PHIL 332 Philosophy of Beauty -- Core Text, Part three


Sense of Beauty Theories


With Plato things were comparatively simple, even though somewhat mysterious. The formulation of the theory is not lengthy. Yet for most students Plato's transcendent beauty remains obscure and remote. The problem is to connect Plato's Form of Beauty with the familiar beauties found in ordinary experience. Plato's concentration on abstract beauties steers one away from the most familiar experiences of beauty, which being familiar should fall within our powers of analysis. One is pushed beyond these commonplace experiences in a pell mell ascent toward the mysterious, lofty ideal, the experience of which could hardly help being hard to analyze precisely because in that experience our mental powers are extended to, perhaps beyond, their very limits.

In contrast, proponents of the next type of theory focus upon experience of commonplace beauties and consciously try to connect that experience with sense-perception, which is (or seems) much better understood than intellectual intuition. The result is a gain in familiarity and concreteness, but also a considerable increase in complexity. This is reflected in the intricacy of the following exposition. First we must elucidate the model on which the theories are founded. That takes us into concept of sensory perception, which turns out to be much more complicated than the concept of abstract thought (in the present state of our knowledge). Then we must apply this model to our experience of beauty. In the course of this application we must come to grips with a new range of properties, the intriguing class of aesthetic qualities, which are tantalizingly intermediate between objective properties and subjective impressions. And we must anatomize the varieties of pleasure more than Plato forced us to do, in an attempt to be more specific about the nature of aesthetic pleasure.

We must also set aesthetic judgment in the context of a scheme of classification for judgments in general, including scientific and value judgments, seeking to discover the distinctions which gives each its special character and its relations to the others.

All this raises the level of detail and complication. In digging deeper we encounter more problems, not fewer. And our texts present at least as many problems of interpretation as Plato's did. Our explorations therefore become even more convoluted.

Eighteenth century sense of beauty theories, which mark a genuine advance in theorizing about beauty, divide into ones which aim at being empirical, ontologically or epistemologically, taking their inspiration from the new science; and a theory that stands somewhat apart and resists easy classification. The former are all British, the latter the work of the most seminal of thinkers in this period, Immanuel Kant. Kant quite deliberately avoids making beauty empirically knowable, to say nothing of equating it with a natural property. His object is to make a place for valid aesthetic judgment outside of both empirical science and Plato's sort of a priori knowledge. Even so, his theory begins from and makes such extensive such extensive use of the notion of a sense of beauty that we can say his is a sense of beauty theory with a difference. Though Kant's aim is intriguing, it is so difficult to follow that our energies will be better devoted to more modern efforts, for instances that of Zemach. For this reason our study of the 18th century theories will be restricted to the British theories.

British 18th Century Theories of Beauty

As we have seen, the Platonic tradition conceived of beauty as a property of things which exists independently of its exemplifications in space and time; and which is what it is and inheres where it does independently of human response. The idea of independence of human response can be sharpened by saying that the definition of such properties need make no mention of anything psychological. Thus in analogy with his argument in the Euthyphro about holiness, Plato would have said that things are not beautiful because they are aesthetically admired by the gods, but rather the gods aesthetically admire them because they are beautiful. In the sequel to Plato we noticed thinkers wavering in regard to both of these fundamental issues. Aristotle denied transcendence but equivocated about the relation of beauty to human response, as did St. Thomas. Christian neo-Platonists located beauty in the mind of God, which made it seem psychological but then paradoxically raised that "mind" to a level of transcendence that seemed to negate the psychological because the divine mind lay beyond time and thus beyond mental process.


In contrast to the classical tradition 17th and 18th century thinkers progressively "naturalized" the concept of beauty. That is, they sought a basis of aesthetic judgment in human faculties which are part and parcel of the world of space and time. At times the result was scepticism about the reality of beauty. Thus Baruch Spinoza, the great Dutch-Jewish philosopher, in the late 17th century, had this to say:

Beauty, most honour'd Sir, is not so much a quality of the object which is perceived as an effect in him who perceives it. If our eyes were more longsighted or more short-sighted, or if our temperament were other than it is, things which now appear to us beautiful would appear to be ugly and things which now appear to be ugly would appear to us beautiful. The most beautiful hand when seen through a microscope will appear horrible. Some things seen at a distance are beautiful, but seen at close range are ugly. Therefore things regarded in themselves, or in relation to God, may be neither beautiful nor ugly. (Letter LIV to Hugo Boxel, 1674)

This scepticism reflects a larger revisionism under way in thought about the world. John Locke in 1690 published his Essay concerning human understanding, in which all ideas are declared to have been derived from experience -- i.e., from sensation or from awareness of the operations of our minds upon the material provided by sensation. If he had applied this principle rigorously to the idea of beauty, he would have defined beauty in terms of identifiable sensory properties or human response to such properties. In neither case would beauty be transcendent. The general tendency of thought in the 18th century clearly favored the view of beauty as essentially a matter of human response, somehow involving pleasure, but not necessarily just anyone's pleasure under just any conditions. The chief problems were to isolate the relevant sort of pleasure or other response, and to explain how some persons's aesthetic judgment can be better than that of others. Shaftesbury, Hutcheson and Hume are all preoccupied with this problem, though Shaftesbury pays more homage to the Platonic tradition than the others and is in that respect a transitional figure. But he is the one who, along with Joseph Addison, first popularized the key term of the 18th century theories, the sense of beauty.

Addison and Shaftesbury were not the first to speak of a sense of beauty. In 1435 Leon Battista Alberti (On Painting) speaks of "that natural Instinct or Sense in the Mind by which ... we judge of Beauty and Gracefulness." Michelangelo's famous instruction to let the compass be in the eyes not in the hand, implanted the same idea. But the two Englishmen were the first to try to develop the idea into a theory. The idea of a sense of beauty appealed to many British 18th century philosophers because our beauty response seemed immediate or spontaneous, not the result of intellectual deliberation, and yet somehow subject to the sort of objective criteria that sensation in general is (some people see colors more acutely than others do). The sense of beauty seemed to offer a middle ground between Platonic absolutism and entire subjectivism.

In the following excerpts and commentary I follow the same pattern as before. Historical texts are presented with interspersed commentary aimed at bringing out the most useful themes. Our goal is to see what theory of beauty can be constructed from the ideas put forward by the philosophers. We must select, interpret, correct and supplement. Inconsistencies must be eliminated. Hints must be expanded into detailed doctrines.

Given our time limits it seems best to confine the excerpts to two theories: Hutcheson's and Hume's. Both can be called sense of beauty theories. Hutcheson's is more fully developed, making fuller use of what I take to be the basic model for the sense of beauty, namely the "external" senses of sight, hearing, touch, smell, taste, etc., than does Hume's. Intellectually it is more interesting because it shows how a theory can be constructed by use of an analogy with a different domain.


The central analogy is with color, which is certainly familiar to us. Yet we find ourselves suddenly lost when trying to analyze our ideas of it rationally. Hence we must review what we know about color and what that knowledge implies about the kind of property it is. This proves to involve us in entirely unexpected difficulties.


The phenomena of color have proven to be vastly more complex than anyone knew in the 18th century or, for that matter, than the average educated layman knows now. But thinkers even then had a considerable fund of knowledge and lore about color that in general supported the idea that light and objects have color qualities in some genuinely objective sense. Some systematic experiments and theorizing had been carried out, most impressively Newton's with the spectrum. Research was going forward. But most of the detail concerning how colors exist was unavailable. Indeed many crucial parts of our present nontechnical picture of color became known only well into the 19th century. Hence the shared core conception of color in the 18th century was limited to a quite general schema. Even this, however, involved an interesting degree of complication. On the one side is a physical condition in light and in objects that causes color sensations in percipients. On the other side are color qualities of the sensations. Uniting the two sides is a causal relationship which produces variably accurate or skewed color perception, depending on the character of the light reaching the eye (the proximal stimulus) and the condition of the visual faculty. Whether light was composed of particles or waves, what particular light-state produced color perception, what physiological structures in the observer functioned in color perception, etc., were issues that could not be settled. The core concept necessarily left them open.

In the next century or so research gradually filled in the blanks and resolved many of the controversies, producing a far more specific explanation of color phenomena and color experiences. This has come down to us as the layman's nontechnical concept of color. The physical and physiological facts are recognized to be highly complex. The other side of the matter, that of immediately experienced color qualities, is understood in terms of the color solid, with its analysis into hue, saturation, and brightness/lightness, its primaries and complementarity relations, etc. The relationship between the two sides is well enough known to underwrite practical tests of color-normalcy vs. color-blindness of various sorts and to explain a wide variety of color illusions. Thus our common notion of color has filled out the shared schema of 18th century thinkers, giving substance to the basic idea of color as a visible, sensation-related reality, and of vision as a color-perceiving faculty. From examining this conception we can elicit, more clearly than from the remarks of 18th century thinkers, the essential requirements of a sense of color, to serve as a model of the sense of beauty.

Besides these core parts of our common color-lore, we (modestly educated laypersons) are familiar with rainbows, irridescent sheens, phosphorescence, colored filters, and a considerable variety of color appearances or illusions -- effects which are not regarded as the colors either of objects or of light. All told, we are aware of a hugely complex world of color phenomena of which we (laypersons) have only scraps of explanations. But we live in trust that whatever science discovers will not demolish the objectivity of surface (local) color and the color of light. We can hardly imagine doing without the belief that color is a reality in the world, in spite of the many and varied color-illusions to which we are subject and the limited color-acuity of our senses.

On the physiological side of the color story are the rods and cones of the retina that respond differentially to wavelengths, sending signals to the brain which, by a process the layman knows virtually nothing about, produces color experiences. People with deficient retinas or brain centers are known to respond less delicately to wavelengths, thus enjoying correspondingly fewer distinct color experiences. Such persons are color-blind in one degree or other. And everyone, regardless of natural endowment, functions variably at different times depending on a host of organic conditions (e.g. eye fatigue) that lower one's discrimination.


Thus color involves in an essential way two quite different domains: the psychological (qualities of experience) and the physical (a set of environmental and physiological circumstances). But where does that leave our everyday concept of the color of, say, an object? Clearly it isn't identifiable with a quality of experience. When we say a geranium is red we don't have to suppose that it has a quality of an experience. It's a flower, not a sensation, a physical object not a psychological event. But at the same time we don't merely mean (and perhaps don't mean at all) that it emits or reflects wave-lengths of a certain frequency. What we seem to mean is something more complex that draws upon both the sensation-side and the physical-correlate-side. Pressed to explain what we mean we might hazard: the geranium is red in that a standard observer under standard conditions has red sensations when stimulated by light from the geranium. And then, remembering unsensed geraniums, we may shift to the conditional mode, thus: the geranium is red in that red sense-experiences would occur if normally sighted persons were exposed to light from it in standard conditions of illumination, assuming favorable circumstances (sense organs in good condition, conditions of observations favorable, etc.) The exact statement of such a dispositional account of color is a highly complex and controversial topic. The nontechnical idea of the red of the geranium does not presume any sharp or full theory. It is committed only to there being a complex lawlike relationship involving an inner sensation with a certain intrinsic character, an outer stimulus consisting of light of a certain character reflected by the flower, some sort of neural processing by retina and brain, and a battery of normalcy conditions differentiating accurate from distorted perception of the color "out there" in/on the flower.

The Ontology of Color

Color properties, conceived as above, are ontologically complex. They are psychophysical properties, in that they cross the boundary between the physical and the psychological. From this hybrid character arise many deep conceptual problems that have long exercised philosophers and which continue to create controversy. The sense of beauty theories which are based on the model of sensory properties like color therefore share some of these problems. We must, therefore, seek to master the elements in the model, acknowledging the unresolved problems but trying not to be stymied by them.

