Art, expression and emotion

Authored by: Derek Matravers

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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The primary use of such terms as “sadness” and “joy” is to refer to the mental states of people. In such cases, the claim that someone is sad is equivalent to the claim that they feel sad. However, our use of emotion terms is broader than this; a funeral is a sad occasion, a wedding is a happy event. In such cases, a justification can be given for the use of the word. For example, it is part of what is meant by “sadness” that events such as funerals are an appropriate object for such emotions and the epithet is transferred. Sometimes in criticism (I shall follow practice and use this term broadly) a similar justification can be given; it explains, for example, why the death of Little Nell is sad. On other occasions such a justification is not available. A poem can express sadness without representing a sad state of affairs. More obviously, to take a medium that is not representational, a piece of music can be sad. What we need is some way of making sense of these uses of the emotion terms.

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