chapter  15
14 Pages



Nelson Goodman’s 1968 classic, Languages of Art, offered a powerful new vision of aesthetics grounded in analytic philosophy of language, which reframed many of the questions being asked in aesthetics and gave original, ingenious, often eccentric answers to them. At the time it was written, aesthetics was not a very lively field. Arguably the only enduring masterpiece of analytic aesthetics from this era is Monroe Beardsley’s Aesthetics: Problems in the Philosophy of Criticism (1958). Languages of Art, like its exact contemporary, Wollheim’s Art and Its Objects (1968), was concerned to debunk both Beardsley’s Dewey-flavored empiricism and the still influential idealism of Croce and Collingwood. For Goodman artworks are symbols that refer to the world by virtue of what symbol they are in what symbol system. Like the structuralists, he claims that artworks are signifiers in systems or structures of signs. Also like the structuralists, he argues that language and art do not merely reflect an antecedently existing world but help to create new ones: “any notion of a reality consisting of objects and events and kinds established independently of discourse and unaffected by how they are described or otherwise presented must give way to the recognition that these, too, are parts of the story” (Goodman 1984: 67). On the other hand, the post-structuralist notion that meanings are constantly in flux, in accordance with the principles of différance and deferral of meaning, is inconsistent with Goodman’s nominalism, which holds that terms genuinely refer to individuals, such as objects, events and kinds. Goodman is not a skeptic about meaning. As he once said, “Derrida deconstructs worlds, whereas I construct them!”