Let us agree on some terminology:

(1) The nontechnical concept of the color of an object places the property in some way in (or on the surface of) the object. It is the object which is called red or blue or yellow. Yet that concept is based on the immediately experienced color experience. We learn the color word primarily by developing our powers of color discrimination and sorting the reds, greens, yellows, etc. into color-resembling classes in coordination with others -- rather than by learning the physics of color. This is an essential foundation of our use of color terms; purely physical properties of wave-length, radiant energy or reflectance would have no relevance to color terms if these properties had no causal relation to our sensory experience (to the psychological side). Let us refer to this nontechnically conceived color of a thing as the sensory color property. Red, green, blue, yellow, and the ones in between, considered as sensory color properties, are thus hybrid properties: they are ascribed to physical objects or regions on the basis of the relationship of those things to color experience.

(2) The physical correlate of the sensory color, as the dictionary calls it, can be called the physical basis of the color. It is common to call this the physical color, or physical red (blue, etc.). Similarly one may say such things as this: "physically, red is radiant energy of a certain wave-length and intensity." This usage is harmless providing the correlate is not confused with the sensory red. By itself physical red is only an aspect of the full story of a thing's color. Hence it is "color" only in a different sense.

(3) The mental or psychological experience of red is distinguishable from the experience of yellow introspectively, simply by attending to the experience. Thus there is a distinctive quality of experience which we also commonly call red (blue, green, etc.) This quality (quality in the sense of characteristic) is not a purely physical property. In fact, it seems not to be in any way a physical property, since it characterizes our consciousness when there is nothing physical going on to which it could apply, as in dreams and hallucinations. In our private field of visual consciousness we are aware of a red spot or shape, the redness of which we infer others experience in their private fields of consciousness when they and we are able to coordinate our color-distinguishing behavior -- without being able to confirm the likeness by direct observation. This red, furthermore, plays no role in any scientific account of the purely physical properties of the world. On its face it seems not even partially physical, in contrast to the hybrid psychophysical property of sensory red. Thus the red quality in our experience seems purely psychological or mental, or as philosophers have often called it, phenomenal. Accordingly I will refer to it as phenomenal red. I will also speak red sense-data, the sense-datum part of the expression referring to the appearance in consciousness which has the phenomenal quality. Alternatively, writers refer to red qualia (the singular of this is quale).


So far then, we have three "reds" sharing the name but differing in such fundamental ways from each other that it is questionable whether any of them can literally resemble any other, in spite of their common name. Now we must add another ontological distinction between types of properties, namely that between occurrent and dispositional properties.

Occurrent properties = properties each moment of whose possession consists in the occurrence of a characteristic event or state. For example, triangularity is a property which cannot be possessed by anything without at each moment an event taking place: triangularity-occurring-at-t 1, triangularity-occurring-at-t 2, etc. A template is triangular only if it occupies a triangular sector of space. Other occupants are excluded (air, water, etc.) or deflected (light, sound, etc.) in ways directly attributable to the thing's triangularity. The property is thereby manifesting itself at each moment of its existence. Clear examples of occurrent properties are shape, velocity, distance, salinity. Psychological properties can also be occurrent, for instance feeling butterflies in one's stomach, remembering a name, etc.

Dispositional properties are properties the possession of which produces characteristic events only under activating circumstances. For example, magnetizability, solubility, potential energy, and irritability are properties whose possession does not consist in any characteristic occurrence until the circumstances are such as to activate the disposition -- causing an electric current to flow, the substance to dissolve, energy to be exerted, irritation to arise. Dispositional properties are defined by hypotheticals: if such-and-such activating circumstances were to occur, such-and-such a manifest event would occur. For the disposition to exist is merely for the lawlike state of affairs affecting the object to prevail: if activating circumstances, then manifest event. Which event is the appropriate one is indicated by the root of the term for the disposition: dissolve for soluble, for example. The defining hypothetical spells out both the activating conditions and the event which manifests the disposition. Dispositions are thus powers, tendencies, capacities, abilities, proclivities, states of readiness, etc. (We need not draw out the subtle differences among these.)

Now let us combine the general notion of a dispositional property with that of a psychophysical property, that is, one which combines the two major ontological categories, the physical and the pyschological. Some psychophysical properties are occurrent. For example, an action-property like fretting combines overt behavior (physical) with psychological agitation. But many are dispositional. A narrow ledge overlooking a deep vertical drop is frightening. This consists in it having the disposition to cause fear in persons who stand on it. Similarly food-deprivation typically is hunger-causing in persons who suffer it.

Finally, there is a class of psychophysical dispositional properties which have an epistemic component, that is, they incorporate criteria of knowledge. It is to this class that all sensory properties belong, for these dispositions carry with them "fine print" concerning what is required for their valid perception. The sensory property of red, for example, is a power in objects to cause phenomenal color-responses. But this power is not merely the power to cause a certain psychological state, as in the case of food having the power to allay hunger-pangs. More is required. For anything to be (in this sense) red, it must (have the power to) give suitable percipients knowledge of itself under suitable conditions of perception. No such epistemic condition is involved in food being hunger-allaying or a narrow ledge being frightening.

Accordingly sensory redness, say the redness of a wagon, is an epistemically conditioned, pysychophysical disposition. More of this in a moment after we have have applied the occurrent-dispositional distinction to the other two redness properties.

Red as a purely physical color (numbered 2 in our list) is a purely physical property. As the physical color of a surface it can be thought of as a complex occurrent physical property -- the molecular structure of the surface, a certain lattice-like structure of molecules) which reflects the red portion of daylight -- or it can be thought of as a purely physical disposition to reflect that portion of daylight -- the reflectance of that surface. Our non-technical concept of color does not presume to judge which of these is the best choice. Red as a physical property of radiant or reflected light is (or at least involves) the wavelength, which for our purposes should be regarded as an occurrent property.

Psychological or phenomenal red (3 in the list) is an occurrent property of the psychological sort. What is it a property of? Hard question. Perhaps of the experience. Perhaps of what philosophers have called "sense-data". No analysis of sensory experience is universally accepted, so the matter is left unresolved. When I speak of red sense-data (or qualia), "red" will always refer to phenomenal red.


Now let us concentrate on the epistemic component of sensory properties, which is crucial to the entire enterprise of analyzing beauty as a sensory-like property. One major achievement of the intense philosophic inquiry into the nature of sensory properties that began in the 17th century was to bring out, by slow degrees, how vital to our nontechnical concept of these properties were the procedures for validating perceptions of them. To say that a thing is red is to say what color-experiences of it a fully color-sighted person would have under epistemically ideal conditions. But who counts as fully color-sighted, and what conditions count as ideal? Both these notions are tied to the idea of valid knowledge. A fully color-sighted person is one who has the capacity of accurate color-perception across the range of color visible to humans, and ideal conditions are those that are ideal for such perception. To develop the fine print of the red-disposition is therefore to specify in detail the criteria of accuracy of color perception, such as color-blindness tests.

Common to all such criteria are three conditions, which define the ideal case of color accuracy. First, the ideally accurate perceiver must be a maximal discriminator (MD) of phenomenal color-qualities. Such a person must be able to discriminate as many different shades as anyone else. Second, all MDs must agree in their ordering of the different shades (by hue, lightness and saturation) under optimal color-discriminating conditions. Third, this ordering should correspond (fairly well) to a set of variations in the physical stimulus of the phenomenal experiences.

This ideal case need not be actually achieved for perceptions to be valid. A perception (say, a perception that a given color-sample, A, is closer in color to a second sample, B, than it is to a third, C) is valid if it would agree with the ideal. The ideal merely constitutes the ideally authoritative test of accuracy, whether or not we are in a position to apply the test in practice. By the same token it serves to distinguish the real colors from deceptive or deviant color appearances.

Also, to apply the ideal need not require a single set of MDs for all color ranges, only that for each color range there be such a set. Thus if the world is such that such an ideal could in principle be applied, then the conception of valid color-perception is sound. If the world is such as to block, now and in future, decisively, even in principle, the application of such an ideal, then the concept has no application, and with its downfall goes the concept of color as a real property of things. For without the possibility (in principle) of a working criterion, we have no clear concept of the difference between things really being colored and their only looking colored -- at the extreme only causing random color-experiences. Disputes about color relationships (which blues are darker than others, etc.) could not be settled even in principle. Absent the possibility of a working criterion, these disputed questions would have no meaning. But if they have no meaning, the claim that things really stand in those color relationships has no meaning. If that were so -- if there were no sense in talk about the sensory color of things, there would also be no sense in talk about physical color. For the purely physical facts concerning lattice structures or wavelengths or reflectance or radiant energy would no longer have the necessary connection with phenomenal color-data and hence with the ordinary term color..

That is why the epistemic component of sensory properties is so essential to their objectivity. In fact, dependency on epistemic conditions is one of two features that distinguishes sensory properties from purely physical properties such as shape, velocity, distance, mass, which, having no necessary connection with perception, do not depend upon epistemic conditions for their objectivity. The other feature is causal efficacy. Sensory colors do not interact with basic physical properties to produce variations in state. The color of a wagon does not affect its velocity, mass, shape, hardness, etc. One might object that color affects light and therewith heat, but those are effects not of sensory color but only of its physical basis. That purely physical causality would obtain even if those properties did not produce color responses in sentient creatures under any circumstances and hence did not have color in the relevant sense.


When do things begin to be colored?

The foregoing analysis of the concept of sensory color, which gives a central role to color-perceptions, should raise questions in a bright student's mind analogous to the notorious ones about trees falling unheard in the forest. Do they make real sounds? Similarly, on the analysis given here, are wagons really colored when unseen? Careful review of the explanation given above should settle that issue, since it makes colors dispositions. Dispositions exist, or "obtain", even when latent, unactivated. So the color, like the sound, can exist unsensed. They exist if they would be heard (or seen) if there were suitable percipients in suitable conditions -- that is what it means to say they exist or obtain.

But a persistent skeptic willl wonder whether the theory implies that there were no colors before there were any suitable percipients -- back before the dinosaurs and all that. What, he/she will ask, is the minimum required for the disposition to exist? I suggest the answer is something like this: sensory colors are properly said to exist providing (a) the physical basis of color exists, and (b) the universe has within it the capacity to evolve percipients of the relevant sort. So, on the prevailing scientific account of the history of the universe, long before there were any percipients of any sort, back as close to the big bang as there was light with the appropriate wavelengths (perhaps even before), there were colors in our universe. I believe that this is the minimum condition for the existence of sensory color.

But, replies the super-skeptic, may not the universe have within it the capacity to produce more than one equally good color disposition for different sorts of percipient, the alpha percipients (that's us) and the beta percipients, with radically different color responses? If so, are both "colors" really in things? Here is a deep and delicate problem, which I will reserve for later.

Generalization of the above account for other sensory domains

It should be noted that what has been said about color does not correspond precisely to what must be said about sound, based on our nontechnical concept. For local or surface color is "in" objects in a sense in which sensory sound is not. Color exists as a passive state of objects, even when the light is out. Sound exists only when it sounds (which does not mean, when it is heard!). In a vacuum there is none. Language marks this difference by the absence of a counterpart in our color vocabulary of the intransitive verb "to sound". The red wagon does not "color" or "red" (it "reddens", but that means grows redder, which is not to the point). What matches the red of the wagon is the tuning fork's capacity to produce a given sound. It is tuned to a given note, as a piano or guitar string is. The sound is not present in the instrument until it is sounded. Thus sounds are dispositional properties NOT of objects but of events, of vibratings in a medium. Sounds, we might say, are soundings. Similarly luminous colors are (psychophysical dispositional properties of) glowings or shinings, reportable by intransitive verbs (glows, shines). Our nontechnical concepts of sensuous smell and flavor are less definite about whether these are objective properties, but agree that if they are, they must be psychophysical dispositions of events, specifically of discharges or dissolvings of effluvia. Language supports this idea by providing intransitive verbs, as in this lemon tastes sour/smells lemony.

