Worringer, Dewey, Goodman, and the Concept of Aesthetic Experience: A Biological Perspective


  • Fabio Tononi New University of Lisbon




The purpose of this essay is to advocate the ideas of Wilhelm Worringer, John Dewey, and Nelson Goodman on the roles of perception, empathy, emotion, and enjoyment in aesthetic experience. I will attempt to do this by offering a novel interpretation of some of these thinkers’ insights from a biological perspective. To this end, I will consider the following questions. What is an aesthetic experience? Does such a thing exist at all? If yes, is there a correlation between the concept of the aesthetic and perception? Is it possible, then, to find a biological basis for aesthetic experience? My argument is that a fresh analysis of the aesthetics of Worringer, Dewey, and Goodman, in light of some of the discoveries and theories of the cognitive neurosciences – such as the biological correlations of emotions, the “as-if-body-loop” theory, the discovery of mirror neurons, and the phenomenon of embodied simulation – may provide a contribution to longstanding philosophical problems relating to the nature of aesthetic experience.

Riferimenti bibliografici

Ambrosini, E., et al., Seeing Myself Through my Heart: Cortical Processing of a Single Heartbeat Speeds up Self-Face Recognition, in “Biological Psychology”, 144, 2019, pp. 64-73.

Aristotle, On the Soul, trans. by W. S. Hett, in id., On the Soul. Parva naturalia. On Breath, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA, and London 1957, pp. 1-203.

Battaglia, F., et al., Corticomotor Excitability during Observation and Imagination of a Work of Art, in “Frontiers in Human Neuroscience”, 5, 2011, pp. 1-6.

Baumgarten, A. G., Aesthetica, 2 vols, impens. I.C. Kleyb 1750.

Baumgarten, A. G., Reflections on Poetry, trans. by K. Aschenbrenner, W. B. Holther, University of California Press, Berkeley-Los Angeles 1954.

Beardsley, M., Semiotic Aesthetics and Aesthetic Education, in “Philosophic Exchange: Annual Proceedings”, 1, 1973, pp. 155-171.

Beardsley, M., Languages of Art and Art Criticism, in “Erkenntnis: An International Journal of Analytic Philosophy”, 12, 1978, pp. 95-118.

Collingwood, R. G., Principles of Art, Clarendon, Oxford 1938.

Concerto, C., et al., Neural Circuits Underlying Motor Facilitation during Observation of Implied Motion, in “Somatosensory & Motor Research”, 32(4), 2015, pp. 1-4.

Concerto, C., et al., Observation of Implied Motion in a Work of Art Modulates Cortical Connectivity and Plasticity, in “Journal of Exercise Rehabilitation”, 12, 2016, pp. 417-423.

Costello, D., Kant and the Problem of Strong Non-Perceptual Art, in “British Journal of Aesthetics”, 53, 2013, pp. 277-298.

Critchley, H. D., The Human Cortex Responds to an Interoceptive Challenge, in “Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA”, 101, 2004, pp. 6333-6334.

Critchley, H. D., et al., Cerebral Correlates of Autonomic Cardiovascular Arousal: A Functional Neuroimaging Investigation in Humans, in “Journal of Psychology”, 523, 2000, pp. 259-270.

Critchley, H. D., et al., Activity in the Human Brain Predicting Differential Heart Rate Responses to Emotional Facial Expressions, in “NeuroImage”, 24, 2005, pp. 751-762.

Damasio, A., Descartes’ Error: Emotion, Reason, and the Human Brain, Quill, New York 2000.

Damasio, A., The Feeling of What Happens: Body, Emotion and the Making of Consciousness, Vintage Books, London 2000.

Damasio, A., Looking for Spinoza: Joy, Sorrow and the Feeling Brain, Vintage Books, London 2004.

Darwin, C., The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals, J. Murray, London 1921.

Dewey, J., Art as Experience, Perigee, New York 2005.

Di Dio, C., et al., Human, Nature, Dynamism: The Effects of Content and Movement Perception on Brain Activations during the Aesthetic Judgment of Representational Paintings, in “Frontiers in Human Neuroscience”, 9, 2015, pp. 1-19.

Eibl-Eibesfeldt, I., Ethology: The Biology of Behavior, Holt, Reinhart and Winston, New York 1970.

Ekman, P., Emotion in the Human Face, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 1982.

