Volume 87, Issue 4, Fall 2013
Michael R. Spicher
The Distinct Basic Good of Aesthetic Experience and Its Political Import
To protect art under the First Amendment, John Finnis claims that art is simply the expression of emotion. Later, to protect aesthetic experience from subjectivity, Finnis claims that aesthetic experience is just a form of knowledge. However, neither of these claims adequately accounts for the nature of their objects nor fully protects them. The expression of emotion—intrinsic to art in Finnis’s view—is not always clear or even present, yet people can still appreciate the work. Equally problematic, aesthetic experience is not mere knowledge. It involves something more: a response or judgment. So, what is the nature and purpose of art and aesthetic experience? I argue that the main purpose of art is to provide the possibility of an aesthetic experience. Further, aesthetic experience is a distinct basic good. This status as a basic good and as the purpose of art provides justification for the state to protect (and occasionally promote) art.