This thesis discusses Mikel Dufrenne’s view presented in The Phenomenology of Aesthetic Experience (1953) that the aesthetic experience is a fundamental aspect of human existence, which is valuable in its own right because it conveys truth. According to Dufrenne the aesthetic experience is the reading of, and contemplation on, the expressed meaning of an aesthetic object. The expressed meaning is purely sensuous and its comprehension is bodily. In the thesis I pose three questions to this view. First, if the aesthetic experience is a bodily comprehension of sensuous expression, what separates it from empathy? Second, if it is said that the expressed meaning of the aesthetic object is true, what is aesthetic truth? Third, if it is held that the aesthetic experience is fundamental, and thus necessary and universal, how does it relate to its socio-cultural context?
Briefly put, I argue that the major difference between aesthetic and empathic experience, is that aesthetic experience conveys truth. According to Dufrenne, truth is a meaning that illuminates the real. The expressed meaning of the aesthetic object is such an illumination, and it can be described as being structured by an a priori principle. Therefore, the expression of the aesthetic object is not a result of the spectator’s projection, but is an aspect of the aesthetic object itself. However, I argue that even though the aesthetic experience always occurs within a socio-cultural context, it can nevertheless not be reduced to be a product of this context alone. Finally, I present three contemporary approaches to aesthetic meaning, and discuss their merits in light of Dufrenne’s theory, and briefly propose how it can be relevant for further interdisciplinary work between art history, theory and philosophical aesthetics.