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British Journal of Aesthetics, Vol 28, No 2, Spring ig88

ARCHIBALD ALISON: AESTHETIC


EXPERIENCE AND EMOTION
Dabney Townsend
Essays on the Nature and Principles of Taste have an intrinsic
interest and merit which has probably been underestimated by philosophers
concerned with aesthetics. In addition, there are two good reasons for finding
Alison's essays important to an understanding of the history of aesthetics.
First, Alison published the essays in 1790, the same year as Kant's Third
Critique. While Kant's aesthetic should be understood in the light of the first
two Critiques and thus belongs to a unique epistemological tradition, Alison is
working in a direct line of development from the earlier British theories of taste.
He cites, in particular, Hutcheson, Burke, Hogarth, and Thomas Reid. Alison is
not unique in this. He is part of the Scottish Enlightenment. His work on
aesthetics is dedicated to Dugald Stewart Alison owes major debts to Reid for
the basic ideas of expression and the importance of mental qualities, and to
Hartley for the fundamentals of associationism. However, Alison gives an
interesting and innovative development to these key ideas. Apparently
independently of Kant, Alison develops many of the same theoretical terms.
Imagination, expression, and the importance of a common nature are central
theoretical concepts for him. His theory of association, however, remains much
more closely related to the epistemology of Locke and Hume as it is modified by
Hartley than is Kant's transcendental idealism. Thus Alison shows us one
possible outcome of the eighteenth-century theories as they are reshaped into
nineteenth-century romanticism.
Second, Alison is an early proponent of a theory of aesthetics as 'expression', a
concept which continues to find defenders in contemporary discussions. While
Alison undoubtedly owes much to Reid in this area, his development of a theory
of expression is more clearly in line with the problems set out by Hutcheson and
Hume. Alison's theory of expression is also significantly different from Kant's,
and it is not based fundamentally upon 'disinterestedness'. This claim is
controversial, of course. Jerome Stolnitz finds disinterestedness to be
fundamental to Alison.1 I would not claim that Alison never makes use of some
form of disinterestedness, but I will argue that it is not the basis for his theory of
expression The centrahty of expression, even more than the theories of
association for which he is most widely known, marks Alison's work as
different from the theories of taste and beauty to which he continues to refer.
But since 'expression' and 'association' are in some ways a direct consequence of
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trying to meet difficulties which those earlier theories encountered, Alison's


innovations help us to understand the history of modern aesthetics. Thus Alison
is of interest both as an independent, non-Kantian source for a quasi-romantic
theory of art and also as a transitional figure who helps us to understand the
development of more recent aesthetic theory.
My interest in Alison in this paper is historical, therefore; but it is a historical
interest which is less concerned with the actual influences and connections
which shaped Alison's thought than with the logic of the ideas and problems to
which Alison is responding. 'Aesthetics' as such is unknown to the seventeenthand eighteenth-century writers on taste and art. It emerges as a fully developed
concept only with Kant. But it is widely acknowledged that it is in the
seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, particularly in Britain, that the key ideas
were taking shape. The development of empiricist epistemology raises
fundamental problems for ethics and for the appreciation and valuation of the
arts. A complex of related theories develops in response to the challenge
presented by Locke and Hobbes It is one thing to try to disentangle the actual
historical relations of those theories. It is another to try to understand the logical
progression which forces modifications and reformulations. It is in this latter
sense that Alison, standing in temporal proximity to Kant as he does, seems to
me of particular interest. The positions to which Alison is forced seem to me the
clear exemplification of the outcome of trying to meet the problems raised by
eighteenth-century theories of taste
Alison's own avowed purpose is to show that taste is a complex emotion
which depends on association and imagination. He sets out to refute two
competing theories: first, that taste is the product of an internal sense; and
second, that the emotion of taste is a simple emotion based on a single principle
of mind such as utility, order, etc. The former position Alison ascribes to
Hogarth, Abbe Winkelmann, and Reynolds on the grounds that they look for
objects which the arts of tastepainting, sculpture, architecture, and
musiccan imitate in order to stimulate the sense. We might add to Alison's list
Francis Hutcheson and Alexander Gerard, who explicitly defend the existence
of such a sense (though the extent to which Gerard is a sense-theorist needs
qualification). The alternativea common law of mindAlison ascribes to
Diderot and Hume. Edmund Burke, whose ideas of size, delicacy, or greatness
appeal to a principle of emotional magnitude, might also fit this category,
although Alison seem to be thinking here primarily of moral or teleological
principles.2 The alternative for which Alison argues requires that for a simple
emotion to become an emotion of taste, it must be part of a complex which is
formed by powers of the mindassociation and imaginationwhich make the
complex expressive of qualities of mind. So, rather than a single sense which
responds to the imitation of objects or a single principle of mind which can act in
all cases, Alison has a theory which allows many complicated interactions.
Alison has two typical ways of arguing against the positions he opposes. First,

