthetics is no more or less ill defined now than it ever was. Marginal issues come and go, but core questions prevail: the definition of art, what it takes to understand a work of art, why we value art, artists' moral responsibility, the ontology of artworks, the nature of aesthetic experience, the logical status of judgements about art, the significance of forgeries, how art is related to truth and the nature of aesthetic qualities.
The editors' biggest lapse is to omit any direct discussion of why some artworks are deemed to be better than others. This is at the heart of what most people consider to be the problems of the philosophy of art.
This book would enliven any philosophical aesthetics course and engage students. Used with a work such as Oswald Hanfling's Philosophical Aesthetics and a collection of classic readings, it would make an exemplary course.
John Shand is associate lecturer in philosophy, Open University.
Arguing about Art: Contemporary Philosophical Debates
Editor - Alex Neill and Aaron Ridley
ISBN - 0 415 23738 6 and 23739 4
Publisher - Routledge
Price - £55.00 and £16.99
Pages - 479