Aesthetic experience is evaluative and emotional experience of artistic or natural singularities. We enjoy a symphony, appreciate a painting, find a play boring, are struck by a sunset, etc. Even when the emotion is diffuse or related to an atmosphere rather than an object, what the aesthetic experience refers to is not an abstract or general concept or idea, but always something concrete and singular, which we sensibly experience and with which we emotionally resonate. The systematic reflection on aesthetic experience accomplished in aesthetics and art theory reflects this orientation towards singularities. Yet, in such theoretical reflection, experienced singularities obtain an “exemplary” meaning. How should we understand such exemplary thinking?
In general, considering singularities as exemplary means taking them not only as the spatio-temporal individuals they are, but also as representing something that is not singular and individuated anymore. Yet, this can be understood in different ways. In a rather straightforward sense, one can consider a singularity as exemplifying a general or abstract concept, idea, or principle by making it concretely intuitable. In this sense, exemplifying has an illustrative function. While this may be one of the ways in which singular works are also addressed in aesthetics and art theory, reducing the meaning of exemplarity and exemplary thinking to illustration represents a strong limitation.
At least since Baumgarten and – even more so – since Kant, aesthetic theory has deeply challenged the idea that exemplification is merely a process of illustration. The appraisal of exemplary thinking beyond illustration goes hand in hand with a re-evaluation of a broader conception of truth bound to sensible cognition or cognitio sensitiva (Gadamer, Schaub): aesthetics elevates the individual, the sensible, and the finite to the rank of a cognition, which is not to be considered as subordinated to higher, more abstract cognition. Within this framework, the generality is not separated from the singularity, and thus cannot be illustrated. Instead, works of art are “exemplary”, since they are “individual generalities” (ein individuelles Allgemeines: Schleiermacher, Frank).
Exemplary thinking in aesthetics shows that exemplification is related to the pragmatics and hermeneutics of expression. Examples are always examples of something for someone. This means singular objects are not in themselves examples, but they become examples to the extent that they are interpreted and used as examples, mostly in communicative contexts.
Considering the connection between exemplarity and expression allows us to highlight important sources of meaning that go beyond denotation and representation (e.g., Goodman). Saying that a painting expresses or exemplifies sadness, in this sense, is different from saying that a painting denotes, illustrates, or represents sadness. We can say, instead, that the painting embodies sadness, or that it expresses and at the same time constitutes sadness.
Considering the potential of exemplarity and exemplary thinking eventually implies the re-evaluation of the cognitive power of the imagination, analogical thinking, and emotional resonance. This, at least in part, is already present in Aristotle’s Poetics and Rhetoric, and is particularly emphasized in modern aesthetics, among others by Hume and Kant. The re-evaluation of exemplarity in aesthetics, in fact, probably culminates in Kant’s Critique of the Power of Judgment. Here, Kant attributes to aesthetic judgement a specific cognitive power, insofar as it has exemplary necessity: i.e., the necessity of a judgment, which is essentially always individual and yet raises a claim of universal validity, understood as validity “for everyone”. In this sense, exemplary thinking gains – besides its illustrative, descriptive, expressive, and heuristic value – also a normative power.
The epistemic functions of both the hermeneutics and the pragmatics of exemplification may be appraised even beyond the field of aesthetics and have a further impact on other fields of philosophy. In fact, we can say that the exemplary thinking elaborated in the field of philosophical aesthetics can assume a crucial function in order to address problems related to communicability, sociality, and the education of emotions. In such a way, modern aesthetics brings to the fore the quest for a search for agreement without arguments that logically support or legitimate the possible realization of such agreement, since what is to be agreed upon is something irreducibly singular (Cavell).
Expanding on these tendencies in philosophical aesthetics, the present issue of Discipline Filosofiche aims to provide a forum for an up-to-date reassessment of exemplary thinking in the field of philosophical aesthetics and for discussing whether and how this may contribute to the re-evaluation of exemplary thinking in other fields of philosophy.
Suggested topics for contributions contain, but are not limited to:
1) theory and praxis of exemplification in aesthetics: the epistemic function, ontological status, and the broader philosophical importance of examples;
2) reassessment of historical and contemporary views on exemplary thinking in aesthetics;
3) the role of imagination and emotion in the formation and appreciation of aesthetic examples;
4) the descriptive and the normative moment of aesthetic exemplification and exemplary thinking;
5) typologies of examples in philosophical aesthetics and the theory of art;
6) the function of aesthetic examples in social experience, moral education, and the formation of emotions.
Guidelines for the authors: Submissions should not exceed 9,000 words including abstract, refer-ences and footnotes. Manuscripts may be submitted in Italian, English, French, German, or Spanish. They must be sent as an email attachment in .doc or .docx format, along with a .pdf version, to Michela Summa (email@example.com) and Karl Mertens (firstname.lastname@example.org). Submitted manuscripts will be sent to two independent reviewers, following a double-blind peer review process. The reviewers may ask authors to make changes or improvements to their contributions in view of publication. Authors are kindly requested to attach both an anonymous version of their contribution entitled “Manuscript” and a separate “Cover Page” stating their name, academic affiliation and contact details. Manuscripts must include an English abstract of less than 150 words and 5 keywords. Any property of the file that might identify the author must be removed to ensure anonymity during the review process. A notification of receipt will be issued for each submission. In drafting their text, authors can adopt any clear and coherent style, but should the text be accepted for publication, they will be required to send a final version in keeping with the style guidelines of the journal (please refer to the style guidelines at http://www.disciplinefilosofiche.it/en/norme-redazionali/). Submission of a manuscript is understood to imply that the paper has not been published before and that it is not being considered for publication by any other journal. Should the manu-script be accepted for publication, the author will be required to transfer copyrights to the University of Bologna. Requests to republish the article may be made to the Editorial Board of the Journal.
Deadline for the submission of manuscripts: December 15, 2020
Notification of acceptance, conditional acceptance, or rejection: February 15, 2021
Deadline for the submission of the final draft: March 31, 2021