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there is a line of argument to show that beauty does not arise from any single
source. It goes like this: (i) If beauty were the product of an internal sense (or a
single principle), then it would be found whenever the quality or principle was
present to the mind. (2) But this is not the case. If the associations which connect
the individual mind to that quality or principle are destroyed, the emotional
response disappears. Therefore, Alison concludes, beauty is not an immediate
product. This argument can be mounted either against a sense or a principle
since, Alison reasons, either would automatically produce the emotion of taste if
it were both the necessary and sufficient condition for beauty. For example, one
can show that it is not the sound itself which is sublime by this line of argument:

Throughout the two essays, Alison returns again and again to this form of
argument, adjusting it in each case to the example and the specific claim that he
seeks to refute.
The second line of argument which Alison sets up appeals to the kind of
description which is given of the emotion of taste. Alison's argument may be
reduced to the following. (1) If beauty were a simple perceptual form, it would
be sufficient to describe that form. That is, if beauty were simply the product of
a sensuous line, then whenever we wanted to refer to beauty, it would be
enough to describe a sensuous line. 'Sensuous line' would mean 'beautiful'. (2)
But that is not the case. Our descriptions of the emotion of taste typically require
some emotional term such as gay or melancholy, lovely or great. Therefore, no
single term or principle is sufficient to describe what the emotion of taste
involves Again, Alison repeats this argument throughout the essays with
appropriate adjustments to the particular case under discussion. For example, if
the claim is that certain sounds appeal to a sense of beauty directly through their
perception, Alison replies as follows:
If the Beauty of Music arose from any of those qualities, either of Sound, or of the
Composition of Sounds, which are immediately perceivable by the Ear, it is obvious
that this would be expressed in Language, and that the terms by which such Music
was characterized, would be significant of some quality or qualities discernible by
the Ear: If, on the contrary, this Beauty arises from the interesting or affecting

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If any sounds were in themselves Sublime, or fitted by the constitution of our nature
to produce this Emotion, independently of all Association, it would seem that there
could be no change of our Emotion, and that these sounds would as permanently
produce their correspondent Emotion, as the objects of every other Sense produce
their correspondent ideas
In all cases, however, where these associations are either accidental or temporary,
and not, as in the former case, permanent in their nature, it will be found that sounds
are sublime only, when they are expressive of qualities capable of producing some
powerful Emotion, and that in all other cases, the same sounds are simply
indifferent.
. Their Sublimity therefore can only be attributed to the qualities
which they signify (p 42)

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qualities of which it is expressive to us, such qualities, in the same manner, ought, in
common language, to be assigned as the causes of this Emotion; and the terms by
which such Music is characterized ought to be significant of such qualities. That the
last is the case, I think there can be no dispute The terms Plaintive, Tender,
Cheerful, Gay, Elevating, Solemn, etc are not only constantly applied to every kind
of Music that is either Sublime or Beautiful; but it is in fact by such terms only that
men ever characterize the Compositions from which they receive such Emotions. . . If the Beauty or Sublimity of Music arose from the laws of its
Composition, the very reverse of all this would obviously be the case (p 52).

