Master of Arts (MA)


Philosophy and Religious Studies

Document Type



This thesis is an investigation into traditional accounts of aesthetic representation. Using the work of Noel Carroll as an exemplar of the definition put forward in canonical philosophical accounts of aesthetic representation, I look at how Carroll’s account must work. By examining both the definition in abstract and how this definition is instantiated into existent and hypothetical works of art, it becomes apparent that Carroll’s definition is overly stringent and relies upon a counterintuitive distinction between aesthetic representation and aesthetic expression. This distinction is problematic insofar as the distinction seems to be a largely semantic distinction: the mechanism by which a work of art expresses something seems identical to the mechanism by which a work of art represents something, and the method by which one determines whether a work expresses a concept or represents it is wholly dependent on the content communicated. Moreover, if one retains a traditional definition of representation it becomes evident that either our understanding of representation is insufficiently complex to account for metarepresentation—representations that represent representation—or non-representation—representations that represent nothing. I propose a new definition for representation that combines aspects of Carroll’s accounts of both expression and representation, and investigate ways in which such a representation can represent both metarepresentational content and non-representational content. Graham Priest’s work provides a mechanic by which the limits of that which can be expressed may be appropriated into aesthetics, and Jacques Derrida’s account of Antonin Artaud’s theatre of cruelty gives us a limit case of nonrepresentational art for which I contend a definition of representation must account. This representation at the limits requires a representation substantially more expansive than that proposed by Carroll—and thus demonstrates the need for widening the scope of that which can be represented. I conclude by demonstrating how an expanded definition of representation such as that which I put forward can be explanatory of contemporary works of art deemed non-representational in philosophy of art. Moreover, I hope to demonstrate why such an account is preferable to the alternatives.



Document Availability at the Time of Submission

Release the entire work immediately for access worldwide.

Committee Chair

Cogburn, Jon