Do gestalt effects show that we perceive high-level aesthetic properties?

Majeed, Raamy (2018). Do gestalt effects show that we perceive high-level aesthetic properties? Analysis, 78(3) pp. 440–450.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1093/analys/any002

Abstract

Whether we perceive high-level properties is presently a source of controversy. A promising test case for whether we do is aesthetic perception. Aesthetic properties are distinct from low-level properties, like shape and colour. Moreover, some of them, e.g. being serene and being handsome, are properties we appear to perceive. Aesthetic perception also shares a similarity with gestalt effects, e.g. seeing-as, in that aesthetic properties, like gestalt phenomena, appear to ‘emerge’ from low-level properties. Gestalts effects, of course, are widely observed, which raises the question: do gestalt effects make it plausible that we (sometimes) perceive high-level aesthetic properties? Contra Stokes (forthcoming), this paper argues that they don’t. This is interesting in its own right, but it also points to a more general lesson, namely we should resist the temptation to appeal to gestalt effects to argue for high-level perception.

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