(R)evolutionary aesthetics: Denis Dutton’s The art instinct: beauty, pleasure and human evolution
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Denis Dutton’s “The Art Instinct” succeeds admirably in showing that it is possible to think about art from a biological point of view, and this is a significant achievement, given that resistance to the idea that cultural phenomena have biological underpinnings remains widespread in many academic disciplines. However, his account of the origins of our artistic impulses and the far-reaching conclusions he draws from that account are not persuasive. This article points out a number of problems: in particular, problems with Dutton’s appeal to sexual selection, with his discussion of the adaptation/by-product distinction and its significance, and with drawing normative conclusions from evolutionary hypotheses.
KeywordsEvolutionary aesthetics Art Natural selection Sexual selection Adaptation
Thanks to Tim Dare, Stephen Davies, Jonathan McKeown-Green and Mohan Matthen for their comments on a draft of this paper, and to audiences at Southern Methodist University, the University of Auckland and the University of Canterbury (especially Denis Dutton) for useful discussions of some of this material.