Remember the medium! : film, medium specificity, and response-dependence

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis (PhD)


Medium specificity is a theory, or rather a cluster of arguments, in aesthetics that rests on the idea that media are the physical material that makes up artworks, and that this material contains specific and unique features capable of 1) differentiating media from one another, and 2) determining the aesthetic potential and goals of each medium. As such, medium specificity is essential for aestheticians interested in matters of aesthetic ontology and value. However, as Noël Carroll has vehemently and convincingly argued, the theory of medium specificity is inherently flawed and its many applications in art history ill-motivated. Famously, he concluded that we should ‘forget the medium’ entirely. In this thesis, I reject his conclusion and argue that reconstructing a theory of medium specificity, while taking Carroll’s objections into account, is possible. To do so, I offer a reconceptualization of the main theoretical components of medium specificity and ground this new theory in empirical research. I first redefine the medium not as the physical material that makes up artworks but as sets of practices – not the material itself but how one uses the material. I then show that what makes media specific and unique is not certain physical features, but the human responses, which can be empirically investigated, to the combination of practices that constitute media. This relation is one of response-dependence, albeit of a novel kind, which I develop by appealing to social metaphysics. The resulting theory is more complex but also much more flexible and fine-grained than the original and provides insight into a variety of current aesthetic theories.
Date of Award22 Jun 2020
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of St Andrews
SupervisorBerys Gaut (Supervisor) & Simon James Prosser (Supervisor)


  • Aesthetics
  • Film
  • Medium specificity

Access Status

  • Full text open

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