A critique of moderate formalism

Simon Fokt

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Moderate formalism is the view that all artworks which have aesthetic properties have formal aesthetic properties, and some but not all of those works also have non-formal aesthetic properties. Nick Zangwill develops this view in his Metaphysics of Beauty after having argued against its alternatives – extreme formalism and anti-formalism. This article reviews his arguments against the rivals of moderate formalism, and argues that the rejection of anti-formalism is unjustified. Zangwill does not succeed in proving that the broadly determined (context-determined) properties of artworks are in some cases irrelevant to their aesthetic properties – and following that, interpretation and assessment. A historical argument presented here shows how aesthetic properties of every work must partly supervene on this work’s contextual properties. In particular, this disproves Zangwill’s claim that epistemological matters are unessential in determining the artwork’s properties, and exposes some problems his account has with explaining relations between non- aesthetic and aesthetic properties.
Original languageUndefined/Unknown
Pages (from-to)41-52
Number of pages12
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2013


  • Aesthetics
  • aesthetic properties
  • formalism
  • anti-formalism

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