Categories of art

Authored by: David Davies

The Routledge Companion to Aesthetics

Print publication date:  April  2013
Online publication date:  April  2013

Print ISBN: 9780415782869
eBook ISBN: 9780203813034
Adobe ISBN: 9781136697142


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A category in the most general sense is a principle for grouping things, a way in which particulars can be brought under a universal. The categorization of things operates hierarchically in that we may ask how things belonging to a given category are themselves to be categorized. But philosophers, following in the tradition of Immanuel Kant (1929) whose “categories” were fundamental principles for the understanding of the experienced world, tend to be more selective in applying the label “category.” To characterize a way of grouping xs as a category of xs is to ascribe some significance to this way of grouping for our understanding of, or practical engagement with, such things. Furthermore, what we take to be significant ways of grouping xs depends in part upon our more general ways of categorizing things, and how, relative to these more general categories, we classify xs themselves. In general, the differences and the similarities between things that we mark in our classifications reflect the various purposes that we have in our theoretical and practical commerce with the world. Some of those classifications are attempts to, as it is sometimes said, “carve the world at its joints,” to capture, in our classifications, ways of grouping things that accord with natural processes whereby the experienced world exhibits the features that it does. The notion of a “natural kind” is central to this conception of significant classification — and thus of categorization — for the purposes of natural science. A natural kind groups things in ways that, it is assumed, find expression in powerful empirical generalizations that hold of things so grouped. It is because we take there to be powerful true empirical generalizations applicable to all and only samples of gold, for example, but not to all and only the stones to be found in a given stretch of river, that we take gold, but not such stones, to be a natural kind.

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