The Aesthetic Engagement Theory of Art

  • Patrick Grafton-Cardwell (University of Massachusetts Amherst)


I introduce and explicate a new functionalist account of art, namely that something is an artwork iff the fulfillment of its function by a subject requires that the subject aesthetically engage it. This is the Aesthetic Engagement Theory of art. I show how the Aesthetic Engagement Theory outperforms salient rival theories in terms of extensional adequacy, non-arbitrariness, and ability to account for the distinctive value of art. I also give an account of what it is to aesthetically engage a work that relies on our agential capacity to treat an object as having non-instrumental value, even while the ultimate purpose for our engaging the object is to get something from it.

How to Cite:

Grafton-Cardwell, P., (2021) “The Aesthetic Engagement Theory of Art”, Ergo 8: 9. doi:



Published on
13 Dec 2021
Peer Reviewed