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In Aesthetics and Material Beauty, Jennifer A. McMahon develops a new aesthetic theory she terms Critical Aesthetic Realism - taking Kantian aesthetics as a starting point and drawing upon contemporary theories of mind from philosophy, psychology, and cognitive science. The creative process does not proceed by a set of rules. Yet the fact that its objects can be understood or appreciated by others suggests that the creative process is constrained by principles to which others have access. According to her update of Kantian aesthetics, beauty is grounded in indeterminate yet systematic principles of perception and cognition. However, Kant’s aesthetic theory rested on a notion of indeterminacy whose consequences for understanding the nature of art were implausible.
McMahon conceptualizes "indeterminacy" in terms of contemporary philosophical, psychological, and computational theories of mind. In doing so, she develops an aesthetic theory that reconciles the apparent dichotomies which stem from the tension between the determinacy of communication and the indeterminacy of creativity. Dichotomies such as universality and subjectivity, objectivity and autonomy, cognitivism and non-cognitivism, and truth and beauty are revealed as complementary features of an aesthetic judgment.
'Highly recommended, not because its findings on beauty are definitive (the study of the brain and its functions is still an evolving field), but because its reading may spur a novel understanding of one of life's most fundamental experiences, beauty….It is a virtuoso performance.' – Dan Vaillancourt, Loyola University Chicago, USA, The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism
'I welcome [McMahon's] work, not only because she offers an interesting and chronologically diverse range of concrete examples of the harmonizing quality of aesthetic experience, but for theoretical reasons as well … I recommend [McMahon's account] to all students of Kant’s aesthetics as well as to contemporary aestheticians. In my view, her work has contributed the most to the interpretation of the central concept of Kant’s aesthetics.' – Paul Guyer, University of Pennsylvania, USA, The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 67:2 Spring 2009
1. Introduction: Formalism and the Problem of Beauty 2. Universality and Subjectivity 3. Objectivity and Autonomy 4. Critical Aesthetic Realism 5. Beauty and Truth 6. Natural Generativity and Systematicity 7. The Ubiquity of Beauty 8. Ugliness 9. Conclusion: An Ontology of Art