Research Group
in Analytic Philosophy

Aesthetic Value and Judgments of the Identity of Musical Works

27 June 2022  |  16:00  |  Online/Zoom


In the last twenty years, a large number of studies conducted by philosophers and psychologists investigated people’s judgments of the persistence of various objects (e.g. persons, material objects, institutions) over time. One influential strand of research has found that our identity judgments are shaped by normative considerations. In the literature on personal identity, it has been found that we believe people to be essentially morally good, thus, ordinary intuitions suggest that moral improvement tends to lead to the continuity of identity of a person, while moral deterioration, on the contrary, leads to the disruption of it. However, normativity extends beyond morality, and it is currently unknown whether the aesthetic value has a similar effect. While humans are considered by the folk to be essentially morally good, we predicted that works of art will be analogously seen as essentially aesthetically valuable.

We ran the first study (N=198) to explore whether normative aesthetic considerations have a similarly strong influence on judgments of the identity of artworks. We presented the participants with short stories describing an artwork which undergoes some changes and thus becomes either more or less aesthetically valuable. We manipulated: (a) artwork type: a painting or a musical work; (b) source of the change type: brought about by the creator or happening independently of their will; (c) aesthetic change type: whether the artwork is aesthetically more or less valuable afterwards. We found that changes in aesthetic value have no influence on judgments of the identity of artworks. The results of this study are in stark contrast to the literature on the effect of moral goodness on personal or institutional identity, and these differences invite both theoretical and methodological reflection.