Why is it so hard to live with this conception of sensory color?

This then is the account of sensory properties which emerged by slow stages beginning in the 17th century and becoming the standard nontechnical conception by the late 19th. One has to emphasize how slowly thinkers digested the new conception. Even though the basic schema was put forward at least by 1690, thinkers had at best a weak and confused notion of the ontology implied. This is hardly surprising since even today we feel a strange discomfort with some aspects of the conception, in spite of believing in its good scientific credentials. It is worthwhile dwelling on the reasons for this, since understanding the difficulty will help us deal with the key 18th century texts.


Partly to blame for the difficulty is the sheer complexity of the concept of an epistemically conditioned disposition. But this by itself does not fully explain the resistance the beginner feels to thinking of colors and sounds that way. A deeper reason is that colors and sounds present themselves to us as if they were properties as intrinsic to and occurrent in objects or events as are shapes or velocities, and it is hard to conceive of experience that could present them any other way. Unreflective commonsense takes them in just this way. When that commonsense model is denied, as it is by science, we suffer real conceptual dissonance. We accommodate ourselves to science by adopting two new models: (1) a physical property model of the occurrent basis (molecular structure/wave-length or whatever); (2) a psychological property model of the color as a phenomenal quality. The attraction of these models is that each, like their commonsense ancestor, makes color an intrinsic, occurrent property, in the one case physical, In the other psychological (phenomenal). The upshot is that when speaking scientifically we oscillate between the two as the occasion prompts. If concerned about the object, we speak of color as the physical basis, and take the sensory red as a mere appearance. If concerned about our experience, we speak of color as phenomenal, and think of the physical red as merely what happens to produce it. But at a deep level we go on using the commonsense model according to which the phenomenal color-quality is out there on the surface of the object or in the light. We hide this contradiction from ourselves by a sleight of hand. In switching smoothly from one perspective to the other we never pause to demand consistency from ourselves except in philosophy classes, the lessons of which are soon forgotten.

One root of our difficulty is the commonsense impression that colors are basic elements in reality, as basic as shape or velocity. But if basic, we think, then occurrent, for we like to think of basic realities as occurrent rather than dispositional. It is natural to think of dispositions as possibilities rather than actualities, which are explained by (and hence derivative from) their occurrent basis, as solubility is by chemical structure. So considered they are not independent realities. These ideas are carried over from our practical commerce with things, specifically from our manipulating of reality. For example, if we want to make a wagon red we must modify its occurrent properties, e.g. by painting it red. But both these ideas are (subtly) wrong, because (a) it is not the disposition (sensory red) but the unactualized manifestation (looking red) which is a possibility; and (b) dispositions cannot be explained wholly by their occurrent basis. Laws of nature must also be postulated, and these are dispositional in structure.

Science has played a double role in all this. First it forced on thinkers the dispositional conception of sensory properties. But over time its success with physical methods encouraged inquirers to think of colors as nonbasic because of their hybrid character. Thus psychophysical dispositions such as color came to be assumed somehow analyzable into purely physical properties (including neurophysical properties of sentient systems). Many philosophers share this working hypothesis, called philosophical materialism. This view has added to the already considerable confusion in commonsense thinking about sensory properties.

(As we shall see, science is playing another role which threatens to have a much more upsetting effect on the nontechnical concept of color. It is discovering and gradually popularizing facts about the physical basis and the phenomenal response that seem to refute the primary postulates of that concept. That is, science is moving toward the conclusion that there are no sensory colors. But that lies ahead.)

Given all this, we must not be put off by the vacillations or evasions of the 18th century writers we are about to study, both in regard to the sensory model and in regard to the application of it to the case of beauty. We must be prepared to do at least as much reconstructing of their formulations as was necessary in the case of Plato.


Hutcheson's theory

Francis Hutcheson (1694-1746), Professor or Moral Philosophy at the University of Glasgow, is credited with the first systematic work in English on aesthetics, An Inquiry into the Original of our Ideas of Beauty and Virtue (1725), from which the following excerpts are taken. His conception of beauty is ontologically and, to a large extent epistemologically anti-Platonic. In his works we find adumbrated the ontological application of the sensory model which we have been at such pains to analyze in the first section of this part of the text. I say adumbrated rather than formulated because, as I warned was to be expected of all these writers, he mistates his intention more than once and he leaves essential questions for his interpreters to answer as best they can.

What is crystal clear is that he wants to compare beauty to sensory properties. He explicitly likens it to cold, heat, sweet, bitter, and often speaks in general of the "ideas of beauty" being essentially like the "other sensible ideas", and of the sense of beauty being like the external senses, sight, hearing, touch, etc. Confusion arises in his formulations of the ontology of beauty because he has an imperfect grip on the sensory model, a predicament some of you will no doubt appreciate from your struggle with the exposition given above. Thus Hutcheson will speak of colors as ideas or perceptions of some mind and aver that if there were no minds there could be no colors, mistakes which you no longer make. In this Hutcheson is not alone. John Locke's far fuller and better considered explanations, which by that time had come fully into the public domain, contain similar lapses. For example, in the Essay concerning Human Understanding 1690) Locke first speaks of colors being only in the mind, vanishing when unperceived; and then corrects himself, distinguishing "between the qualities in bodies and the ideas produced by them in the mind." (II, 8, 22) He goes on to define sensory qualities in terms of an emphatically dispositional model as "powers of several combinations of ... primary [physical] properties..." A color, sound, etc., is

the power that is in any body, by reason of its insensible primary qualities, to operate after a peculiar manner on any of our senses, and thereby produce in us the different ideas of several colors, sounds, smells, tastes, etc.

Another near contemporary writer, Richard Price, refers to these dispositions as "aptitudes" or "aptnesses" which objects have to cause phenomenal data in the consciousness of percipients.

"Ideas" here is used in the 18th century sense in which anything phenomenal (recall our discussion of phenomenal red above) was called an idea. Locke calls the powers "secondary qualities" because they seem to him ontologically less fundamental than the occurrent, purely physical ("primary") properties of the object. There is also an epistemological reason for this precedence. Our "ideas" (sense-data) of primary qualities -- phenomenal shapes, for example -- literally resemble the purely physical shapes which they represent and thereby give us knowledge of their character. Our "ideas" of secondary qualities -- phenomenal colors, for example -- do not not resemble anything in the object. For an occurrent phenomenal color cannot resemble either the molecular lattice structure (or reflectance, or whatever) of the surface or the power to produce a phenomenal color (a point stressed by Hutcheson too, as we shall see). Locke is thus a dualist, sharply distinguishing purely physical properties from psychological (phenomenal) properties and the psychophysical powers (dispositions) which bridge the two categories. Hutcheson emphatically endorses the dualism of this picture, though without seeing clearly or steadily the special character of the disposition which bridges the physical and the mental.

This then is the model which was dominant in Hutcheson's time and place, and which forms the only coherent model for any analogy between sensory properties and beauty. Regardless of how clear or unclear Hutcheson was about it, I propose to use it in our reconstruction of the sense of beauty theory. Hutcheson's special novelty is to apply his notion of sensory qualities to beauty, which Locke never did. Since the application creates more problems than the sensory model itself, and since Hutcheson has trouble enough with the model, it is not surprising that there are also defects in the application. In reading his texts we must remain constantly on the alert to make allowances where they help produce the best possible theory conforming with the sensory model.

First, consider the way Hutcheson explains his theory (Note on the text: Hutcheson seems to have had a passion for putting terms in italics).


Concerning some Powers of Perception, distinct from what is generally understood by Sensation.

VI. Many of our sensitive perceptions are pleasant, and many painful (1), immediately, and that without any knowledge of the cause of this pleasure or pain, or how the objector excite it, or are the occasions of it; or without seeing to what farther advantage or detriment the use of such objects might tend. Nor would the most accurate knowledge (2) of these things vary either the pleasure or pain of the perception, however it might give a rational pleasure distinct from the sensible; or might raise a distinct joy from a prospect of farther advantage in the object, or aversion from an apprehension of evil.

VII. The simple ideas (3) raised in different persons by the same object (4) are probably in some way different when they disagree in their approbation or dislike, and in the same person when his fancy at one time differs from what it was at another. This will appear from reflecting on those objects to which we have now an aversion, though they were formerly agreeable.

[1. Here painful should be taken in a wide sense including unpleasant or displeasing, since many negative sensory responses are not actually painful. 2. Knowledge here = propositional knowledge, knowledge that the cause is such-and-such or that such-and-such advantage can be gained. 3. Simple ideas are phenomenal data consisting of a single color, sound, flavor, smell, etc., as opposed to complex data, in which relations figure essentially, the data of an octagon, a melody, a medley of flavors or smells, etc. 4. Here object refers to anything physical or phenomenal to which any of our senses might respond, not just to an object in the ordinary sense .]

And we shall generally find that there is some accidental conjunction of a disagreeable idea which always recurs with the object, as in those wines to which men acquire an aversion after they have taken them in an emitic preparation. In this case we are conscious that the idea is altered from what it was when that wine was agreeable, by the conjunction of the ideas of loathing and sickness of stomach. The like change of idea may be insensibly made by the change of our bodies as we advance in years, or when we are accustomed to any object, which may occasion an indifference toward meats we were fond of in our childhood, and may make some objects cease to raise the disagreeable ideas which they excited upon our first use of them. Many of our simple perceptions are disagreeable only through the too great intenseness of the quality: thus moderate bitter may be pleasant, a higher degree may be offensive. A change in our organs will necessarily occasion a change in the intenseness of the perception at least, nay sometimes will occasion a quite contrary perception: thus a warm hand shall feel that water cold which a cold hand shall feel warm.(5)

[5. Note these reasons for variable sensory response: (a) Associations of ideas (addition of another datum, e.g. stomach discomfort. (b) Decrease in strength of idea due to: i. habituation or ii. decreased sensory acuity; (c) Intensity of idea; (d) Condition of sense organ, esp. one producing illusions, but this category also cover conditions causing temporary sensory deficiency or disability.]

We shall not find it perhaps so easy to account for the diversity of fancy about more complex ideas of objects, including many in which we regard many ideas of different senses at once, as some perceptions of those called primary qualities (6), and some secondary (7), as explained by Mr. Locke: for instance, in the different fancies about architecture, gardening, dress. Of the two former, we shall offer something in Sect. VI. As to dress, we may generally account for the diversity of fancies from a like conjunction of ideas. Thus if either from anything in nature, or from the opinion of our country or acquaintance, the fancying of glaring colours be looked upon as an evidence of levity, or of any other evil quality of mind, or if any colour or fashion be commonly used by rustics, or by men of any disagreeable profession, employment, or temper, these additional ideas may recur constantly with that of the colour or fashion, and cause a constant dislike to them in those who join the additional ideas, although the colour or form be no way disagreeable of themselves, and actually do please others who join no such ideas to them.(8) But there does not seem to be any ground to believe such a diversity in human minds, as that the same simple idea or perception should give pleasure to one and pain to another, or to the same person at different times, not to say that it seems a contradiction that the same simple idea (9) should do so.

[6. Primary qualities are physical properties of objects. These can typically be accessed by sight and touch. 7. Secondary qualities are colors, sounds, etc. conceived as powers to produce phenomenal data. That is, secondary qualities are what I have called sensory properties accessible only to a single sense. 8. Two possibilities here: either the sense of beauty operates but its data are not noticed, or the sense doesn't operate fully or at all. Hutcheson does not clearly distinguish these two. 9. Hutcheson states this principle of simple ideas. But since complex ideas are complexes of simple ones, it must apply to them also.]


