“Objectivity and Shared Experience”, in Jennifer A. McMahon (ed.), Social Aesthetics and Moral Judgment: Pleasure, Reflection and Accountability (New York: Routledge, 2018), pp. 103-120.
At first glance, the impulse to objectivity in our responses to works of art and in our moral thought and practice have disparate sources. On the one hand, artistic practice is disciplined by a norm of communicative fidelity: the production of a work of art is a communicative act, and its execution is subject to the possibility of success or failure. Morality, on the other hand, requires us to treat each other in ways we can justify to each other; and here the pressure towards objectivity comes, at least in part, from the demand that we respect each other by (not just having, but) giving good reasons to others for the ways we treat them: a demand of answerability. I argue that a proper understanding of the relationship between objectivity in artistic and moral judgement and practice must accommodate this difference; but that it must also recognize three important connections between the two. First, successful art is a vehicle for shared experience, and a way of opening ourselves to a fuller range of human possibilities for engaging with the world. In this way, it supplements the relationships we create in following the most fundamental moral norms: relationships in which we share a recognition of the importance of others’ welfare and dignity, and in which we share our agency, acting cooperatively together. Secondly, our shared experience of the value (and not just the content) of great works of art point us towards the practical reasons we all have to preserve and protect those objects – reasons that can themselves ground demands of unselfishness we can make of each other. And thirdly, this can lead us beyond a recognition of the plurality of valuable human experience, to the more tragic pluralism of Berlin: the recognition that we must make practical choices between competing values, and that all of the alternatives available to us involve some loss.