Ekman, P., Emotions Revealed: Recognizing Faces and Feelings to Improve Communication and Emotional Life, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, London 2003.

Ekman, P., E. R. Sorenson, W. V. Friesen, Pan-Cultural Elements in Facial Displays of Emotions, in “Science”, 164, 1969, pp. 86-88.

Ekman, P., W. V. Friesen, Unmasking the Face. A Guide to Recognizing Emotions from Facial Clues, Prentice-Hall, Englewood Cliffs-London 1975.

Freedberg, D., Empathy, Motion and Emotion, in K. Herding, A. Krause-Wahl (eds) Wie sich Gefühle Ausdruck verschaffen: Emotionen in Nahsicht, Driesen, Berlin 2008, pp. 17-51.

Freedberg, D., Movement, Embodiment, Emotion, in T. Dufrêne, A.C. Taylor (eds) Cannibalismes Disciplinaires. Quand l’histoire de l’art et l’anthropologie se rencontrent, Musée du quai Branly, Paris 2010, pp. 37-61.

Freedberg, D., Choirs of Praise: Some Aspects of Action Understanding in Fifteenth Century Painting and Sculpture, in D. Levine, J. Freiberg (eds) Medieval Renaissance Baroque: A Cat’s Cradle for Marilyn Aronberg, Italica Press, New York 2010, pp. 65-81.

Freedberg, D., Memory in Art: History and the Neuroscience of Response, in S. Nalbantian et al. (eds) The Memory Process: Neuroscientific and Humanistic Perspectives, MIT Press, Cambridge, MA 2011, pp. 337-358.

Freedberg, D., Feelings on Faces. From Physiognomics to Neuroscience, in R. Campe, J. Weber (eds) Rethinking Emotion. Interiority and Exteriority in Premodern, Modern, and Contemporary Thought, Walter de Gruyter, Berlin 2014, pp. 289-324.

Freedberg, D., From Absorption to Judgment: Empathy in Aesthetic Response, in V. Lux, S. Weigel (eds) Empathy: Epistemic Problems and Cultural-Historical Perspectives of a Cross-Disciplinary Concept, Palgrave MacMillan, New York 2017, pp. 139-180.

Freedberg, D., V. Gallese, Motion, Emotion and Empathy in Aesthetic Experience, in “Trends in Cognitive Sciences”, 11, 2007, pp. 197-203.

Freedberg, D., A. Pennisi, The Body in the Picture: The Lesson of Phantom Limbs and the Origins of the BIID, in “Reti, saperi, linguaggi: Italian Journal of Cognitive Sciences”, 7(1), 2020, pp. 5-50.

Fulcher, J. S., “Voluntary” Facial Expression in Blind and Seeing Children, in “Archives of Psychology”, 272, 1942.

Galati, D., K. R. Scherer, P. E. Ricci-Bitti, Voluntary Facial Expression of Emotion: Comparing Congenitally Blind with Normally Sighted Encoders, in “Journal of Personality and Social Psychology”, 73, 1997, pp. 1363-1379.

Gallese, V., The Manifold Nature of Interpersonal Relations: The Quest for a Common Mechanism, in “Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London B”, 358(1431), 2003, pp. 517-528.

Gallese, V., Embodied Simulation: From Neurons to Phenomenal Experience, in “Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences”, 4(1), 2005, pp. 23-48.

Gallese, V., Before and Below Theory of Mind: Embodied Simulation and the Neural Correlates of Social Cognition, in “Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London B”, 362(1480), 2007, pp. 659-669.

Gallese, V., Bodily Selves in Relation: Embodied Simulation as Second-Person Perspective on Intersubjectivity, in “Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B”, 369(1644), 2014, pp. 1-10.

Gallese, V., Embodied Simulation and Its Role in Cognition, in “Reti, saperi, linguaggi: Italian Journal of Cognitive Sciences”, 5(1), 2018, pp. 31-46.

Gallese, V., Embodied Simulation. Its Bearing on Aesthetic Experience and the Dialogue between Neuroscience and the Humanities, in “Gestalt Theory”, 41(2), 2019, pp. 113-128.

Gallese, V., et al., Action Recognition in the Premotor Cortex, in “Brain”, 119, 1996, pp. 593-609.

Gallese, V., C. Keysers, G. Rizzolatti, A Unifying View of the Basis of Social Cognition, in “Trends in Cognitive Sciences”, 8, 2004, pp. 396-403.

