Dates: 1926-

Nationality: American

Since the early 1960s Dickie has made numerous important contributions to the philosophy of art. Among the most influential of his contributions are his attacks on key aspects of widely held aesthetic theories and his creation and critical development of the institutional theory of art. His critique of aesthetic theory addresses a number of theses about what is involved in people’s experiencing something’s aesthetic qualities (and associated theses about aesthetic objects), whereas his Institutional Theory provides an account of the concept of art that locates art’s essence within a special category of social practices attributed to a social group Dickie calls the artworld.

A widely held view among aesthetic theorists is that someone must in some way invoke a special mode of perception in himself or herself in order to experience something’s aesthetic qualities (or in order to experience something as an aesthetic object). Invoking this special mode of perception is commonly equated with adopting a special attitude toward what is being experienced, a disinterested attitude, for example. Speaking generally, Dickie shows that experiencing aesthetic qualities cannot require adopting a special attitude by providing counterexamples to the various attempts philosophers have made to show that there is a distinct kind of experience (properly classified as aesthetic experience) that people must have in order to experience something’s aesthetic qualities, and that having this kind of experience requires adopting a special attitude.

Early on in his attack on aesthetic attitude theorists, Dickie argued against the view that experiencing something’s aesthetic qualities required attending to it disinterestedly. He did this by providing examples to show that the difference between people who are experiencing something’s aesthetic qualities and people who are experiencing the same object without being aware of its aesthetic qualities merely is a function of which characteristics of the thing each person is paying attention to, regardless of the interests motivating his or her attention. Since the difference in what is experienced is explained by what is being attended to, not the mode of attention, it is not necessary to introduce notions like disinterested attention or other special modes of perception (identified in terms of the perceiver’s interests, purposes, or motives) in order to understand the experience of something’s aesthetic qualities.

Bailey, George W. S.. “Dickie, George.” Encyclopedia of Aesthetics. Ed. Michael Kelly. Oxford Art Online. 13 Mar. 2010 <>

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