Mieke Boon en Peter Henk Steenhuis. 2009. Filosofie van het Kijken – Kunst in ander Perspectief. Rotterdam, Lemniscaat (256 pages) ISBN 9789-0477-0028-9.

Philosophical background: Epistemological responsibility

This book – Philosophy of Art and Perception – takes a specific approach to the notion of epistemological responsibility. In a narrow view it means the responsibility of informing oneself well before making judgments. In this book it is considered somewhat broader as adopting the attitude of (i) trying to understand how we form judgments, and (ii) examining presuppositions, (hidden) ideas and images (which partly originate from the tradition we have been raised in) that, often implicitly, guide the formation of our judgments. Preliminarily, this book aims at clearing up a specific philosophical obstacle to this notion of epistemological responsibility, to wit, a metaphysical stance in accounting for the character of aesthetic, ethical and epistemic judgments. This metaphysical stance entices a well-accepted dichotomy between objectivity and (scientific) realism on the one hand, and subjectivity and relativism on the other. These competing positions both draw on the Platonist idea that without a foundation in the metaphysical realm subjectivism and relativism seem to be the only alternatives. Furthermore, this metaphysical stance easily leads to an unfruitful dichotomy between reason and feeling as the proper guidance to our judgements (e.g., as it is found in the opposition between the Enlightenment and Romanticist traditions). As an alternative, an epistemological stance is taken that could overcome the dichotomy between objectivists (realist) and subjectivists (relativist) accounts of the formation of judgments. By means of in-depth analysis of perceiving works of art, it is shown how aesthetics, ethics and knowledge are closely related in this epistemic activity. The chapters of this book illustrate how the activity of forming judgments can be examined from a variety of philosophical perspectives (both in the Anglo-Saxon and Continental tradition). Perception of art has been taken as a vehicle for developing these basic philosophical ideas and as illustrations of how philosophy can play a role in examining presuppositions that guide our judgments. This philosophical approach to the perception of art may be considered productive because (a) analyzing the activity of perceiving art makes very concrete how we could examine our perceptions and judgments from diverse philosophical perspectives, and (b) perception of art is generally considered to be unselfish, which affords an open-minded attitude (and more or less avoiding the influence of particular interests) towards exploring our own judgments. The account of epistemological responsibility (i.e., taking responsibility for ones own judgments) is not presented as a philosophical argument in the first place, but rather as the activity of ‘doing philosophy’. This book shows in very concrete examples how philosophy can be adopted as an activity of exploring our perceiving, feeling, reasoning, and judging. Thereby it introduces a richer conception of epistemological responsibility that surpasses typical difficulties of understanding the character of our judgments from a metaphysical stance. It is my hope to have made accessible this difficult topic beyond the philosophical community.