VIII. The only pleasure of sense which many philosophers seem to consider is that which accompanies the simple ideas of sensations. But there are far greater pleasures in those complex ideas of objects, which obtain the names of beautiful, regular, harmonious. Thus every one acknowledges he is more delighted with a fine face, a just picture, than with the view of any one colour, were it as strong and lively as possible, and more pleased with a prospect (10) of the sun arising among settled clouds, and colouring their edges, [or] with a starry hemisphere, a fine landscape, a regular building, than with a clear blue sky, a smooth sea, or a large open plain, not diversified by woods, hills, waters, buildings. And yet even these latter appearances are not quite simple. So in music, the pleasure of fine composition is incomparably greater than that of any one note, how sweet, full, or swelling soever.

IX. Let it be observed that in the following papers the word beauty is taken for the idea raised in us (11), and a sense of beauty for our power of receiving this idea. Harmony also denotes our pleasant ideas arising from composition of sounds, and a good ear (as it is generally taken) a power of perceiving this pleasure. In the following sections, an attempt is made to discover what is the immediate occasion of these pleasant ideas, or what real quality in the objects ordinarily excites them.

[10. Prospect = scene or view. 11. Major statement of Hutcheson's ontology here. But unfortunately one full of ambiguity. Beauty cannot = the idea if it is the power of an object to produce it. Hutcheson forgets about this stimulus-power, and refers only to our response-power. Further, does the beauty idea = pleasure, or is it an idea which is pleasant? By real quality Hutcheson seems to mean physical property (primary quality in the 18th c. sense).]

X. It is of no consequence whether we call these ideas of beauty and harmony perceptions of the external senses of seeing and hearing, or not.(12) I should rather choose to call our power of perceiving these ideas an INTERNAL SENSE, were it only for the convenience of distinguishing them from other sensations of seeing and hearing which men may have without perception of beauty and harmony. It is plain from experience that many men have in the common meaning the senses of seeing and hearing perfect enough. They perceive all the simple ideas separately, and have their pleasures; they distinguish them from each other, such as one colour from another, either quite different, or the stronger or fainter of the same colour, when they are placed beside each other (13) although they may often confound their names when they occur apart from each other, as some do the names of green and blue. (14) They can tell in separate notes, the higher, lower, sharper or flatter, when separately sounded; in figures they discern the length, breadth, wideness of each line, surface, angle; and may be as capable of hearing and seeing at great distances as any men whatsoever. And yet perhaps they shall find no pleasure in musical compositions, in painting, architecture, natural landscape, or but a very weak one in comparison of what others enjoy from the same objects. This greater capacity of receiving such pleasant ideas we commonly call a fine genius or taste.(15) In music we seem universally to acknowledge something like a distinct ear; and the like distinction we should probably acknowledge in other objects, had we also got distinct names to denote these powers of perception by.

[12. Actually Hutcheson cares quite a bit, as the sequel will show. The sense of beauty theory depends on the distinction. 13. Curiously, color-blindness was not well known in Hutcheson's day. So he probably overestimates the uniformity of his treatise. 14. Note this reference to better/worse environmental circumstances for making color-discriminations. It is one of the very few such references in his treatise. 15. Note the analogy here with variable sensory capacity. Extreme cases of sensory impairment are colorblindness, deafness, absence of olfaction, etc.]

There will appear another reason perhaps hereafter for calling this power of perceiving the ideas of beauty an internal sense, from this, that in some other affairs where our external senses are not much concerned, we discern a sort of beauty, very like, in many respects, to that observed in sensible objects, and accompanied with like pleasure. Such is that beauty perceived in theorems, or universal truths, in general causes, and in some extensive principles of action.


XII. Let everyone here consider how different we must suppose the perception to be with which a poet is transported upon the prospect of any of those objects of natural beauty which ravish us even in his description, from that cold lifeless conception which we imagine in a dull critic, or one of the virtuosi, without what we call a fine taste. This latter class of men may have greater perfection in that knowledge which is derived from external sensation. They can tell the specific differences of trees, herbs, minerals, metals; they know the form of every leaf, stalk, root, flower, and seed of all the species, about which the poet is often very ignorant. And yet the poet shall have a much more delightful perception of the whole, and not only the poet but any man of a fine taste. Our external senses may, by measuring, teach all the proportions of architecture to the tenth of an inch, and the situation of every muscle in the human body, and a good memory may retain these: and yet there is still something further necessary, not only to make a man a complete master in architecture, painting or sculpture, but even a tolerable judge in these works, or capable of receiving the highest pleasure in contemplating them. Since then there are such different powers of perception, where what are commonly called the external senses are the same, since the most accurate knowledge of what the external senses discover often does not give the pleasure of beauty or harmony, which yet one of a good_taste will enjoy at once without much knowledge, we may justly use another name for these higher and more delightful perceptions of beauty and harmony, and call the power of receiving such impressions an internal sense. The difference of the perceptions seems sufficient to vindicate the use of a different name, especially when we are told in what meaning the word is applied.

Thus, when I enjoy the harmony of an octave, I may be aware of the octave wavelength ratio by way of hearing the "hollow" octave sound, without perceiving -- or without having any idea at all -- that a 1:2 ratio of wavelengths produces it. Similarly, on the other side of the distinction, I may know (by an oscillograph or score) that the musicians are sounding an octave without being able to hear the octave sound in the music. (Granted, most people can hear the octave sound, but many cannot easily hear more difficult intervals.)

XIII. This superior power of perception (16) is justly called a sense because of its affinity to the other senses in this, that the pleasure does not arise from any knowledge of principles, proportions, causes, or of the usefulness of the object, but strikes us at first with the idea of beauty. Nor does the most accurate knowledge increase this pleasure of beauty, however it may super-add a distinct rational pleasure from prospects of advantage, or from the increase of knowledge. (17)

XIV. And further, the ideas of beauty and harmony, like other sensible ideas, are necessarily pleasant to us, as well as immediately so. (18) Neither can any resolution of our own, nor any prospect of advantage or disadvantage, vary the beauty or deformity of an object. For as in the external sensations, no view of interest will make an object grateful (19), nor view of detriment distinct from immediate pain in the perception, make it disagreeable to the sense. So propose the whole world as a reward, or threaten the greatest evil, to make us approve a deformed object, or disapprove a beautiful one; dissimulation may be procured by rewards or threatenings, or we may in external conduct abstain from any pursuit of the beautiful and pursue the deformed, but our sentiments of the forms, and our perceptions, would continue invariably the same.

[16. Power of perception: the key question here is, perception of what, precisely? Of pleasure? Of complex ideas (like the octave chord)? Or of yet another datum? Many expressions in these paragraphs suggest that the beauty datum cannot simply = pleasure.
Increase of knowledge: does this mean cognitive pleasure can't be aesthetic pleasure? 18. It would be odd to say the beauty idea was necessarily pleasant if it were = pleasure. No one needs being told pleasure is pleasant! 19. This is true up to a point, but don't forget that associations of ideas can gradually produce delusions about many things (all snakes seeming ugly, e.g.).]


XV. Hence it plainly appears, "that some objects are immediately the occasions of this pleasure of beauty, and that we have senses fitted for perceiving it, and that it is distinct from that joy which arises upon prospect of advantage." Nay, do not we often see convenience and use neglected to obtain beauty, without any other prospect of advantage in the beautiful form than the suggestion the pleasant ideas of beauty? Now this shows us that however we may pursue beautiful objects from self-love, with a view to obtain the pleasures of beauty, as in architecture, gardening, and many other affairs, yet there must be a sense of beauty, antecedent to prospects even of this advantage, without which sense these objects would not be thus advantageous, nor excite in us this pleasure which constitutes them advantageous. Our sense of beauty from objects, by which they are constituted good to us, is very distinct from our desire of them when they are thus constituted. Our desire of beauty may be counterbalanced by rewards or threatenings, but never our sense of it, even as fear of death or love of life may make us choose and desire a bitter potion or neglect those meats which the sense of taste would recommend as pleasant, and yet no prospect of advantage or fear of evil can make that potion agreeable to the sense, or meat disagreeable to it, which was not so antecedently to this prospect. Just in the same manner as to the sense of beauty and harmony; that the pursuit of such objects is frequently neglected, from prospects of advantage, aversion to labour, or any other motive of selflove does not prove that we have no sense of beauty, but only that our desire of it may be counter-balanced by a stronger desire. So gold outweighing silver is never adduced as proof that the latter is void of gravity...

XVII. Beauty is either original or comparative: or, if any like the terms better, absolute or relative. Only let it be observed that by absolute or original beauty is not understood any quality supposed to the in the object which should of itself be beautiful, without relation to any mind which perceives it. For beauty, like other names of sensible ideas, properly denotes the perception of some mind. So cold, hot, sweet, bitter, denote the sensations in our minds, to which perhaps there is no resemblance in the objects which excite these ideas in us, however we generally imagine that there is something in the object just like our perception. (20) The ideas of beauty and harmony, being excited upon our perception of some primary quality, and having relation to figure and time, may indeed have a nearer resemblance to objects than these sensations, which seem not so much any pictures of objects as modifications of the perceiving mind (21); and yet were there no mind with a sense of beauty to contemplate objects, I see not how they could be called beautiful. We therefore by absolute beauty understand only that beauty which we perceive in objects without comparison to anything external, of which the object is supposed an imitation or picture, such as that beauty perceived from the works of nature, artificial forms, figures, theorems. Comparative or relative beauty is that which we perceive in objects commonly considered as imitations or resemblances of something else.(22) These two kinds of beauty employ the three following sections.

[20. No resemblance because there need be no similarity between the phenomenal datum of, say, sweetness and either the chemical basis of this flavor or the disposition of the sugar to cause that datum. 21. Here's a tantalizing suggestion. Beauty-data may resemble their physical basis more than color or sound data do theirs. But note, if they do, it cannot be because the datum = pleasure! As Hutcheson says, pleasure seems a modification of the mind, not an image of any property in an object.
22. Relative (comparative) beauty = the beauty representations have on account of their goodness as representations.]


Section II: Of Original or Absolute Beauty

I. Since it is certain that we have ideas of beauty and harmony, let us examine what quality in objects excites these ideas, or is the occasion of them...

III. The figures which excite in us the idea of beauty seem to be those in which there is uniformity amidst variety. There are many conceptions of objects which are agreeable upon other accounts, such as grandeur, novelty, sanctity, and some others, which shall be mentioned hereafter. But what we call beautiful in objects, to speak in the mathematical style (23), seems to be in compound ratio of uniformity and variety; so that where the uniformity of bodies is equal, the beauty is as the variety; and where the variety is equal, the beauty is as the uniformity.(24) This will be plain from examples.

[23. "Mathematical style" is somewhat misleading, since many sorts of uniformity and variety cannot be quantitatively measured. Perhaps none can. 24. In Euclid a compound ratio is the product of two ratios with a middle term in common: e.g. 1:2 and 2:3 "compound" to 1:3. Thus the areas of two equiangular parallograms are said to be in a compound ratio of the length of their sides. If the short sides are 1:2 and the long sides are 2:8 then the areas are 1:8. But since neither uniformity nor variety by itself is a ratio, this cannot be Hutcheson's meaning. Judging by his explanation and examples, the compound ratio of U and V boils down to (a) U and V being independent merits and (b) the only merits, so that the overall ranking of any two things that are equal in one of them will be determined by how much of the other they have. Note that this leaves unanswered the question of whether uniformity and variety are equal merits, or whether there is some other optimum ratio or balance producing the greatest beauty.

