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The coherent concept of psychical distance and the danger of neutrality

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Philosophy Teacher's Assistant
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  1. Introduction
  2. Criticisms of Bullough resolved with modal analysis
  3. The positive aspect of psychical distance
  4. Objection to Bullough
  5. The philosophies of Dirk Vollenhoven and Herman
  6. An example of the real problem
  7. Cheetham's proposal
  8. Conclusion
  9. References

In 1912, Edward Bullough published ??Psychical Distance' As a Factor in Art and as an Aesthetic Principle,? a seminal article that permanently introduced ?Psychical Distance? as a fundamental term for 20th Century aesthetic theory. A certain suspicion, however, has attended the term. Writers like George Dickie and Lester Longman have accused Bullough's idea of incoherence, deadly ambiguity, and arrogant over-extension. In this essay, I will try to demonstrate the falsehood of these accusations when ?Psychical Distance' is understand via the interpretive framework of modal analysis. Then, continuing with the modal perspective, I will show the real danger that attends the application of Psychical Distance by examining how one author uses it to postulate a religiously neutral human sphere.

The various criticisms of Psychical Distance levelled by George Dickie, Lester Longman, and Kingsley Price fall into three basic categories. First, Bullough is accused of claiming both a negative and a positive function for psychical distance but only describing its negative function; second, he is accused of false analysis, especially in regard to his use of the word ?practical?; third, he is accused of linguistic ambiguity to the point of nonsense.

[...] While Bullough's concept of Psychical Distance makes sense to the careful reader, it must always be understood and applied within a non- reductionistic context or its deepest insights will become its deepest downfalls. Dickie, George. "Bullough and the Concept of Psychical Distance." Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 22, no (1961): 233-238. Bullough, Edward. "'Psychical Distance' as a Factor in Art and as an Aesthetic Principle." In Aesthetics: Classic Readings from the Western Tradition, Dabney Townsend, 301-321. Sudbury, Mass.: Jones and Bartlett Publisher Ibid Ibid Ibid To put it in Seerveldian terms for the benefit of any readers who subscribe to that aesthetic: for Bullough, the positive aspect of Psychical Distance involves opening oneself up fully to the allusivity an object, by treating the allusions derived from the interaction of one's psyche with the object as part of the phenomenon under consideration. [...]


[...] He asks, ?what if we looked at the other as we look at a work of Using the terms distance and disinterest interchangeably, he suggests that ?viewed positively, what is conveyed by the concept of disinterest is a feeling that aesthetic experience is something akin to an oasis in the world of difinite imperatives, interested action or utilitarian concerns.?[17] Later, he continues, designating interactions between religions as aesthetic modes of apprehension associated with imagination, the free play of ideas, we have perhaps granted a greater capacity for unfetter and of boundary' interactions.?[18] But lest we think he simply means appreciating the aesthetic aspects of religions, Cheetham notes the following: We might speak of the aesthetic attributes of a particular religion: the beauty of its narratives, the symbolism representative of its meaning, the form of its objects of ritual or devotions. [...]


[...] As I mentioned, this proposal of Cheetham's is an example of the danger of Psychical Distance. The flavor of the phrase suggests a reality- altering relation, in which the religious norms for all of life are temporarily suspended in the interest of imaginative contemplation. Cheetham's proposal is perhaps the most extreme possible version of this use of Psychical Distance. But it could have similarly disastrous effects if applied to economically, ethically, socially, or politically qualified parts of life. Moreover, the use of an aesthetic attitude to replace the primary significance of some part of life is an unaesthetic move. [...]

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