The Role of Theory in Aesthetics  

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"What I am arguing, then, is that the very expansive, adventurous character of art, its ever-present changes and novel creations, makes it logically impossible to ensure any set of defining properties. We can, of course, choose to close the concept. But to do this with "art" or "tragedy" or "portraiture," etc., is ludicrous since it forecloses on the very conditions of creativity in the arts." --"The Role of Theory in Aesthetics" (1956) by Morris Weitz

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

"The Role of Theory in Aesthetics"[1] (1956) is a paper by Morris Weitz

It won him a 1955 Matchette Prize (an award now replaced by the American Philosophical Association book and article prizes). This essay explicitly modified the theory of art initially provided in his 1950 book Philosophy of the Arts which had been "[s]ubject to devastating criticisms from Margaret McDonald among others". In "The Role of Theory in Aesthetics" Weitz "overturned his original claim.. that his empirical and organic theory could produce a closed or real definition of art" according to Aili Bresnahan and it is "this revised version that many philosophers have considered the sine qua non in support of the position that theories of art should be 'open'". Supporters of Weitz's later view "for similar but non-identical reasons" include W.B. Gallie, W. E. Kennick and Benjamin R. Tilghman and detractors include M.H. Abrams, M.W. Beal, Lee Brown, George Dickie, and Maurice Mandelbaum.

Mandelbaum in his 1965 paper "Family Resemblances and Generalizations Concerning the Arts" refers to Weitz's paper and includes its author amongst those who, in support of the contention "that it is a mistake to attempt to discuss what art, or beauty, or the aesthetic, or a poem, essentially is... have made "explicit use of Wittgenstein's doctrine of family resemblances". Mandelbaum claims that though he has "placed this at the forefront of his discussion.. Professor Weitz [has] made no attempt to analyze, clarify, or defend the doctrine itself"

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