Fabian Dorsch ESA Essay Prize: The Latest Winner

The 2023 Fabian Dorsch ESA Essay Prize was granted to David Collins (University of Oxford) for his paper “Expanding Davies’ Pragmatic Constraint for Philosophizing about Art“. The European Society for Aesthetics committee appreciated David’s original take on the problem of philosophical methodology, emphasizing its applicability in domain of philosophy of art as well as in other domains of philosophical inquiry. In addition, the committee felt that the author persuasively relates current philosophical debate to the history of philosophy, namely American pragmatist tradition. The paper presentation at the European Society for Aesthetics conference in Budapest in June was followed by a commentary by Alva Noe and the author’s response.  A longer version of the winning essay will be published in Estetika: The European Journal of Aesthetics

The ESA Essay Prize for PhD students and early career researchers was launched in 2017 in memory Fabian Dorsch, a co-founder and the first secretary of the European Society for Aesthetics. Its former winners include Alex Fisher (2022), Nemesio García-Carril Puy (2021), Jeremy Page (2020), Irene Martínez Marín (2019), Mark Windsor (2018), and Servaas van der Berg (2017).

Expanding Davies’ Pragmatic Constraint for Philosophizing about Art
David Collins

David Davies advocates a methodological principle he names the ‘pragmatic constraint,’ according to which ontology of art is answerable to the epistemology of art, or “those features of our creative, critical, appreciative, and individuative practices in the arts that would withstand rational scrutiny.” This principle, while endorsed by many, has also faced skepticism and charges of vagueness. I argue that interpreting the pragmatic constraint in a way that avoids the most pressing objections requires restricting its scope to a narrow sense of ontology of art—specifically, to inquiry into what ontological kind artworks are. This limits its potential range of application and so weakens its usefulness, with some ambiguity remaining about what counts as a correct application of the principle. I propose that a similar methodological principle can do the work for which the pragmatic constraint is meant while expanding its scope to apply to philosophy of art in general. This expanded pragmatic constraint is doubly ‘pragmatic,’ as it not only grounds philosophy of art in artistic practices but is inspired by pragmatism: specifically, by ideas from James and Dewey. In brief, it holds that philosophy of art (i) should deal with philosophical problems that could arise for a reflective practitioner in the course of artistic practice, and (ii) the solutions offered to those problems should be able, at least in principle, to make some difference for, or tie back into and inform, artistic practice or the experience of art. Philosophical problems that do not meet this constraint may be legitimate metaphysical, or epistemological, or linguistic problems that can be applied to art-related examples, but, I argue, they are not primarily philosophy of art problems.