Contemporary definitions are of two main sorts. One distinctivelymodern, conventionalist, sort of definition focuses on art’sinstitutional features, emphasizing the way art changes over time,modern works that appear to break radically with all traditional art,and the relational properties of artworks that depend on works’relations to art history, art genres, etc. The less conventionalistsort of contemporary definition makes use of a broader, moretraditional concept of aesthetic properties that includes more thanart-relational ones, and focuses on art’s pan-cultural andtrans-historical characteristics.
Definitions of art attempt to make sense of two different sorts offacts: art has important historically contingent cultural features, andit also, arguably, has trans-historical, trans-cultural characteristicsthat point in the direction of a relatively stable aesthetic core.(Theorists who regard art as an invention of eighteenth-century Europewill, of course, regard this way of putting the matter as tendentious,on the grounds that entities produced outside that culturallydistinctive institution do not fall under the extension of“art” and hence are irrelevant to the art-defining project(Shiner 2001). Whether the concept of art is precise enough to justifythis much confidence about what falls under its extension claim isunclear.) Conventionalist definitions take art’scultural features to be explanatorily fundamental, and attempt tocapture the phenomena—revolutionary modern art, the traditionalclose connection of art with the aesthetic, the possibility ofautonomous art traditions, etc.—in social/historicalterms. Non-conventionalist or “functionalist”definitions reverse this explanatory order, taking a concept like theaesthetic (or some allied concept like the formal, or the expressive)as basic, and aim to account for the phenomena by working that conceptharder, perhaps extending it to non-perceptual properties.
Personhood is the status of being a person
Thus, revivals can turn to the Order of Malta as an example of the meaning,in a 20th century context, of the phrase "order of knighthood".In essence, they argue, the present-day Order of Malta, by its fame alone,shows that historical continuity need not be observed exactly, and itsactivities define what an order of knighthood is. Anything that resemblesit is an order of knighthood. It should be clear why I find this logicrather backwards. The Order of Malta is a legitimate order of knighthoodto the extent that it is . The changes in its vocation and constitution, although important,do not outweigh that historical continuity (evidenced in part in the classof Knights of Justice, whose rigorous criteria the revivals do not eventry to emulate). But to take those changes as it as anorder allows one to dispense with the criterion of historical continuity,which is of course the aim of those revivals.