Aesthetic sense and social cognition: a story from the Early Stone Age

Title: Aesthetic sense and social cognition: a story from the Early Stone Age

Author: Joint author with Xuanqi Zhu

Publication: Synthese (2019)

Date: 29 November 2019


Abstract: Human aesthetic practices show a sensitivity to the ways that the appearance of an artefact manifests skills and other qualities of the maker. We investigate a possible origin for this kind of sensibility, locating it in the need for co-ordination of skill-transmission in the Acheulean stone tool culture. We argue that our narrative supports the idea that Acheulean agents were aesthetic agents. In line with this we offer what may seem an absurd comparison: between the Acheulean and the Quattrocento. In making it we display some hidden complexity in human aesthetic responses to an artefact. We conclude with a brief review of rival explanations—biological and/or cultural—of how this skills-based sensibility became a regular feature of human aesthetic practices.

Aesthetic explanation and the archaeology of symbols

Title: Aesthetic explanation and the archaeology of symbols

Publication: The British Journal of Aesthetics, volume 56, issue 3, pages 233–246

Date: 4 October 2016


Abstract: Philosophers of science have worried about how ‘theoretical entities’ such as forces, fields and electrons could play a respectable role in the explanation of observable events and processes; some of them concluded that we have no reason to believe in such things. There are archaeologists who show signs of treating the aesthetic in the same way: as a suspicious postulate of theory, far removed from experience. While I’m content to believe in some entities which, by any reasonable test, would count as theoretical I don’t put the aesthetic in that category. Nor do I worry about its capacity to pay its keep by contributing to explanations. Here I argue for the reality, and the explanatory power of the aesthetic. I illustrate the latter claim by considering the role of aesthetic attributions in explaining the emergence of symbolism.

The Master of the Masek Beds: Aesthetics and the evolution of mind

Title: The Master of the Masek Beds: Aesthetics and the evolution of mind

Publication: The Aesthetic Mind: Philosophy and Psychology Oxford University Press, 9-31

Date: 2011


Abstract: I investigate the significance of what seems to be very early aesthetic activity among our ancestors as far back as one million years ago. I consider the hypothesis that this activity was the result of the pressures of sexual selection, and argue that accepting this hypothesis is consistent with regarding these artefacts are aesthetic ones, and treating the activity which produced them as significantly related to fully artistic activity.

Art and the anthropologists

Title: Art and the anthropologists

PublicationAesthetic Science Oxford University Press, 107-128

Date: 2011


Abstract: This paper develops a modest version of the thesis of aesthetic universalism--the idea that all human cultures express, through their material productions, a concern with and a delight in the skilful making of beautiful things. It is argued that the use of the expression "aesthetic" in this context does not involve an illegitimate imposition of ideas drawn from one culture and imposed on another, but reflects the widely attested phenomenon of the accessibility of one cultures standards of beauty to agents from another culture. It is argued that this accessibility is initially limited, but is capable of being deepened through a study of the relevant culture's history, values and modes of life. It is further argued that aesthetic factors may play an important role in the project of explaining a culture's practices. The aesthetic is thus a universal and an explanatory concept.