Professor David Davies at SAF

David Davies (McGill): Descriptivism and its Discontents
28th April 2016 – 4:00 pm, Edinburgh

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Julian Dodd has recently argued against what he terms ‘local descriptivism’ as a meta-ontological principle in the philosophy of art. Dodd distinguishes local descriptivism from another meta-ontological view, ‘folk-theoretic modesty.’ The two views differ as to the relationship between the folk-theoretic beliefs about artworks implicit in our practices and the correct ontology of art for particular art forms. The local descriptivist thinks that the folk-theoretic beliefs in some way determine the ontological characters of artworks, whereas proponents of folk-theoretic modesty think that properly rigorous philosophical inquiry in accordance with the demands of “mainstream metaphysics” can lead us to rightly conclude that our folk ontology of art is seriously in error. Dodd takes his objections to descriptivism as counting equally against the idea that the ontology of art is by its very nature constrained by artistic practice. I argue, against Dodd, that according a grounding role to artistic practice in the ontology of art need not conflict with the demands of meta-ontological realism and can allow for both practices and folk beliefs about those practices to be revised. Practice, I argue, must ground our ontological inquiries into the nature of artworks of various kinds because the ontologist’s task is to make sense of the practices into which such artworks enter. But neither the practices themselves nor our folk beliefs about those practices are sacrosanct. In taking ontology of art to be reflectively accountable to artistic practice, I also reject Thomasson’s global descriptivism in the ontology of art. My objection, however, is independent of the merits of Thomasson’s ‘easy view’ in metaphysics more generally. Rather, I argue, she misunderstands the nature of the questions that ontologists of art are asking. Ontology of art is by its very nature reflective and potentially revisionary of certain aspects of our practice. It involves not conceptual analysis but the codification of a practice in a way that clarifies the role played by certain things in that practice.

About the speaker
David Davies is Professor of Philosophy at McGill University where he has taught since 1987. His research and publications span a wide range of topics in aesthetics including film, literature, music, performance, and the visual arts, as well as issues in metaphysics, epistemology and the philosophy of mind and language. He is the author of three monographs: Art as Performance (Blackwell, 2004); Aesthetics and Literature (Continuum, 2007); and Philosophy of the Performing Arts (Blackwell, 2011). For more information, please visit Professor Davies’ website:

Additional information
The lecture will be followed by a dinner with our speaker. Please inform the organisers by Sunday, 24th April if you would like to join us for dinner.
There are limited funds to cover dinner expenses for two students, offered on a first-come-first-served basis.

Professor Berys Gaut at SAF

The Scottish Aesthetics Forum is delighted to announce its third lecture:

Professor Berys Gaut (St Andrews)

Cinematic Art and Technology

Wednesday, 22nd April, 2015, 4:15 – 6:00pm

Dugald Stewart Building, 3.10-3.11,

University of Edinburgh


The lecture is free and open to all!

Abstract: “Cinema was born as technology and rapidly grew into an art. What is the relation of its artistic to its technological properties? In this paper I develop an argument to show that the proper artistic appreciation of cinematic artworks is partly dependent on their technological features. I also illustrate and defend this claim by comparing how digital films can solve certain filmmaking problems with how non-digital films can do so. I then discuss whether the argument shows that digital films are, other things equal, lesser artistic achievements than are non-digital ones.”

About the speaker: Berys Gaut is Professor of Philosophy at the University of St Andrews, President of the British Society of Aesthetics, and an Editorial Consultant to the British Journal of Aesthetics. His research interests and publications span both aesthetics and moral theory, and especially the relationship between aesthetics and ethics, the philosophy of film and film theory, and the philosophy of creativity. He is the author of two monographs, Art, Emotion and Ethics (OUP 2007) and A Philosophy of Cinematic Art (CUP 2010), and is currently working on a new one, Exploring Creativity: A Philosophical Inquiry.

 Additional information: The lecture will be followed by a dinner with our speaker. If you would like to attend the dinner, please contact the organisers by Friday, 17th April. There are limited funds to cover dinner expenses for two students, which will be offered on a first-come-first-served basis.

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SAF is generously supported by the British Society of Aesthetics and the Scots Philosophical Association.

Prof Elisabeth Schellekens at SAF

Professor Elisabeth Schellekens (Uppsala/Durham) will be giving a lecture, ‘On Sensible and Intelligible Beauty’, 4.15-6pm, Thurs 12th March at the University of Edinburgh, 7 Bistro Square, Lecture Theatre 1. This promises to be a very interesting lecture – perhaps extending some of her recent work on conceptual art.

Open to all, this is the second in a series of lectures by the newly formed Scottish Aesthetics Forum. You can find more information and upcoming lectures here.

Prof Dom Lopes at SAF Forum

Professor Dom Lopes  will be giving a lecture on ‘Aesthetic Agency and Value’ on Weds 11th February at the University of Edinburgh (Dugald Stewart Building, 3.11). I highly recommend it!

Open to all, this is the first in a series of lectures by the newly formed Scottish Aesthetics Forum. You can find more information and upcoming lectures here.


Just returned from our field course to North Uist – wonderful students, sunny weather (!), good birding, and a trip to the St Kilda archipelago.