They who are most liable to the seduction of Fashion, are people on whose minds the
slighter associations have a strong effect. A plain man is incapable of such
associations, a man of sense is above them But the young and the frivolous, whose
principles of Taste are either unformed, or whose minds are unable to maintain any
settled opinions, are apt to lose sight of every other quality in such objects but their

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In all the versions of this argument, Alison's claim seems to be that the necessity
of a multiplicity of what we would call aesthetic predicates indicates that there
cannot be a purely sensuous account of beauty and that no single principle can
account for the multiplicity of emotional descriptions. He concludes that there
must always be some synthetic operation of the mind for which the aesthetic
predicates are evidence
This argument differs from the first in its appeal to the language which we use
to describe the emotion of taste. This appeal to ordinary language has a
particularly modern ring Although Alison does not seem to have any particular
thesis about the centrahty of language in the operation of the mind that he is
describing, he does see language as the manifestation of that operation. (Alison
does claim that language, particularly poetry, is one of the principal ways that
expressive associations are formed. See the discussion of Buchanan's poem on
p. 15, for example.) In this respect, Alison's use of imagination and expression
anticipate more recent theories which link those terms to symbolic activity and
language
Alison continues a century of theorizing about 'taste' in Britain. From
Shaftesbury at the end of the seventeenth century through Hume's essay, 'Of
the Standard of Taste', to Alison, the development and evaluation of taste is a
central concern (A similar claim might be made for continental writers.
Shaftesbury and Hutcheson were influential in Germany 3 , and 'taste' is certainly
a central term for Diderot and others in France. However, the differences
between British and continental theories of'taste' as such fall outside the scope
of this paper.) For Shaftesbury, the formation of taste is an essential part of the
moral education of a young nobleman. For Hume, the subjectivity of taste poses
acutely the problems to which his scepticism leads him. Alison takes up the
whole tradition of trying to define and provide a guide for the formation of
taste. A worrisome problem for Alison is the variability to which taste is subject;
one object of his essays is to stabilize taste. For example, he worries that:

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relation to the practice of the great, and of course, to suffer their sentiments of beauty
to vary with the caprice of this practice (p 27)

Such sounds are beautiful or sublime, only as they express Passions or Affections
which excite our sympathy There are a great variety of tones in the human voice,
yet all these tones are not beautiful. If we inquire what are the particular Tones which
are so, it will universally be found, that they are such as are expressive of pleasing or
interesting affections. . This coincidence of the Beauty and Sublimity of the
Tones of the human Voice, with those qualities of mind that are interesting or
affecting to us, if it is not a formal proof, is yet a strong presumption, that it is from
the expression of such qualities that these sounds derive their Sublimity or Beauty
(P 46)
This is one reason for thinking that disinterestedness plays a circumscribed role
in Alison's aesthetic theory. For Kant, disinterestedness is a condition for the
production of the fundamental aesthetic intuition. For Alison, it is only one
means of sorting aesthcticjudgements. Those which are interested in one sense

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Shaftesbury at the beginning of the century shared the same concerns. The
common theme throughout is that taste is founded upon an emotion of taste.
That is not the same as saying that taste is an emotion It means only that there is
an emotional basis to which one can refer. Alison identifies three specific
emotions as aesthetic beauty, sublimity, and grace. Beauty and sublimity
correspond to qualities of mind Grace differs from beauty but is allied to it. It is
'never observed without affecting us with emotions of peculiar delight' (p. 118).
Like Kant, Alison distinguishes the emotions of taste from other kinds of
pleasure as a form of delight. But for Alison, this distinction arises because the
simple emotions require 'no additional train of thought' while for emotions of
taste 'it seems evident that this exercise of mind is necessary, and that unless this
train of thought is produced, these emotions are unfelt' (p 35). Thus Alison
makes the same emotional distinction that we find in Kant but he locates it on
the opposite end of the logical scale, so to speak. Kant locates the delight in the
beautiful as prior to the more complex pleasures which involve desire and
concepts; Alison places it subsequent to the complex operation of the mind.
Aesthetic emotion is thus a consequent for Alison. Alison shares with most
earlier writers a distrust for 'interested'judgements Shaftesbury, for example,
seeks to separate the public interest from private interest, and Hume specifically
identifies the need to set aside prejudice as a condition for a true judge. But
disinterestedness is a matter of critical judgement. For example, Hume
mentions the need to set aside friendship or enmity with the author. 4 The
formation of the associations which produce the aesthetic emotion is not itself
disinterested For Alison, in particular, if there were no associations and a train
of thought, the complex emotion necessary for beauty or sublimity could not be
present. One would have only indifferent perception. For example, Alison
argues.