Gallese, V., C. Di Dio, Neuroesthetics: The Body in Esthetic Experience, in V. S. Ramachandran (ed.) The Encyclopedia of Human Behavior, 3 vols, Elsevier Academic Press, London, II, 2012, pp. 687-693.

Gallese, V., V. Cuccio, The Paradigmatic Body. Embodied Simulation, Intersubjectivity and the Bodily Self, in T. Metzinger, J. M. Windt (eds.) Open MIND, MIND Group, Frankfurt 2015, pp. 1-23.

Gallese, V., M. Guerra (eds), The Empathic Screen: Cinema and Neuroscience, Oxford University Press, Oxford 2019.

Gallese, V., D. Freedberg, M. A. Umiltà, Embodiment and the Aesthetic Experience of Images, in A. Chatterjee, E. R. Cardillo (eds) Brain, Beauty, & Art, Oxford University Press, Oxford 2021, pp. 88-92.

Gibson, J. J., The Senses Considered as Perceptual Systems, Allen & Unwin, London 1968.

Goldie, P., E. Schellekens (eds), Philosophy and Conceptual Art, Oxford University Press, Oxford 2007.

Goodman, N., Languages of Art: An Approach to a Theory of Symbols, Hackett, Indianapolis 1976.

Guyer, P., 18th Century German Aesthetics, in E. N. Zalta (ed.) The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 2020, https://plato.stanford.edu/archives/fall2020/entries/aesthetics-18th-german/ [accessed: 26 September 2020].

James, W., The Varieties of Religious Experience: A Study in Human Nature, Longmans, Green, New York 1922.

Kandel, E. R., The Age of Insight: The Quest to Understand the Unconscious in Art, Mind, and Brain, from Vienna 1900 to the Present, Random House, New York 2012.

LeDoux, J., Emotion and the Amygdala, in J. P. Aggleton (ed.) The Amygdala: Neurobiological Aspects of Emotion, Memory, and Mental Dysfunction, Wiley-Liss, New York 1992, pp. 339-351.

Lipps, T., Vom Fuehlen, Wollen und Denken, Verlag von Johann Ambrosius Barth, Leipzig 1902.

Martin, W. M., Theodor Lipps and the Psycho-Logical Theory of Judgement, in M. Textor (ed.) Judgement and Truth in Early Analytic Philosophy and Phenomenology, Palgrave Macmillan, London 2013, pp. 9-35.

Mineo, L., et al., Motor Facilitation during Observation of Implied Motion: Evidence for a Role of the Left Dorsolateral Prefrontal Cortex, in “International Journal of Psychophysiology”, 128, 2018, pp. 47-51.

Mitchell, W. J. T., Realism, Irrealism, and Ideology: A Critique of Nelson Goodman, in “Journal of Aesthetic Education”, 25, 1991, pp. 21-35.

Montagu, J., The Expression of the Passions: The Origin and Influence of Charles Le Brun’s ‘Conférence sur l’expression générale et particulière’, Yale University Press, New Haven, CT 1994.

Mouroux, J., On the Notion of Religious Experience, in “The Downside Review”, 66, 1948, pp. 246-259.

Nanay, B., Aesthetics as Philosophy of Perception, Oxford University Press, Oxford 2016.

Nummenmaa, L., et al., Bodily Maps of Emotions, in “Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA”, 111, 2014, pp. 646-651.

Peters, F. E., Greek Philosophical Terms: A Historical Lexicon, New York University Press, New York 1967.

Peyron, R., B. Laurent, L. Garcia-Larrea, Functional Imaging of Brain Responses to Pain. A Review and Meta-Analysis, in “Clinical Neurophysiology”, 30, 2000, pp. 263-288.

Phan, K. L., et al., Functional Neuroanatomy of Emotion: A Meta-Analysis of Emotion Activation Studies in PET and fMRI, in “NeuroImage”, 16, 2002, pp. 331-348.

Quadt, L., H. D. Critchley, S. N. Garfinkel, Interoception and Emotion: Shared Mechanisms and Clinical Implications, in M. Tsakiris, H. De Preester (eds) The Interoceptive Mind: From Homeostasis to Awareness, Oxford University Press, Oxford 2019, pp. 123-143.

Rizzolatti, G., et al., Premotor Cortex and the Recognition of Motor Actions, in “Cognitive Brain Research”, 3, 1996, pp. 131-141.