First, the variety increases the beauty in equal uniformity. The beauty of an equilateral triangle is less than that of the square, which is less than that of a pentagon, and this again is surpassed by the hexagon. When indeed the number of sides is much increased, the proportion of them to the radius or diameter of the figure (or circle to which regular polygons have an obvious relation), is so much lost to our observation, that the beauty does not always increase with the number of sides (25), and the want of parallelism in the sides of heptapons, and other figures of odd numbers, may also diminish their beauty. So in solids, the eicosiedron surpasses the dodecaedron, and this the octaedron, which is still more beautiful than the cube, and this again surpasses the regular pyramid. The obvious ground of this is greater variety with equal uniformity.

The greater uniformity increases the beauty amidst equal variety in these instances: an equilateral triangle, or even an isosceles, surpasses the scalenum; a square surpasses the rhombus or lozenge, and this again the rhomboides, which is still more beautiful than the trapezium, or any figure with irregular curved sides. So the regular solids vastly surpass all other solids of equal number of plane surfaces. (26) And the same is observable not only in the five perfectly regular solids, but in all those which have any considerable uniformity, as cylinders, prisms, pyramids, obelisks, which please every eye more than any rude figures, where there is no unity or resemblance among the parts.

[ 25. Hutcheson's remark about observation implies he has concrete particulars, e.g., polygonal templates or drawn figures, in mind. Polygons of a hundred sides can be handled conceptually without any comparable difficulty. One simply has to work out what the relations are. 26. Hutcheson slips here: he means that regular solids surpass other solids in number of equal sides.]

[The geometrical and other figures relevant to Hutcheson's claims may be found first in Beauty Supplement, p. 83 and far more elaborately in the three articles listed on the home page: "Uniformity and variety revisited,""Uniformity, variety and the beauty of polygons," and "Exploring non-regular polygons."]

Instances of the compound ratio we have in comparing circles or spheres with ellipses or spheriods not very eccentric, and in comparing the compound solids, the exoctaedron and eicosidodecaedron, with the perfectly regular ones of which they are compounded; and we shall find that the want of that most perfect uniformity observable in the latter is compensated by the greater varied in the others, so that the beauty is nearly equal.


IV. These observations would probably hold true for the most part, and might be confirmed by the judgment of children in the simpler figures, where the variety is not too great for their comprehension. And however uncertain some of the particular aforesaid instances may seem, yet this is perpetually to be observed, that children are fond of all regular figures in their little diversions, although they be no more convenient or useful for them than the figures of our common pebbles. We see how early they discover a taste or sense of beauty in desiring to see buildings, regular gardens, or even representations of them in pictures of any kind.

V. The same foundation we have for our sense of beauty in the works of NATURE. In every part of the world which we call beautiful there is a surprising uniformity amidst an almost infinite variety...

Hutcheson goes on at considerable length illustrating his principle of uniformity and variety in relation to the solar system and the animal and plant kingdom, in physical phenomena such as the behavior of fluids, in the relation of overtones to musical harmony, and so forth. From this he proceeds to the beauty of abstract truths in mathematics, which state a uniform principle governing an infinitely numerous variety of specific truths. All these count as cases of original or absolute (non-comparative) beauty.

Then Hutcheson takes up the beauty of art, which involves both absolute and comparative beauty. Beauty of proportion, of color and texture, harmonious sound and graceful movement, is of course "absolute" beauty, as is beautiful subject matter. But much beauty in art is comparative in Hutcheson's sense: a beauty of good representation: good depiction or expression in one sense or another. Pictures, sculptures, plays, poems, music, dance, and all the other varied forms of art provide rich domains of comparative beauty, and Hutcheson discourses about them at length. The best art, in his view, has both sorts of beauty.

Hutcheson the the universality of the sense of beauty

If there is a sense of beauty analogous to color vision then there must be a way to distinguish its truthful perceptions from erroneous ones (beauty-illusions). Hutcheson is aware that skeptics claim taste is determined solely by social conditioning, "by custom, education, and example". Here his strategy is to concede that our preferences are partly determined by social factors, producing effects in the mind which are often mistaken for the pristine deliverance of the sense of beauty. For example, religious persons may be partial to a "dim, religious light" because it is connected with ideas of divine presence; while atheists may dislike that ambience because of the association. In both cases, says Hutcheson, "their approbations, or distastes, are remote from ideas of beauty, being plainly different ideas." (Section 6, para. 1) Or people may be variously pleased or displeased by music which they associate with different emotions because of the different lyrics, In such cases "it is no wonder "that they should disagree in their fancies of objects, even though their sense of beauty and harmony were perfectly uniform."' Or one person may respond mostly to a scene's grandeur or novelty, whereas another may respond only to its beauty, and a difference of preference result without the sense of beauty itself varying. In all cases there is thus either error or else a misunderstanding between the disputants as to what is being referred to.


Hutcheson also offers a counterattack against the objection, arguing that it presupposes the truth of his theory: there could not be any social conditioning of our taste if we did not have a "natural sense of beauty", for

Custom (27)...may make it easier for any person to discern the use of a complex machine and approve it as advantageous; but he would never have imagined it beautiful had he no natural sense of beauty. Custom may make us quicker in apprehending the truth of complex theorems, but we all find the pleasure or beauty of theorems as strong at first as ever. Custom makes us more capable of retaining and comparing complex ideas, so as to discern more complicated uniformity which escapes the observation of novices in any art; but all this presupposes a natural sense of beauty in uniformit . For had there been nothing in forms which was constituted the necessary occasion of pleasure to our senses, no repetition of indifferent ideas as to pleasure or pain, beauty or deformity, could ever have made them grow pleasing or displeasing.

[27. Custom = habituation, familiarity]

Similarly education could not have any effect on our judgment if there were no sense of beauty for it to influence.

... a man naturally void of taste could by no education receive the ideas of taste, or be prejudiced in favour of meats as delicious. So had we no natural sense of beauty and harmony we could never be prejudiced in favour of objects or sounds as beautiful or harmonious.

The argument here is essentially that familiarity does not by itself engender aesthetic liking. On Hutcheson's theory we reach a warranted judgment of beauty when we neutralize any distorting effects of habituation. He recognizes that we don't always succeed. Widespread public approbation of famous paradigms of art often induces people with poor taste to pretend to be enraptured by them, and sometimes inhibits those "who have a fine genius, or the internal senses very acute" from daring to strike out on fresh artistic ventures.

Thus it is that our beauty-experience is sometimes drowned out by competing influences. It is therefore highly important to learn to distinguish the sense of beauty from other sources of liking. Considerable self-analysis may be necessary to accomplish this. So "we must frequently force ourselves to bear representations of those objects" which have disagreeable associations, in hopes that "this may at last disjoin the unreasonable association..." And "there must be frequent reasoning with ourselves" to block our impulses, e.g., "the fear of ghosts in graveyards if we are ever to enjoy the beauty of those places." (Section 7, para. 4)

Hume's criteria of valid aesthetic judgment

Another British philosopher of the age, David Hume, contributed what has now become a classic essay on criteria of good aesthetic judgment, "Of the standard of taste." (1757) Hume points out that no one can believe that the most celebrated poets are not superior to the hacks. Therefore critics must be capable of reaching valid judgments both about particular cases and about general principles. Common experience testifies to the fact that

amidst all the variety and caprice of taste, there are certain general principles of approbation or blame, whose influence a careful eye may trace in all operations of the mind. Some particular forms or qualities, from the original structure of the internal fabric, are calculated to please, and others to displease; and if they fail of their effect in any particular instance, it is from some apparent defect or imperfection in the organ. A man in a fever would not insist on his palate as able to decide concerning flavours; nor would one, affected with the jaundice, pretend to give a verdict with regard to colours. In each creature, there is a sound and a defective state; and the former alone can be supposed to afford us a true standard of taste and sentiment. If, in the sound state of the organ, there be an entire or a considerable uniformity of sentiment among men, we may thence derive an idea of the perfect beauty; in like manner as the appearance of objects in day-light, to the eye of a man in health, is denominated their true and real color, even while color is allowed to be merely a phantasm of the senses.

The ideally competent judge of beauty in art (or anywhere else) must meet many conditions and enjoy favorable circumstances in which to judge.
When we would ... try the force of any beauty or deformity, we must choose with care a proper time and place, and bring the fancy to a suitable situation and disposition. A perfect serenity of mind, a recollection of thought, a due attention to the object; if any of these circumstances be wanting, our experiment will be fallacious, and we shall be unable to judge of the catholic and universal beauty. The relation, which nature has placed between the form and the sentiment, will at least be more obscure; and it will require greater accuracy to trace and discern it. We shall be able to ascertain its influence not so much from the operation of each particular beauty, as from the durable admiration, which attends those works, that have survived all the caprices of mode and fashion, all the mistakes of ignorance and envy...... [The] finer emotions of the mind are of a very tender and delicate nature, and require the concurrence of many favourable circumstances to make them play with facility and exactness, according to their general and established principles. The least exterior hindrance to such small springs, or the least internal disorder, disturbs their motion, and confounds the operation of the whole machine.

Where the organs are so fine, as to allow nothing to escape them; and at the same time so exact as to perceive every ingredient in the composition: This we call delicacy of taste, whether we employ these terms in the literal or metaphorical sense ... And if the same qualities, in a continued composition and in a smaller degree, affect not the organs with a sensible delight or uneasiness, we exclude the person from all pretensions to this delicacy.... [W]hen we show [a bad critic] an avowed principle of art; when we illustrate this principle by examples, whose operation, from his own particular taste, he acknowledges to be conformable to the principle; when we prove that the same principle may be applied to the present case, where he did not perceive or feel its influence: he must conclude, upon the whole, that the fault lies in himself, and that he [lacks] the delicacy which is requisite to make him sensible of every beauty and every blemish in any composition or discourse.

But though there be naturally a wide difference in point of delicacy between one person and another, nothing tends further to increase and improve this talent, than practice in a particular art, and frequent survey or contemplation of a particular species of beauty. When objects of any kind are first presented to the eye or imagination, the sentiment which attends them is obscure and confused; and the mind is, in a great measure, incapable of pronouncing concerning their merits or defects. The taste cannot perceive the several excellences of the performance, much less distinguish the particular character of each excellency, and ascertain its quality and degree ...There is a flutter or hurry of thought which attends the first perusal of any piece, and which confounds the genuine sentiment of beauty: the true characters of style are little distingished. The several perfections and defects seem wrapped up in a species of confusion, and present themselves indistinctly to the imagination. Not to mention, that there is a species of beauty, which, as it is florid and pleases at first; but being found incompatible with a just expression either of reason or passion, soon palls upon the taste, and is then rejected with disdain, at least rated at a much lower value.


It is impossible to continue in the practice of contemplating any order of beauty, without being frequently obliged to form comparisons between the several species and degrees of excellence, and estimating their proportion to each other. A man, who has had no opportunity of comparing the different kinds of beauty, is indeed totally unqualified to pronounce an opinion with regard to any object presented to him. By comparison alone we fix the epithets of praise or blame, and learn how to assign the due degree of each....

But to enable a critic the more fully to execute this undertaking, he must preserve his mind free from all prejudice, and allow nothing to enter into his consideration, but the very object which is submitted to his examination... [W]hen any work is addressed to the public, though I should should have a friendship or enmity with the author, I must depart from this situation; and considering myself as a man in general, forget, if possible, my individual being and my particular circumstances .... and in this respect, reason, if not an essential part of taste, is at least requisite to the operations of this latter faculty...[T]he same excellence of faculties which contributes to the improvement of reason, the same exactness of distinction, the same vivacity of apprehension, are essential to the operations of true taste, and are its infallible concomitants. It seldom or never happens, that a man of sense, who has experience in any art, cannot judge of its beauty; and it is no less rare to meet with a man who has a just taste without a sound understanding.