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will be unreliable; but without a fundamental interest, no emotion would be


possible in the first place. This is obviously a different sense of'interest', but it
limits 'disinterestedness' in a way which is consistent with Shaftesbury and
Hume and quite different from Kant
Alison's acceptance of the traditional link between taste and emotion presents
him with a problem which did not exist earlier, however (and one which does
not exist for Kant because of where he locates the delight in beauty). If there
were a specific emotion or principle of mind which one could identify with
beauty, then whatever problems arose in specifying it, there would be no
further problems in claiming for it the associated emotional quality. We might
call this the aesthetic experience thesis: aesthetic experience rests upon its own
immediate experience with its own emotional qualities. It is accepted by most of
the eighteenth-century writers on aesthetics, including Hume. The presence of
this form of experience is the basis for judgements of taste. But Alison rejects
sense theory and simple emotions. The emotion he refers to is a complex
emotion which requires imagination and association and which must be
expressive of mind. On Alison's theory, anything can be the basis for the
emotion of taste as long as it is capable of becoming 'significant or expressive to
us of very different, and far more interesting qualities than those it possesses
itself (p. 39). The distinction from simple emotion rests on an exercise of mind,
and the 'more interesting qualities' are those which are expressive of mind But
such qualities become interesting and expressive of mind just because they are
the product of imagination. The only emotional distinction involved is that there
seems to be a peculiar kind of delight or pleasure in the aesthetic, but this delight
is the complex result of imagination- 'The pleasure, therefore, which
accompanies the Emotions of Taste, may be considered not as a simple, but as a
complex pleasure; and as arising not from any separate and peculiar Sense, but
from the union of the pleasure of SIMPLE EMOTION, with that which is annexed,
by the constitution of the human mind, to the Exercise of IMAGINATION' (p. 37).
Others before Alison maintained that the ideas of taste are complex If
Alison's position is different, and that is open to question, it is because he is
concerned with a complex emotion. In Locke, for example, the idea of beauty is
a complex idea, but the pleasure which accompanies it is itself simple. Peter
Kivy argues that Francis Hutcheson departs from Locke at this point because
'that there is a sense of beauty implies that the idea of beauty is a simple idea'. 5
Kivy acknowledges that Hutcheson might postulate a sense only because the
pleasure which accompanies the idea of beauty is simple, though he thinks this
'an awkward and left-footed reading of Hutcheson'. (I wonder if it is any more
awkward than trying to make uniformity amidst variety a simple idea.) At any
rate, Alison, who is arguing against sense theories, has no such need. But Alison
also distinguishes the resulting emotion from the process which produces it.
The complexity which Alison requires is primarily in the process. It is a
complexity due to association and imagination, which Alison takes to be a

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faculty similar to but independent of reason. The resultant process is thus a


