New Bearings in Esthetics and Art Criticism

A Study in Semantics and Evaluation

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P HILOSOPHERS and critics have been much exercised over the problem of truth as a criterion for art; and competent opinions on the subject diverge all the way from those which claim that truth is a wholly irrelevant consideration to those which claim it as a basic critical postulate. The problem of artistic truth is peculiarly perplexing because of verbal intricacies which require unraveling. To be sure, there are "real" questions about artistic truth: for example, the question of the relevance of the artist's "beliefs," as they are expressed in a work of art, to the critic's appraisal of that work. Granted the importance of such real problems, I nonetheless believe that much of the disagreement upon the subject of truth in art results from semantic befuddlement; and I believe that satisfactory interpretations of a number of uses of the word "truth" will go far toward solving our present problem. In what follows I shall try to explain and to differentiate various modes of truth, and to indicate the degree of efficacy and applicability which these modes have when they are applied as criteria requiring truth in art.89
89. Of course no attempt is made to exhaust the modes of truth. Only those which one commonly associates with art are considered. Thus the idea of truth as Reality or an explanation of the universe is not taken up here. Moreover, those real definitions which unwisely try to answer the unanswerable question: what is truth? do not concern us since they belong rather to the subject of "semantics and philosophy/' than to that of "semantics and esthetics" or to "semantics and art criticism." For further senses of the word "truth/* the reader is referred to pp. 111-117 °^ Richards' Mencius on the Mind.
The following kind of analysis, as James Burnham pointed out to me, is possible only after various distinctions in modes of discourse have been historically established. Pre-Renaissance people could not have thought in these distinctions, and from their point of view, some of the problems presently to be considered (e.g., the notion of scientific truth) did not arise at all.