Sbriscia-Fioretti, B., et al., ERP Modulation during Observation of Abstract Paintings by Franz Kline, in “PLoS ONE”, 8, 2013, pp. 1-12.

Sel, A., et al., The Somatotopy of Observed Emotions, in “Cortex”, 129, 2020, pp. 11-22.

Shelley, J., The Problem of Non-Perceptual Art, in “British Journal of Aesthetics”, 43, 2003, pp. 363-378.

Thompson, J., Development of Facial Expression of Emotion in Blind and Seeing Children, in “Archives of Psychology”, 264, 1941.

Tononi, F., Andrea Mantegna and the Iconography of Mourners: Aby Warburg’s Notion of Pathosformeln and the Theory of Aesthetic Response, in “IKON: Journal of Iconographic Studies”, 13, 2020, pp. 79-94.

Tononi, F., Intermediality and Immersion in Gaudenzio Ferrari’s Adoration of the Magi in Chapel V of the Sacred Mountain of Varallo, in “PsicoArt: Rivista di Arte e Psicologia”, 10, 2020, pp. 1-18.

Tononi, F., Aesthetic Response to the Unfinished: Empathy, Imagination and Imitation Learning, in “Aisthesis: Pratiche, linguaggi e saperi dell’estetico”, 13(1), 2020, pp. 135-153.

Tononi, F., The Aesthetics of Freud: Movement, Embodiment and Imagination, in “Reti, saperi, linguaggi: Italian Journal of Cognitive Sciences”, 8(1), 2021, pp. 125-154.

Tononi, F., The Problem of the Unfinished and the Shaping of the Canon of Finiteness in the Italian Renaissance, in “The Edgar Wind Journal”, 1, 2021, pp. 86-127.

Tononi, F., Aby Warburg, Edgar Wind, and the Concept of Kulturwissenschaft: Reflections on Imagery, Symbols, and Expression, in “The Edgar Wind Journal”, 2, 2022, pp. 38-74.

Tononi, F., The Night of Michelangelo: Animism, Empathy, and Imagination, in “Journal of Comparative Literature and Aesthetics”, 45(4), 2022, pp. 178-192.

Tsakiris, M., H. De Preester (eds), The Interoceptive Mind: From Homeostasis to Awareness, Oxford University Press, Oxford 2019.

Umiltà, M. A., et al., Abstract Art and Cortical Motor Activation: An EEG Study, in “Frontiers in Human Neuroscience”, 6, 2012, pp. 1-9.

Walton, K., Languages of Art: An Emendation, in “Philosophical Studies: An International Journal for Philosophy in the Analytic Tradition”, 22, 1971, pp. 82-85.

Walton, K., Are Representations Symbols?, in “Monist: An International Quarterly Journal of General Philosophical Inquiry”, 58, 1974, pp. 236-254.

Williams, L. M., et al., The Neural Correlates of Orienting: An Integration of fMRI and Skin Conductance Orienting, in “Neuroreport”, 11, 2000, pp. 3011-3015.

Wittgenstein, L., Lectures on Aesthetics, in C. Barrett (ed.) Ludwig Wittgenstein: Lectures & Conversations on Aesthetics, Psychology and Religious Belief, Blackwell, Oxford 2007, pp. 1-40.

Wollheim, R., Nelson Goodman’s Languages of Art, in “Journal of Philosophy”, 67, 1970, pp. 531-539.

Wollheim, R., The Core of Aesthetics, in “Journal of Aesthetic Education”, 25(1), 1991, pp. 37-45.

Worringer, W., Abstraction and Empathy: A Contribution to the Psychology of Style, ed. by H. F. Mallgrave, E. Ikonomou, Routledge and Kegan Paul, London 1953.

Zeki, S., Inner Vision: An Exploration of Art and the Brain, Oxford University Press, Oxford 1999.

Zeki, S., Neural Concept Formation & Art: Dante, Michelangelo, Wagner, in “Journal of Consciousness Studies”, 9, 2002, pp. 53-76.

Zeki, S., The Neurology of Ambiguity, in “Consciousness and Cognition”, 13, 2004, pp. 173-196.


2022-08-08 — Aggiornato il 2022-09-09




Aesthetics, Technique and Emotion (ed. by A. Barale, C. Rozzoni)