uniquely mental one, and the emotion is really a response to this mental train of
ideas. This is what makes the original qualities expressive of mind Here too
Alison is obviously influenced by Reid and by the long tradition which finds in
the mind signs of the Platonic world of ideas. But note the differences. When
these mental qualities appear in Shaftesbury, they clearly echo neo-Platonic
language, at least For Alison, the mind is interesting because it is sympathetic
and human. Without the human qualities, we find perception indifferent; with
them, we experience an emotion of pleasure. Neither the emotion nor the
qualities are as important as the mind which they come to mirror. 6
The uniqueness of the emotion of taste which was a central part of the earlier
theories plays no real role for Alison. For him, the mind, by working upon the
material qualities and simple emotions, builds up associations and connections
which make of the original quality a sign of the mind's own imaginative
operation. 'It requires some pains to separate this connexion, and to prevent us
from attributing to the Sign, that effect which is produced alone by the Quality
signified' (p. 39). Alison seems confident that such a separation can be made, but
it is by no means clear how that is to be done. One cannot appeal directly to the
quality because it is not unique, it is the product of imagination and association
which will vary from individual to individual. And to say that it is the quality
'expressive of mind' is obviously circular since we are trying to separate just
those qualities. One suspects here that the idea of an emotion is a survival of the
tradition that Alison is modifying 'Imagination' and 'expression' do not, in
fact, require the idea of a different kind of emotion at all as Alison develops
them, though he will continue to speak as if taste were a matter of a feeling or
emotion of some complex but distinctive kind.
Viewed in this way, Alison's identification of the emotions of taste becomes
quite empty. It is based on a complex circle of definitions and theoretical terms.
At bottom, Alison appeals to a kind of intuitive ground This is provided by the
aesthetic predicates which appear frequently throughout the essays. Beauty,
sublimity and grace are made more explicit by particular adjectives: 'In those
trains [of thought], . . which are suggested by objects of Sublimity or Beauty,
however slight the connexion between individual thought may be, I believe it
will be found, that there is always some general principle of connexion which
pervades the whole, and gives them some certain or definite character They are
either gay, or pathetic, or melancholy, or awful, or elevating, etc., according to
the nature of the emotion which is first excited' (p. 23). Each of these predicates
identifies some character of emotion for Alison But since there is no single
emotion of beauty or sublimity, there is no self-evident reason why 'awfulness'
should be an emotion of sublimity but 'nauseating' should not. Wejust know
that some predicates are aesthetic and others are not.
Alison does try to specify what produces aesthetic emotions, however. A
major part of that answer is the faculty of imagination Alison does not go as far

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as Coleridge in making imagination a creative faculty. Nor does Alison


distinguish imagination and fancy, and their operation is subsequent to the
presentation of any object to the mind (p. 11). But imagination transforms the
objects of beauty or sublimity into emotionally productive objects:
The landscapes of Claude Lorraine, the music of Handel, the poetry of Milton,
excite feeble emotions in our minds when our attention is confined to the qualities
they present to our senses, or when it is to such qualities of their composition that we
turn our regard. It is then, only, we feel the sublimity or beauty of their productions,
when our imaginations are kindled by their power, when we lose ourselves amid the
number of images that pass before our minds, and when we waken at last from this
play of fancy, as from the charm of a romantic dream (p 11)
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We can say, then, that the aesthetic predicates which characterize the specific
emotions of taste are those which are the product of imagination. But for
Alison, an independent 'faculty' is no real solution. He holds that all aesthetic
predicates are expressive of qualities of mind, and he attributes them to
imagination which is 'the indulgence of a train of thought' (p. 22). That does not
succeed in identifying them.
Even the appeal to imagination is too broad, however. 'It is by no means true
that such an exercise of imagination is necessarily accompanied with pleasure;
for these conceptions not only may be, but very often are of a kind extremely
indifferent, and sometimes also simply painful' (p 22). Thus imagination is at
most a necessary condition for the emotion of sublimity or beauty. Alison
appeals to the uniqueness of the emotions of beauty and sublimity here to
distinguish one result of imagination from another. But in that case one cannot
use the presence of imagination as the identifying characteristic for the
emotions. Alison vacillates between his traditional acceptance of the unique
emotion of beauty and his need to find a more precise specification of it once he
gives up the simplicity of sense or principle. At most, imagination can be a
necessary condition for some object producing an emotion properly described
by one of the aesthetic predicates
The incipient circularity which is at work throughout is, perhaps, most
evident here. There are objects which are 'simply indifferent, or at least are
regarded as indifferent in our common hours either of occupation or
amusement' (p. 22). And there are objects which produce some aesthetic
emotion. 'Thus the ideas suggested by the scenery of Spring, are ideas
productive of emotions of Cheerfulness, of Gladness, and of Tenderness' (p.
22). So, Alison can hold, simply being an 'idea of emotion' is itself a necessary
condition. But since the objects do not necessarily produce such emotions and
the imagination can also be 'indifferent' neither by itself is sufficient. Jointly,
each is defined in terms of the other. Imagination, in and of itself, does not break
the circle, and 'ideas of emotion' are nothing other than the class of aesthetic
predicates, so one cannot define membership in the class without circularity