Thus, though the principles of taste be universal, and nearly, if not entirely, the same in all men; yet few are qualified to give judgment on any work of art, or establish their own sentiment as the standard of beauty. Though men of delicate taste be rare, they are easily to be distinguished in society by the soundness of their understanding, and the superiority of their faculties above the rest of mankind. The ascendant, which they acquire, gives a prevalence to that lively approbation with which they receive any productions of genius, and renders it generally predominant.

However, Hume recognizes that some diversity of taste will be found even when his demanding conditions are met.

But notwithstanding all our endeavours to fix a standard of taste, and reconcile the discordant apprehensions of men, there still remain two sources of variation, which are not sufficient indeed to confound all the boundaries of beauty and deformity, but will often serve to produce a difference in the degrees of our approbation or blame. The one is the different humours of particular men; the other, the particular manners and opinions of our age and country. Where men vary in their judgments, some defect or perversion in the faculties may commonly be remarked... But where there is such a diversity in the internal frame or external situation as is entirely blameless on both sides, and leaves no room to give one the preference above the other; in that case a certain degree of diversity in judgment is unavoidable and we seek in vain for a standard, by which we can reconcile the contrary sentiments .... We choose our favourite author as we do our friend, from a conformity of humour and disposition. Mirth or passion, sentiment or reflection; whichever of these most predominates in our temper, it gives us a peculiar sympathy with the writer who resembles us.


One person is more pleased with the sublime, another with the tender, a third with raillery. One has a strong sensibility to blemishes, and is extremely studious of correctness; another has a more lively feeling of beauties, and pardons twenty absurdities and defects for one elevated or pathetic stroke. The ear of this man is entirely turned towards conciseness and energy; that man is delighted with a copious, rich, and harmonious expression. Simplicity is affected by one; ornament by another. Comedy, tragedy, satire, odes, have each its partisans, who prefer that particular species of writing to all others. It is plainly an error in a critic, to confine his approbation to one species or style of writing, and condemn all the rest. But it is almost impossible not to feel a predilection for that which suits our particular turn and disposition. Such performances are innocent and unavoidable, and can never reasonably be the object of dispute, because there is no standard by which they can be decided.

The second circumstance, says Hume, involves moral faults in works of art where a poet (say) endorses an attitude that is morally unacceptable to a critic. Where a poet's views "confound the sentiments of morality and alter the natural boundaries of vice and virtue" the results are "eternal blemishes...nor are the prejudices and false opinions of the [poet's] age sufficient to justify them." The conflict here, Hume implies, is not resolvable if the poet is out of reach (dead, for instance) or too deeply committed to morally erroneous views to be convinced of her errors. What this means, however, is that the ideal critic will have to respond to the work on the basis of enlightened moral views. Hume is not suggesting that we have no way of deciding in such cases, but only that moral judgment is part of the critical process.

We are left with a notion of taste in which the well-considered response of sensitive critics over time provides a credible standard. Small differences of preference do not necessarily undermine the standard, only limit its exactitude. Indeed Hume perhaps could reasonably point out that in such cases of conflicting preference the items should be given the same ranking.

A major question about Hume's criteria is how widely applicable they are beyond the domain of art.


How to construct a full theory of beauty of the response-dependent kind.

Obviously we must add much to the traditional sense of beauty principles to obtain a plausible theory. Especially, the beauty datum must not be left in the form we inherit. That legacy locates the datum of the inner sense in disinterested pleasure obtained under the conditions of Hume's ideal aesthetic judge. But that is not satisfactory. Pleasure is not a datum of a sense but rather an attitude of welcoming. What are called pleasant feelings are feelings that we welcome, feelings that are pleasant if you will. But their being pleasant does not consist of their being conjoined to another sensory datum, a pleasure datum. It consists in our welcoming them as opposed to having an aversive attitude toward them. There are usually sensations accompanying the forming or directing of an attitude toward something. But these are accompaniments, not the pleasure itself.

Another problem is that the data of a sense are multiple, never limited to a single quality. Think of color data, shape data, sound data. They are all large ensembles of properties, not degrees of a single quality. Welcoming admits of degrees of warmth or intensity but not of a large set of qualities (or attitudes). So pleasure, disinterested or other, does not come up to the mark as a sense-datum.

Yet there is a plausible candidate for much of the data we can expect a sense of beauty to generate, namely the impressions of what I have called descriptive aesthetic properties. These are all based on cross-modal resemblances, such as the ones cited in Beauty Supplement pp. 83-89. Strictly descriptive aesthetic properties like warmth or coolness of color, or swiftness or slowness of lines are not value-laden, but they are ingredients in hybrid descriptive-verdictive properties (think of how smoothness of movement is part of grace of movement) and seem also to have an essential connection with purely verdictive aesthetic properties such as beauty. These properties are omnipresent in aesthetic criticism. They draw not just on perceptual faculties but on the imagination as well, in particular on the power of the imagination to appreciate cross-modal resemblances. That imagination is involved is shown by the fact that a cross-modal resemblance cannot be recognized simply by empirical observation, since the resemblance is not the sort that can approach identity, as neighboring colors do. Recognizing these resemblances is like seeing the aptness of a metaphor, which is a prime example of the use of the imagination.

Ontologically descriptive aesthetic properties are powers in things to elicit an impression of cross-modal resemblance in optimally responsive respondents under optimal conditions. Their proximal stimulus is the perception of the empirical properties of the object in question, in conformity with the idea of an inner sense. Some philosophers like to call them tertiary qualities, extending the traditional contrast between primary (purely physical) and secondary (sensory) qualities. Yet viewers think of the property as residing in the outer object, just as they do its sensory color; and there need be no major mistake in thinking of it this way when the impression is based on external sensory data that accurately reflects the sensory properties of the object and the impression of cross-modal resemblance meets the relevant criteria of accuracy.

Points to note about descriptive aesthetic properties

It's essential to grasp a number of points about properties seemingly as "subjective" as descriptive aesthetic properties. One is that the cross-modal resemblances are not matters of causal circumstance, in particular the fact that warm colors, such as red, are often colors of warm things, such as moderately hot flames or inflamed skin. Even in a world where such causal circumstances were different red would still be cross-modally warm rather than cool. And in fact, as Beauty Supplement 5.1, p. 61, shows, the physically hottest phenomena are white or blue, not red.

Further, descriptive aesthetic properties are not the result of cultural or personal circumstances, or what are generally called associations. They are not matters of circumstance of any kind, but of intrinsic similarity. That red is warm (in the fashion possible to a color) is a priori, not an empirical truth. The idea takes some getting used to, but little by little it sinks in that these relations cannot be other than they are. A given red being warm rather than cool in the cross-modal way is as invariable as it being closer to orange than it is to green.


Thirdly, experience of descriptive aesthetic properties is often called "synesthesia," but strictly that term belongs to a very different phenomenon. Psychologists have long recognized an abnormality in some persons' visual experience of letters, numerals and tones whereby the percipient experiences them as variously colored. This is the subject of Beauty Supplement 9.4, p. 88. In this sort of experience there is no intrinsic connection, no cross-modal resemblance, of the letter (etc.) and the color. Adjacent brain areas appear to interact in a dysfunctional way, dysfunctional in that the color tells the percipient nothing true about the letter (etc.). So the color impression is misleading, whereas a cross-modal resemblance impression is informative (if it meets the relevant criteria of accuracy).

Fourthly, though most viewers or listeners do not explicitly recognize and cannot immediately name the descriptive aesthetic properties in the things they experience, and even fewer have the concept of a descriptive aesthetic property, their experience of things is full of such properties. They recognize the aptness of the metaphorical descriptions that express them in the words of an art or music critic and find themselves using those descriptions whenever they try to describe how the thing looks or sounds. So it should not be surprising that a theory of beauty has to give them a major role in explaining what is beautiful or unbeautiful about things.

Finally, skeptics will say that the very metaphorical character of the descriptions and the role of the imagination in creating the impression of resemblance, argue strongly in favor of these being subjective rather than real properties. It is precisely to meet this objection that I include criteria of accuracy in the concept. Yes, one has to use one's imagination to see warmth in red, but it is a highly controlled use, not a free-wheeling one. We are not creating an imaginative picture or fiction, as we do when we imagine this or that happening. We are noting a resemblance that though real is unavailable to straightforward empirical vision or audition. The crux is that there are criteria of accuracy governing perception of these properties.

Criteria of accuracy of descriptive aesthetic properties

The model of sensory color, with its criteria of accuracy, shows the way. In a nutshell the test of accuracy is the convergence of maximal discriminators, but in this case it is maximal discrimination of descriptive aesthetic properties that does the work. On top of good sensory perception there is keenness of imagination in detecting cross-modal resemblances. So the most accurate percipients of these aesthetic properties will be those who can make the most distinctions, given that they converge toward agreement when comparing notes and studying the case before them intently over time. Such persons have a lively imagination which is also well-controlled. It governs not just which descriptive aesthetic property a thing has but the strength of the cross-modal resemblance.

In a particular case if there is substantial irresolvable disagreement as to what descriptive aesthetic property a thing has, the reasonable conclusion is that it lacks the property in dispute. That's not a problem because the thing will have plenty of others that all agree about. The problem case is one where a description goes beyond what is truly applicable. Suppose, for instance, that a person declared that a color is sarcastic. This would be rightly judged inapplicable. For there is no evident resemblance between a color and an attitude with so complex a content. If there were, a whole range of attitudes would be expressed by colors. The basic problem is that the structure of a color (a given hue+saturation+lightness) is too simple to match the structure of an attitude like sarcasm. Yes, a uniform color can be bold, but it cannot be adventurous or resourceful. Like the latter two sarcasm stands outside the expressive capacity of (a uniform) color. (But see the special case discussed at the bottom of p. 28 below)


The relation of descriptive aesthetic properties to aesthetic properties that are value-laden ("verdictive")

Descriptive aesthetic properties are by definition value-neutral in and of themselves. If warmth of color is in a certain case aesthetically positive, it is because of the relation of that property to the other properties of the thing. Warmth might be good or bad depending upon the context, as we have all experienced when engaged in selecting colors for a decor or outfit. Depending on the context means entering into more complex properties, as when warmth enters into the expressiveness of a thing, helping to make it lively or even joyous. As the aesthetic properties become more complex they tend to gravitate toward the value-laden, as when smoothness of movement joins with other properties to make a movement graceful, which is for it be at least conditionally good (beautiful). Here too there can be cases where such a property is inappropriate: grace in a given context might make a person's movement effete or pretentious, which are both defects. But grace is normally an aesthetic good, a good where other things are equal.

More will have to be said about descriptive, hybrid descriptive-verdictive, and purely verdictive aesthetic properties, but for the moment let's leave that aside and shift to a related topic.

Criteria of accuracy for purely or partly verdictive (value-laden) aesthetic properties

Now we come to the site of major difficulty in constructing a non-subjective theory of beauty. How do we decide whose verdictive (value-laden) experiences and judgments are correct? The reader might be convinced that descriptive aesthetic properties can be non-subjective in the cultural and personal sense, but verdictive experiences and judgments bring into prominence the hedonic reaction, the aesthetic pleasure or displeasure that most agree is essential to the idea of beauty. How can pleasure be non-subjective -- or what is the same, warranted rather than unwarranted?

