Aesthetic adjectives

ERI Building - Room 149 (1st Floor)
Arts and Law, Research
Monday 12th May 2014 (16:15-18:00)
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Dr Darragh Byrne (email:

Philosophy Society 2013-2014


Shen-Yi Liao (Nanyang Technological Univerity & University of Leeds)


Aesthetic Adjectives


How do aesthetic adjectives work? Although theorists working on the semantics of adjectives have developed sophisticated theories about gradable adjectives generally and have explored the closely related class of adjectives known as predicates of personal taste (e.g., ‘tasty’ and ‘fun’), they have tended to avoid studying aesthetic adjectives – the class of adjectives (e.g., ‘beautiful’, ‘ugly’, ‘elegant’, ‘unified’) which play a central role in the evaluation of art. And despite the wealth of attention paid to aesthetic adjectives by philosophers of art, they have paid little attention to contemporary semantic theories of adjectives. We take our work to be a first step in remedying these lacunae. As discussed below, our work presents a prima facie empirical challenge to one well-known theory of gradable adjectives. But the results should not just be of interest to semanticists. We believe that philosophers of art ought to be sensitive to the behaviour of aesthetic adjectives as well as the best semantic theories of that behaviour. In this paper, we present three experiments that examine ordinary people’s usage of aesthetic adjectives in comparative judgments.