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It should seem, therefore, that a very simple, and a very obvious principle is
sufficient to guide our investigation into the source of the sublimity and beauty of
the qualities of Matter If these qualities are in themselves fitted to produce the
Emotions of Sublimity or Beauty (or, in other words, are in themselves beautiful or
sublime), I think it is obvious that they must produce these Emotions,
independently of any association If, on the contrary, it is found that these qualities
only produce such Emotions when they are associated with interesting or affecting
qualities, and that when such associations arc destroyed, they no longer produce the
same emotions, I think it must also be allowed that their Beauty or Sublimity is to be
ascribed, not to the material, but to the associated qualities (p 39)
Alison clearly maintains that the latter is the case. But association does not
explain the nature of the associated qualities. It only accounts for how it is that
one thing, a Spring scene, for example, can have a set of associated qualities,
tenderness, for example, which it does not itself supply. It is the exercise of the
imagination which provides associations which are emotionally qualified as
emotions of taste and which distinguishes them from other associations which

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except by specifying all the specific emotions. Alison does not pretend to do
that, and it is for an alternative that we are looking.
Alison tries to break out of the circle by appealing to a principle of
composition- unity of character 'It is true, that [if?] those trains of thought
which attend the Emotions of Taste, are uniformly distinguished by some
general principle of connexion, it ought to be found, that no Composition of
Objects or qualities in fact produces such emotions, in which this Unity of
character or of emotion is not preserved' (p. 28). By this unity of character,
Alison seems to mean that one cannot mix gaiety and sadness, for example,
without destroying the emotion of taste that either would produce by itself. The
great positive example of unity is found in landscape gardening where the artist
has a power 'to remove from his landscapes whatever is hostile to its effect, or
unsuited to its character, and, by selecting only such circumstances as accord
with the general expression of the scene, to awaken an emotion more full, more
simple, and more harmonious than any we can receive from the scenes of
Nature itself (p. 29) As such, however, unity of character is only a limiting
condition It can tell us why a landscape fails to excite the emotions one might
expect, but it cannot tell us why a Spring scene is beautiful in the first place.
One part of the answer to this last question comes from Alison's use of the
theory of association, of course. A Spring scene provides associations which are
of the same character as it itself is, and the complex emotions which result are
cxprcssivejust because they provide a regular train of associations which recur
whenever a similar object appears. By themselves, qualities of matter produce
no emotion; 'yet it is obvious that they may produce this effect, from their
association with other qualities' (p. 38). Also, Alison is quite clear that when one
breaks the associations, then the emotion disappears. But the theory of
association is limited in what it can tell us Alison presents it this way

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we would characterize as non-aesthetic. Association, by itself, cannot supply


the nature of the ideas themselves It can only give us the source of the ideas.
The distinction between simple pleasures of emotion and the complex delight
which we feel in an emotion of taste rests upon what Alison calls 'the production
of a regular or consistent train of ideas of emotion' (p. 35). This begins as a
re-statement of a necessary condition'

But the production of a regular or consistent train of ideas of emotion is not


simply the imagination. Alison is in fact proposing a new condition He takes it
to be equivalent to the exercise of imagination, but the difference is evident:
imagination produces a kind of emotion; a regular and consistent train of ideas
of emotion requires only a kind of associative link. Alison comes very close to
turning this into a sufficient condition- 'Whenever . . this train of thought, or
this exercise of imagination is produced, we are conscious of an emotion of a
higher and more pleasing kind; and which, though it is impossible to describe in
language, we yet distinguish by the name of the Emotion of Taste' (p. 35). This
exercise of the imagination, one which produces the 'higher emotion', is what
Alison has been seeking to distinguish. In spite of admitting that it cannot be
described by language, he gives it a name' 'delight' (p 37).
Once he has established that 'the constant connexion we discover between the
sign and the thing signified, between the material quality and the quality
productive of Emotion, renders at last the one expressive to us of the other' (p.
38), Alison turns in the second essay to an examination of the particular simple
qualitiessound, sight, form, motion, colour, attitude and gesture. He does
not develop the distinction between imagination and connection which I have
suggested above In any event, the subtle move to constant connection and a
consistent train of ideas would still be too broad. Just as in the case of
imagination, Alison cannot consistently hold that every instance of a consistent
train of ideas is productive of the emotion of taste.
The schema at which Alison arrives for distinguishing emotions of taste from
simple emotions now looks something like this: Material qualities need produce
no emotion at all; they can be simply indifferent. But objects are suited to
produce simple emotions. Spring and babies both produce an emotion of
tenderness, for example. Association links those objects so that the same simple