Here we can begin with the old criterion of optimal discrimination as a necessary condition of fully reliable aesthetic response. An optimal appreciator of a kind of beauty will have to be one who distinguishes maximally shades of difference under optimal conditions. But that is not enough. So such a person's hedonic response, positive or negative, must be delicately graduated and stable. And once more, if the aesthetic value of the thing is to be real, the subtlest hedonic respondents must converge on a best degree of pleasure/displeasure, so that we can say the thing is worthy of that hedonic response.

But to explain what it is to be worthy of a favorable or unfavorable response further conditions need to be added. Two come to mind. The first is that the property is only as beauty-making as it is intense. This is easy to misunderstand. Intensity does not mean loud or shrill or hyperactive. If the property is delicacy, say, the point is that it can be beautifully delicate only if it is very delicate. Similarly for tranquility or softness. If a thing is only moderately delicate and yet very beautiful, it has to have other properties that it has intensely. This approach requires a painstaking survey of the descriptive aesthetic properties possessed by the object and identification of the ones whose intensity best represents its beauty. In the case of music, for example, it will be the particular sort of noble sorrow that the second movement of Beethoven's 3rd Symphony (the "Eroica") whose intensity accounts for the beauty of that movement. The sorrow is restrained by the nobility, so to speak, but no sorrow can be much nobler than that and no music can be more intensely expressive of it.


The second condition is that the property that elicits a favorable response must not be a property of defect, deficiency or lack. Hence no property can be a beautiful property if it is a property of defect, deficiency or lack. The negatives in this case, it should be noted, are not defined as aesthetic negatives but as non-aesthetic ones, ones that can be agreed upon from a position of aesthetic neutrality. Otherwise their intrusion into the definition of beauty would make the definition circular. The ideal appreciation or judgment of beauty must accord with this connection. No defect can be beautifully defective: dimwittedness cannot be beautifully so, moral viciousness cannot be beautifully so.

Here please keep in mind the basic distinction between a thing being beautiful AND defective and its being beautifully defective. This is a standard distinction between predicative and attributive uses of adjectives. A swimmer may beautiful in being a beautiful swimmer, which means beautiful as a swimmer. Though perfectly clear, this distinction is often forgotten, always to bad effect. One can't get the theory right if one mixes these two up.

A condition that has been assumed, and hopefully understood, all along is that any beauty-making property (any beautiful property) must be a qualitative one, not a quantitative one. This follows from the fact that beautiful properties admit of "degrees," or more accurately, a rank ordering. Recall the truisms introduced in the beginning of the course. If a quantitative specification of a design, e.g. in terms of the golden ratio, produces a beautiful result it is because of beautiful qualitative properties (aesthetic properties) that it has, not because it has this precise ratio. In a way this is obvious, since the precise quantitative measure is irrelevant since that cannot be detected by our (strictly, by some actually possible) sensory faculties, as strictly visual (or auditory) beauties must be.

Descriptive aesthetic properties involve uniformities.

Hucheson's master beauty-making property of uniformity-and-variety has been reinterpreted in the updated theory as number of uniformities. This leads to some interesting explanations of the differential beauty of regular polygons and is suggestive as to beautiful form in general, but cannot, so far as I can see, be relied on as the master beauty-maker. Yet the idea helps explain the relevance of descriptive aesthetic properties to purely verdictive ones. How? By connecting them with an undoubted aesthetic good (other things being equal). For a descriptive aesthetic property necessarily is a case of uniformity among the elements of the property, or else conflict among them. The former are cases of beauty, the latter of unbeauty. For a color design to be harmonious, for instance, it must feature colors that are keyed to each other and in themselves non-defective, etc. (not pale or washed out). For a song to be sadness-expressive is for its musical parts to be sadness-expressive. Everything must go together for the expressiveness to exist at all, and they must go together extremely well for it to be beautifully sadness-expressive.

The importance of unity or uniformity to beauty can hardly be overemphasized, though one must also understand that too simple a uniformity can be dull, tedious, boring. Hence some sadness-expressive songs may be dreary, not beautiful, just as some sadness-expressive human behavior can be -- most moaning, grimacing and weeping is neither beautiful nor beautifully expressive. Beautiful sadness-expressive behavior needs to be beautifully controlled -- beautifully restrained or noble or in some other way admirable. Similarly some jolly songs are uniformly jolly but in an infantile manner. So we must deal with uniformity with discretion. That said, non-defective uniformities are in general beauty-making.


Beauty and what it takes to flourish

Many beauties of great significance to humans are environmental and constitutional properties that contribute to a life in which the human flourishes. To flourish as a human is to exercise one's faculties in an excellent manner. One's faculties include one's physical and intellectual endowment. When the faculties are strong and well-used, in activities that are free of defects, deficiencies and lacks, the result is beauty: beautiful actions and beautiful states. The body is well-developed and maintained, the mind is well-stocked with knowledge and well-motivated to act in a constructive way. Given good circumstances, the result is what Aristotle called happiness, namely activity in accordance with virtue. Under virtue he included all sorts of excellent employment of the faculties, physical as well as mental.

Doubtless few if any can flourish at the highest level in all respects that are open to humans, or even in all those respects at any level. But it seems clear the no one can flourish unless able to operate in an excellent manner in a fair number of respects -- ones that make up a harmonious ensemble, and therefore ones that produce significant beauty in that person's life. Notice that these are not causes of flourishing but ingredients in that state.

When we turn to environmental conditions affecting human life, it would seem that any, the aesthetic contemplation of which contributes to the flourishing of that person, are plausibly considered beautiful.

A skeptic may intervene at this point, objecting (1) that our interest in flourishing is self-interested and therefore no sign of a truly aesthetic orientation; and (2) that a lazy slob who enjoys idle entertainment is as plausibly regarded as flourishing as the type A specimen who is always searching out new beauties. At least, she might say, there has to be some good reason for rejecting that possibility.

The reply to such an objection is (1) that flourishing is worthy of being valued not just for practical reasons but for its intrinsic merit. The admiration we have for human activity in accordance with excellence is based on the universe being more beautiful for it being that way, other things being equal. And (2) the lazy person's indolence cannot reasonably be admired. What can anyone suggest could make it worthy of exciting disinterested pleasure when contemplated? (Note that relaxation that restores vigor is not ruled out but it rates nowhere nearly so high as states involving more active exertion.)

Beauty and moral goodness

One consequence of the requirement that beautiful properties not be properties of defect, deficiency or lack is that moral virtues and vices will have to be real properties, not arbitrary human constructions. Moral goods such as courage and kindness, and moral evils like cruelty and injustice, will be real properties independent of social views. Social views are justified by those properties -- or unjustified as the case may be. So the theory of beauty rests in part on the reality of moral properties, just as it does on the reality of physical and intellectual properties such as agility and ingenuity or their negatives, clumsiness or stupidity. Skeptics about the reality of moral value will not take kindly to the present theory of beauty. I'm not at all dismayed by this dependency, but it should be kept in mind when the viability of the theory is a subject of discussion. To my mind the most plausible interpretation of moral values makes them response-dependent properties subject to criteria structurally quite similar to those for aesthetic values.

Beyond that dependency there is the question of when a particular instance of a moral value, say a person's honesty, is worthy of being called beautiful. A suggestion by a philosopher I have mentioned from time to time, Guy Sircello, in his book, A New Theory of Beauty (1975), is that beautiful morality is moral behavior that has become natural and effortless as opposed to rule-bound and effortful or forced. This is a subject needing considerable development, more than is possible to supply here.


Beauty beyond human capacity to enjoy

The role of pleasure/displeasure in the statement of the theory may lead one to think that the theory is tied by definition to the hedonic capacity of humans as opposed to the capacity of other actual or possible species. There are plausible counterexamples to any such limitation. Consider (this also from Sircello) the brilliance of the sun. Human faculties are not strong enough to endure enjoyment of the full solar brightness, which will quickly sear their eyes and produce blindness. Yet it seems wrong to conclude that the sun is not beautifully brilliant. To the contrary, the sun is more beautifully brilliant than the maximum that human eyes can tolerate. So just on the basis of the limitation of our physical organs it seems that beauty extends far beyond what humans find pleasant. It must include what humans would find pleasant if their sense organs were strong enough. A similar point can be made for intellectual beauties beyond the capacity of humans to appreciate.

Extending the range of beauty in this way does not change any of the rank-ordering within the scope of human tolerance. So it does not contradict the development of the basic theory. It merely acknowledges that beings with superior faculties would be able to appreciate intensities of beautiful properties beyond what we can enjoy. We have to appreciate the intenser properties at a distance, so to speak, not by direct exposure. It also entails that besides the unconditional beauties there are beauties of suitability. What is most beautiful need not be beautifully suitable for humans. For example, a super-hot tamale may be more beautifully hot than any a human tongue can tolerate. A chef for human customers will certainly aim to produce the degree of hotness that is beautifully suitable for her customers. A great deal of aesthetic management aims at suitability, not at the theoretical limit of beauty.

Beauty of "unrealities"

Many of the beauties we enjoy most are not external beauties but imaginary or even illusory ones, which does not keep them from being real beauties. It only means they are not public beauties. States of mind can certainly be beautiful or unbeautiful. So can hallucinations or out-of-body experiences, however induced. Many, perhaps even most, of the aesthetic pleasures we get from visual objects are to some extent dependent on visual illusions. No matter. The experiences may still be worthy of exciting pleasure. It just isn't the exterior object's real nature that we are enjoying but the experience we have of it. The usual way of naming this is to say it is not the object as such, but the object-as-experienced, that we are appreciating. Of course much of our enjoyment may come from the object as such because we experience it in those respects as it is. But illusions are a large factor too. To the extent that most people don't know what is illusory and what is real they will misidentify what they are enjoying. That is entirely normal even if not ideal. It does not undermine the reality of the beauty involved.It just shifts the "object" of beauty a bit.


Non-defective vs. defective aesthetic pleasure

If aesthetic pleasure is to function non-circularly in the definition of beauty, it cannot be limited to pleasure taken in beauty. To the contrary it must be specified neutrally. The solution adopted by the present theory of beauty is to distinguish non-defective pleasure from defective pleasure. Only non-defective pleasure will be beauty-defining. But what, you may ask, is defective pleasure? We need to explain that in order to obtain a clear notion of pleasure that is free of defects.

The answer is found in hedonic pathology. Suppose a person enjoys seeing others suffering or dying, without having anything one can count as a justification.The suffering doesn't have to be merited, the dying doesn't have to a release from unendurable pain. The person simply likes to observe suffering or dying (or putrifaction or disease) for its own sake. Wouldn't such a person be justifiably be regarded as emotionally pathological? Or suppose a person enjoys seeing ugly things, faces horribly disfigured by the blast from an IED, designs that are badly composed, music that is cacophonous in such a way as to not to be coherently expressive of anything. Questioned, the person says yes, these things are ugly, not beautiful, but I enjoy contemplating them. In fact I enjoy contemplating, dwelling upon, their ugliness as an end in itself. Wouldn't this person too have to be judged emotionally pathological? Psychologists would seek to explain the deviancy in terms of self-hatred or self-disgust, so that the enjoyment is that of punishment, a case of masochism. Whatever the psychological explanation, the pleasure in these cases seems defective. Something has gone seriously wrong in the person's emotions.

There are many other cases of pleasure being defective because based on imperfect knowledge of the object of pleasure (what the pleasure is taken in). One's first hearing of a piece of music in an unfamiliar style is often subject to over or under-enthusiastic hedonic response. Similarly if one is overexposed to a piece of music one's aesthetic pleasure may be dulled. Or a person may respond without gradations of pleasure or displeasure where the pleasure of keener appreciators will vary with the presented qualities. The real beauty of anything will plausibly be determined by the non-defective aesthetic pleasure of the most sensitive respondents. The unbeauty of anything is determined by the non-defective aesthetic displeasure of the most sensitive respondents.

