Peripateticism: Janet Wolff’s Communities as academic fields and their role in determining a classic

On May day, in light of Wolff’s essay "Groundless Beauty" (in The Aesthetics of Uncertainty), we outlined two critical issues in determining the value of a piece of art or literature. 

Today I would like to consider a third that coincides quite closely with Wolff’s community-based establishment of criteria for judgment. As we will see, however, this consideration is virtually useless in real time because upon the emergence of a work of art or literature, as a rule only the respective community in which it appears will assess it, i.e. the art or literary community. Diffusion to other communities such as the sociological, psychological, philosophical takes place only at a later date. 

In her essay “English Art and Principled Aesthetics,” Wolff reaffirms her argument from “Groundless Beauty”: the establishment of criteria of judgment and of hierarchies of works of art is, ideally, the product of reflexive deliberation in the context of communities of interpretation. (25, 37)

Although this is not Wolff’s view, if one were to view these communities as various disciplines such as sociology, psychology, etc., the reception of a work of art or literature by these various fields results in a dialogue between them on the subject of the given work. Coupled with the criteria of innovation and commensurality, as discussed on May 1, this dialog would affirm the place of a work as having value (Wolff’s concern), being beautiful (Wolff’s concern), developing into a classic (Peripateticism’s concern). This engagement by fields outside of the original can, by nature, only take place at a later date, after the piece has established itself in its original community and been brought to the attention of other communities. Again, in contrast to Wolff, I see this dialogue, with the presence of the other factors, as sufficient for determining value.


Wolff, Janet. The Aesthetics of Uncertainty. New York: Columbia University Press, 2008.
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