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The account which I have now given of this effect, may perhaps serve to point out
an important distinction between the Emotions of Taste, and all our different
Emotions of Simple Pleasure In the case of these last emotions, no additional train
of thought is necessary. The pleasurable feeling follows immediately the presence of
the object or quality, and has no dependence upon anything for its perfection, but
the sound state of the sense by which it is received.
In the case of the Emotions of Taste, on the other hand, it seems evident that this
exercise of mind is necessary, and that unless this train of thought is produced, these
emotions are unfelt (p 35)

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emotion belongs not to one thing but a whole consistent train of ideas. The
faculty of imagination extends the associations and unifies the simple emotion
throughout an occasion. When that happens, a special emotion of taste results,
and this can be called beauty or sublimity or grace depending on the simple
emotions involved. The special form of pleasure which accompanies this special
emotion of taste is given the name 'delight'
The difficulties which this schema leaves are obvious. Of course, the word
'aesthetic' was not in use in Britain in the eighteenth century. However, the
whole enterprise of identifying the emotions of taste on the basis of empirical
rather than rational principles required that the emotion be unique If it was not
the result of a separate sense, then some other grounds had to be supplied for
judgements that some object or scene inspired beauty, sublimity, or grace
Alison has taken up this problem as a matter of course. However, his solution
leaves this difficulty: if the simple emotions are characterized by aesthetic
predicates (e.g., 'tenderness'), then no non-circular account is given of how the
complex emotion of beauty is aesthetic. If simple emotions such as tenderness
are not yet emotions of taste, then no account is given of how those which lead
to beauty are to be distinguished. In either case, Alison is left without an account
of imagination and expression which does not presume the kind of distinctions
which he is using imagination and expression to explain.
That he is left with an unresolved problem does not detract from Alison's
achievement, however. He has moved a considerable distance beyond the
eighteenth-century positions which he inherits. Alison's development of the
theory that emotions of taste are complex emotions dependent on the operation
of the mind retains the fundamental empiricism of Hume and the Scottish
Enlightenment without committing him to a further fragmentation of
experience. In this, he follows a path similar to Kant's. Both see the operation of
the mind and its ability to give a form to the perceptual data of the senses as a
necessary condition for complex ideas. Alison lacks Kant's transcendental a
priori categories, however. He tries to make association and imagination do the
job by themselves. In the process, he develops much more sophisticated theories
of imagination and of the expressive power of objects than anything earlier.
That his theories retain links with the earlier writers is not surprising and
perhaps adds to their importance.
What has happened, I think, is that Alison continues to think of beauty as an
emotion with unique qualities. But he sees that it cannot be a simple emotion. It
is too diverse, and it involves too many different aesthetic predicates. His real
opponents, acknowledged or not, are Hutcheson, Hogarth, and Burke.
Hutcheson postulated an internal sense as the mechanism by which aesthetic
perception operated. This sense could then respond to complex formal features
in the objectuniformity amidst variety. Hogarth and Burke, in different
ways, respond to the psychological difficulties in Hutcheson's position and shift
to a more formal descriptionsensuous line or magnitude and delicacy Hume

DABNEY TOWNSEND

U3

Dabney Townsend, Department of Philosophy, University of Texas at Arlington,


P.O. Box 19527, Arlington, Texas 76019, U S A .

