Biology and Philosophy

, Volume 20, Issue 2–3, pp 291–304 | Cite as

Ellen Dissanayake’s Evolutionary Aesthetic

  • Stephen J. Davies


Dissanayake argues that art behaviors – which she characterizes first as patterns or syndromes of creation and response and later as rhythms and modes of mutuality – are universal, innate, old, and a source of intrinsic pleasure, these being hallmarks of biological adaptation. Art behaviors proved to enhance survival by reinforcing cooperation, interdependence, and community, and, hence, became selected for at the genetic level. Indeed, she claims that art is essential to the fullest realization of our human nature. I make three criticisms: Dissanayake’s theory cannot account adequately for differences in the aesthetic value of artworks; the connections drawn between art and reproductive success are too stretched to account for art's production, nature, and reception; indeed, art enters the picture only because it is so thinly characterized that it remains in doubt that her topic is art as we understand it.

Key words

Adaptation Aesthetic Art Community Dissanayake ‘Making special’ Mutuality Play Ritual Value 


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Copyright information

© Springer 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyUniversity of AucklandAucklandNew Zealand

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