I have been mulling a very smug, dismissive review of a recent book by Keith Lehrer. The review is clearly (and probably rightly) annoyed that Lehrer does not engage with recent scholarship in aesthetics. This kind of calling out is necessary function of reviews. (We need a lot more of it. See here for a great instance.) I also am not against folk using terms from the philosophical lexicon correctly in print. (I am one of those vain morons that is proud to have contributed an entry!)
I have never been a fan of Lehrer's philosophizing, so what follows is not particularly motivated by admiration for Lehrer. I am also no fan of his painting, which fits the definition of kitsch without somehow being an ironic statement on my bourgeois taste. I just find the review deeply problematic; I am not sure I have put my finger on the problem, so what follows is still tentative.
My sense is that the reviewer is a little bit too self-confident in his own abilities. Consider the following argument by the reviewer: "Consider this example. A work of art, perhaps a feminist work, may provide the insight that some social institution is unjust. (Lehrer acknowledges works of art can have a moral dimension.) But a work of art cannot be unjust. (It can represent injustice, but that is different from being itself unjust.) So a work of art cannot show us that an institution is unjust by exhibiting one of its own characteristics, namely injustice. This suggests that an account of the exemplarization of the experience of artworks cannot provide a full account of how artworks provide insight." [Apparently, "Exemplarization is the process of turning an experience of an artwork into an exemplar that stands for other experiences."]
Why can't a work of art be unjust? We are never told. Quite a bit of recent of art borders on what we may call disaster tourism. (See here for a treatment that puts it in larger perspective.) A case can be made that such art is unjust even in virtue of causing (Lehrer-style) exemplarization. Despite my love for Plato, I am not sure this is a very interesting fact about such (or any) art, but to deny the very possibility of unjust art underestimates what art can be. And today, when art makes itself smaller, it's the case that folk who underestimate what art can be shouldn't be pontificating and lecturing others about it. (Yeah, I realize that this can be used against me!) They should keep quiet.
Or to put my unease differently: the reviewer seems to have forgotten that philosophy is very difficult.
Finally, a small point. The reviewer writes, "Lehrer's definition also appears to commit one of the cardinal sins of any definition of art: it conflates the definition of art with the definition of good art." Well, "one man's sin is another man's goal". Or to put this slightly philosophically, let's stipulate that the telos of art-making is good art; all things with a telos can fail; but it does not follow that failure at attaining good art, is still art...it is generally (to use a technical term derived from Yiddish) tinnef.