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also makes this shift but rather than try to locate the formal principles in the
object, he examines the delicacy and scope of the judge. These alternatives
exemplify the principal eighteenth-century options in aesthetic theory Both
lines retain an essentially Lockean ideational form, however That is, the
emotion in question is the result of a perceptual or quasi-perceptual capacity
which is immediate and which requires only a passive capacity of the mind.
Beauty, sublimity, and their subjective counterpart, taste, are thus the
immediate and unique result of the experience of the perceiver That is at once
the guarantee of their empirical status and the source of their subjectivity, as
Hume saw One answers the question what is beauty (or what is the source of
good taste) by pointing to a range of ideas which belong to the experience of the
individual, just as one answers the question what is colour by pointing to a range
of colour perceptions and the laws governing such perceptions But where
physical laws come into play as a check on the subjectivity of colour perception,
no such laws seem to govern taste.
Alison approaches this problem directly The range of experience with which
taste is concerned is produced only by a subjective operation of the mind. The
laws which will govern it are the laws which govern association and which a
faculty psychology (including imagination) make plausible. What Alison does
not notice is that this shift makes the language of an emotion of taste
anachronistic Because he has moved away from the Lockean presuppositions
which governed the earlier theories which he contests, he no longer has a
theoretical need for the uniqueness which gave empirical status to the emotions
of taste The presence of this aesthetic emotion now proves a theoretical
embarrassment because Alison has no way to identify it. He is still carrying
along the baggage of unique aesthetic modes of experience when he has shifted
the ground fundamentally.
Of course Alison is not alone in retaining aesthetic experience in a schema in
which it no longer has a place. In fact, he shares it with the whole romantic
tradition of 'expression' theories of aesthetic experience. Nor is it clear that
without the earlier aesthetic-experience thesis Alison would be any better off
He comes rather close, as it is, to making aesthetic predicates simply taste terms
which can only be identified by a kind of'look and see' claim It seems to me
highly unlikely that Alison would have felt comfortable with the relativism that
results from this had he formulated it clearly. The implicit consequences of
Alison's turn to the complex operations of the mind are too involved to trace
here, however. He suggests romantic themes without abandoning the older
neo-classical terminology, and the way that he does clarifies the transition.

144

ARCHIBALD ALISON AESTHETIC EXPERIENCE AND EMOTION


REFERENCES

theories of taste There is no need, however,


to place Alison in one box or the other
Archibald Alison, Essays on the Nature and
Principles of Taste (London Ingram, Cooke,
and Co , 1853), p 8 The Essays were first
published in 1790 in Edinburgh and went
through at least six editions by 1825 The 1853
edition in 'The Universal Library' is a reprint
ofthe second edition of 1810 It differs only in
providing translations for Alison's frequent
citations of Latin and French examples Two
sets of page numbers occur, one for the essay
and a second for the volume as a whole My
references are to the volume numbers at the
bottom ofthe page Subsequent parenthetical
references in my text are to the 1853 edition
See for example, Bernard Peach in the introduction to his edition of Hutcheson's Illustrations on the Moral Sense (Cambridge, Massachusetts Harvard U P , 1971), pp 1114
David Hume, 'Of The Standard of Taste', in
Hume's Ethical Writings, ed Alasdair MacIntyre (London Colher-Macmillan, 1965),
pp 286-7
Peter Kivy, The Seventh Sense (New York
Burt Franklin, 1976), p 47
For a discussion of Alison's understanding of
'complex' and his relation to other writers, see
Kivy, The Seventh Sense, Chapter XI

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Jerome Stolnitz, 'On the Origins of "Aesthetic Disinterestedness" ', Journal of Aesthetics
and Art Criticism, XX (Winter, 1961), pp
131-43 and 'The "Aesthetic Attitude" in the
Rise of Modern Aesthetics', Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, XXXVI (Summer,
1978), pp 409-22 George Dickie has argued
that Alison should not be considered an
attitude theorist in a strong sense (See Art and
the Aesthetic An Institutional Analysis (Ithaca
Cornell U P , 1974) The debate between
Dickie and Stolnitz has been re-engaged
recentlysee George Dickie, 'Stolnitz' Attitude Taste and Perception' and Jerome Stolnitz, 'The Aesthetic Attitude in the Rise of
Modern AestheticsAgain', The Journal of
Aesthetics and Art Criticism XLIII, 2 (Winter,
1984), pp 193208 ) The problem with their
way of arguing is that it puts too much
emphasis on classifying someone like Alison
who is a complex, transitional figure I think
that Dickie is right that Alison is not an
attitude theorist in the way that some later
nineteenth-century figures are However, Alison's way of developing the complexity of the
emotion of taste moves him away from earlier
theories of taste in a decisive way Thus
Stolnitz is also correct to insist that Alison
should be seen as breaking with the earlier