Dutton, Davies, and Imaginative Virtual Worlds: The Current State of Evolutionary Aesthetics

Joseph Carroll


This paper is a commentary comparing the evolutionary perspectives of Denis Dutton’s The Art Instinct (2009) and Stephen Davies’s The Artful Species (2012). Their topics thus necessarily overlap, but their books have different purposes and a different feel. Davies’s book is an academic exercise. He has no real arguments or claims of his own. Dutton wishes to demonstrate that evolutionary psychology can provide a satisfying naturalistic explanation of aesthetic experience. Neither Davies nor Dutton fully succeeds in his ambition. Davies extends his scepticism well beyond a sensible account of the state of current knowledge about human evolution, and Dutton fails to recognize underlying theoretical differences in his main sources of theoretical inspiration. The limitations in these two works do not define the boundaries of current knowledge in evolutionary aesthetics. The most advanced and adequate concept in the evolutionary humanities is the idea that humans evolved the capacity to create imaginative virtual worlds and use those worlds to guide human behaviour. Both books being considered in this essay approach the idea of imaginative virtual worlds and almost grasp it. Before taking up that topic, the paper shall discuss two subsidiary issues: Dutton’s effort to incorporate sexual selection, and Davies’s sceptical negations about all evolutionary knowledge.


evolutionary aesthetics; Denis Dutton; Stephen Davies; imagination; sexual selection

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.13128/Aisthesis-13771

Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (CC-BY- 4.0)

Firenze University Press
Via Cittadella, 7 - 50144 Firenze
Tel. (0039) 055 2757700 Fax (0039) 055 2757712
E-mail: info@fupress.com