Abstract

Monroe C. Beardsley has been interpreted by many theorists as advocating antiexternalism with respect to an artwork’s aesthetic properties, typically its meaning. According to this orthodox interpretation, the meaning of a work is not established by external or contextual factors but by what is internally present in the work. This acontextual account of meaning is challenged by contextualism, which claims that a work’s identity and meaning are in part determined by contextual factors. However, a close look at textual evidence shows that Beardsley actually leans toward contextualism. In particular, his speech act theory of literature compels him to hold an explicit contextualist position with respect to nonfictional works seen as illocutions. Thus, the central task of this paper is to vindicate the contextualist interpretation of Beardsley. Doing so has important implications for aesthetic education understood in its broadest terms. Contextualism, more than antiexternalism, prompts us to appreciate artworks with greater sensibility and sophistication. Reinterpreting Beardsley as a contextualist thereby makes his views more relevant than they otherwise might seem to the goals of aesthetic education.

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