Keep in mind here that the criterion concerns only aesthetic pleasure, i.e. disinterested pleasure taken in descriptive aesthetic properties. It doesn't imply that we normally have only this sort of pleasure from beautiful things, natural or artifactual. It is normal for humans to have both interested and disinterested pleasure at any given time, and to have pleasure taken in non-aesthetic properties along with pleasure taken in aesthetic ones. Life is complex but we get so used to this kind of mixing that we don't even notice how complex it is.


Brief statement of the definition of beauty according to the updated sense of beauty theory

I can't tell whether this text will end here or not, since class discussion and student papers may bring to light other matters that deserve inclusion. But in a provisional way I will end with the brief definition of beauty given in Beauty Supplement, p. 84:

Beauty is the capacity of an “object” to elicit a viewer’s disinterested, non-defective pleasure in the non-verdictive (or descriptive) aesthetic properties of the object when the object is perceived accurately (in accordance with the consensus of maximal discriminators operating under optimum conditions) in respect of its sensory properties and, where relevant, conceptual properties, and also in respect of the non-verdictive aesthetic properties that emerge from the sensory and/or conceptual properties; and where the pleasure is the pleasure that maximal, non-defective hedonic discriminators, operating under optimal conditions, experience over time.

More about complications due to variable capacities of sensory systems

We have already talked about how the theory applies to the variable capacities of sensory systems, but the topic can stand further commentary. Artists are sometimes colorblind or color anomalous. This deficiency may affect their art. How are we to judge the beauty or unbeauty of the designs a color-anomalous painter produces if that painter is guided by her color-deficiency?

There are at least two ways to appreciate and assess such a design. We can of course follow the normal practice and take it as it appears to normally sighted persons. Let us suppose that the design fares rather poorly under this rule. Or we can follow the rule: appreciate and assess the design as it appears to the artist and others with the same disability. And let us suppose that the design comes across as quite beautiful when so experienced. Now normally sighted persons can access the latter appearance when it is presented in a form that uses normal color relations. Will the outcome be that acute normal judges criticize the artist? Of course not! The artist did a great job with the appearances accessible to her. What we can say is this: the work is not suitable for normally sighted aesthetic enjoyment. The "object" that is most relevant is not the physical design as it is, but rather the design as experienced through eyes with the artist's disability -- or the design as presented with the modifications needed to reproduce for normal humans the look of the work as experienced by the colorblind. .


Of course the artist might not be content to produce such works for her own enjoyment and the enjoyment of her small cohort. She may want to appeal to a wider audience. What options are open to her? She could have her work translated into the form normally sighted persons can access. Then her experience and that of the normal audience would be the same. This would seem to be a great way to succeed. The translation might well be perfect and the artist's visual experience accurately revealed. However, there is a fly in this ointment. The relation of the experience to the artist's experience of the world would not be the same. And that might make a significant difference.The designs might be bright in the context of the artist's experience of the world at large but rather dull in the context of normal perception of the world.

The other option is for the artist to give up color and work in black and white. That would still allow for high-grade artistic design and expression, but it would be a severe limitation for any artist drawn to the aesthetic values of color. A third possible option is a compromise: to design with color for oneself and one's co-sufferers, in one body of work, and in another, meant for the normal artworld, which uses only such color as the artist could perceive with the normal qualia resulting if, that is, the artist's experience was normal for part of the color-range.

There is also the case of the tetrachromat. Here the viewer sees color more accurately than normal viewers (trichromats) do. But if that greater acuity doesn't fit the color perception of trichromats, the artist who paints according to her tetrchromatic experience will suffer the same fate as that of the color-anomalous artist. Instead of seeing pure white surfaces they will see white surfaces that are speckled with little spectra (or whatever else the tetrachromat sees). Once more several possible solutions, none of them perfect, present themselves. There is nothing in this that undermines the reality of the beauty for either party. It's only that the "object" of aesthetic interest in this case is different, without that difference being apparent to the viewer who isn't clued in to the oddity of the case. There are two different objects with variable worthiness to be aesthetically enjoyed by the relevant perceivers. One is the object as experienced by the best exercise of normal human vision (trichromat); the other the object as experienced by the best exercise of tetrachromatic human vision. The physical object has two different though related dispositions to elicit optimal aesthetic experience.

More about uniformity

An important aspect of the idea of many uniformities conducing to beauty is the structure of those uniformities in the object. There are not just local uniformities but ones that connect those local ones into coherent wholes. In a painting or musical piece or work of literature there are uniformities at a number of levels. For simplicity we can think in terms of three levels, the local, the regional, and the global or overall. Lots of local uniformities won't make up a coherent whole if they are unrelated or in conflict with each other. They need to be connected in a good way, where there is some sort of overarching similarity. In a novel, for example, a character has to be consistent throughout for the characterization to be well unified. Growth in a character is of course included in this consistency, as is a slide into demoralization or worse as long as there is a coherent rationale for the change. The same general requirement applies to any art form, or any beautiful scene or environment in nature. Thus there must be a well-unified hierarchy of uniformities. Just having a lot of them doesn't do it.

The need of overarching uniformities at every level is one of the things that makes art of any kind difficult and admirable. Strong uniformities will have good aesthetic properties and weak ones will have bad or deficient ones. Criticism aims to elucidate the structure of uniformities in a work. When we appreciate a work we are responding to that complex structure.

Strong and weak cross-modal resemblances

Several students have expressed doubts as to whether cross-modal resemblances, on which descriptive aesthetic properties are based, can vary in strength. I consider it essential that they can. What examples can be given? Reds are typically warm, but some are warmer than others. Consider hot pink, for example. That's not just moderately warm. Along a different line, if someone suggests that a warm red is not just warm but angry, we can justifiably respond that if it is angry (anger-expressive) at all, it is very weakly so. Cross-modal resemblances are expressed metaphorically, and a metaphor can be more or less apt. If at most weakly so we say that the metaphor is "strained." If not even that substantial, it is simply outlandish or inapplicable -- in a way false. So I don't think there is any problem in these resemblances being strong (or close) as opposed to weak or strained. What is often difficult is pinning down the degree of strength of these resemblances. There is no quantitative measure. the property being qualitative, not quantitative. And our sensitivity to degrees of strength is limited.

A problematic metaphor imposes a quality rather than recognizes what is genuinely there. The imposition may reflect an impression of similarity that a person has, but the impression is not justified by the thing (the color, the melody, etc.). The impression results from an association rather than an inherent similarity, one in which the qualities on the one side match up with those on the other. Sad instrumental music matches features of actual sadness. But prima facie no instrumental music could match the features of sarcasm, for example.This is an example I gave in class of a cross-modal dissimilarity. However, there are subtleties here. Very special conditions may enable there to be a match between the features of, say, actual sarcasm, and certain examples of instrumental music. A piece of music might make fun of the style of a rival composer, as Mozart in the film Amadeus does when he improvises a parody of Salieri's style. This possibility depends on the relation of styles and the low quality of the music, so a lot more than a simple cross-modal resemblance is created. But these complex cases do exist and recognizing them shows a high level of musical understanding.

Last Minute thoughts, 12/8/16

1. The reality of Beauty
            A radical Platonist would believe that any Beauty and the other Forms would exist even if there were no universe at all, ever. Beauty is like numbers and other abstracta.
            The response-dependent theory of beauty proposed here disagrees because it stipulates that for the disposition to be real there has to be a universe in which it could (at least in time) be manifested, which means that aesthetic admirers could in principle be produced by that universe. Just where to draw the line as to this real possibility is hard to say and not all that crucial for us, since there are plenty of pretty good aesthetic admirers here and now.
            But can we tell here and now whether the full set of defining conditions is possible to satisfy? For the convergence we can cite, and the extrapolation of this that we can make of it with good probability, may mislead us as to the possibility of the full Monty. Maybe there will come Aliens just as discriminating in all the ways that matter who radically disagree with us. How can we be sure this isn’t a real possibility in this very universe?
            Now it can’t just be superficial logical possibility of this that should cause us anxiety. It has to be a real one, one that is possible in our universe (or in some other really possible one). So if the aliens loved chaotic designs more than designs that are orderly (even if highly complex or hard-to-appreciate way) we’d have to find out what they found beautiful about them. We would have to find that their sort of sensory systems could respond that way, being disinterestedly and non-defectively pleased to contemplate them? The conditions are by no means easy to satisfy. Perhaps they are impossible.

2. More about moral beauty
            Beautiful moral characters will be those that not only comply with moral rules but do so in an exemplary way, willingly, without struggle and also with discretion, insight into contextual factors, diplomacy, etc. Beautiful moral acts will also be those that are exemplary in these ways. So the “act” is not just what the rule demands but what is most supportive of morality itself in the society. The goal of morality is social harmony, which requires fairness and the perception of fairness.
            Of course if these characters and actions are beautifully moral they must, on the theory I propose, have beautiful descriptive aesthetic properties, which means (on that theory) crossmodal resemblances. And it isn’t immediately obvious what properties these would be. To make this part of the theory credible I have to come up with examples.
            One such crossmodal resemblance of morally exemplary acts is with actions that are graceful, including graceful movements or routines. Managing one’s moral life is a bit like navigating one’s way down a demanding course, turning at just the right time just in the right way. Grace is a possibility in all departments of life and all sorts and the aesthetic appreciation of it involves this “community” of resemblances. A truly moral person will aspire to be graceful in his or her moral relations, just as a dancer or gymnast aspires to be graceful in that enterprise.
            This is, I think, only the tip of the iceberg, but will serve as an example.
3. Beauties inaccessible to humans
             Regarding super-brilliance of the sun, referred to TOB III, the “object” of the beauty judgments that I (and Sircello) have in mind is the light that reaches the percipient’s eyes, so in that sense it is an appearance rather than the full reality of the sun’s light, which taken in its full reality includes sun spots and flares, etc. The latter is a different object of aesthetic regard than the former. To reach a sound judgment on the full reality of the sun requires a lot more knowledge than ordinary people have, and perhaps even more than scientists have about the functioning of the sun. Are sunspots and flares aspects of eminent functionality?  Or are they symptoms of slow deterioration? If the latter it then a sun that had a different operational profile might be more beautifully functional – and for that matter might be more beautiful in appearance when those better features are part of the appearance.
            In this way a serious study of beauty leads to research into the nature of things and judgment regarding many things needs to be put on hold until we have the relevant knowledge (which of course we may never manage to get!).

4. Uniformity and diversity among humans.
            Subjectivists do not adequately appreciate the fact that humans have the same visual and other systems, the same needs and consequently the same desires, pleasures and aversions. The idea that everyone is unique is trotted out by subjectivists without acknowledging the predominant sameness of the species.  They tend to assume that the differences among individuals and cultures that bear on the beauty of things cannot be explained consistently with a non-objectivist theory of beauty. But there are lots of reasons why people over or underestimate the aesthetic worth of things which do have objectivity-preserving explanations. Prominent among these is self-interest of one kind or other. Another is that some cultures don’t expose their members to a wide variety of aesthetic objects. Our present-day culture puts up another obstacle. In its effort to demolish historical biases that have oppressed disadvantaged classes, it condemns any distinction among levels of beauty, reducing aesthetic judgements to avowals of personal liking. This ideology has influenced many students to the detriment of their ability to think clearly about the issues.
            Another allurement of subjectivism is that it frees people from the need to think about beauty and enter into constructive discussion about what is really beautiful about things. The fact that a person’s liking is clear and vivid and incontestable, and the requirements of having any certainty about beauty are so “distant” and demanding, tempts people to settle for liking being all there is to beauty.