PHIL 332 Philosophy of Beauty -- Fall 2017
-- Materials -- Methods - Lecture Outlines
Instructor: John H. Brown Office: Skinner 1118B. Tel. 301-405-5702. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Office Hours: TTh 11:30-1:00 and by
appointment. Classroom: SQH 1121. Class meetings: TTH
1. Roger Scruton, Beauty (to be purchased)
2. John H. Brown, Theories of Beauty from Plato to the Present, in
reduced form, referred to simply as TOB hereafter. Free on the web. Go
to the instructor's personal internet home page at
faculty.philosophy.umd.edu/jhbrown and click on the relevant items: 332
Philosophy of Beauty, Intro/Part II, Part III, etc. I recommend that you
print out the assigned core text materials. You may find using legal size paper is an
advantage in doing this.
Supplementary Materials: the following files on the same website as the
above contain much material from past semesters to which I will refer to from
time to time, as well as new mateiral that is entered
as the course progresses. In each file there is a table of contents that is
1. 332 Beauty Supplement
2. 332 Scruton
The character of the course
Some basic familiarity with
aesthetic criticism in some cultural domain (art, music, literature, etc.) and
in life at large; and interest in enlarging that familiarity.
Interest in discovering a theoretical basis for aesthetic
Interest in historical and contemporary theories of beauty and other aesthetic
An open mind concerning whether beauty is a real property.
2. Basic problems of the course in a few
a. Is beauty
(and aesthetic value in general) an objective reality, or is it merely "in
the eye of the beholder" -- i.e. a subjective psychological response that reveals nothing about the real world?
Common formulations of the negative answer to this question:
- Everyone has his own idea of beauty.
- Beauty is entirely a personal (or individual) matter.
- Beauty is entirely a matter of feeling.
- Judgments of beauty are entirely subjective.
- What you call beautiful is merely what you happen to prefer.
- Beauty is merely a social convention, not a reality.
b. If beauty is an objective reality, what sort of reality is it, and
how can it be known? In particular how is its existence related to the
aesthetic pleasure felt by those who appreciate it?
c. If beauty is not an objective reality, is there any rational basis
for our aesthetic preferences? Can one person's aesthetic judgment be better
Can a person's aesthetic judgment improve over time?
3. Ways of addressing the problems
a. Collecting the bits of knowledge we have
of the concept of beauty and of its most compelling instances, positive and
b. Fashioning a coherent account of the basic "logic" of beauty.
c. Studying the attempts by philosophers past and present to produce a credible
theory of beauty.
d. Working out what conditions beauty would have to satisfy in order to be a
e. Reviewing what is known about the world to see if those conditions are
f. Exploring ways in which even a subjective beauty might be more or less
4. Course requirements
a. One short paper a week throughout the semester (explained below). 50%. Papers are submitted to the instructor's e-mail address.
b. Class participation (See
explanation under that title below). 40%
c. Final exam 10%
After years of standard term paper assignments, plus midterm and final essay exams, last year I tried a different scheme and the result fully justifies continuing that scheme. Grades are determined mainly by short (1-2 pages) weekly papers commenting on a topic in the reading assignment for the current week. This focuses everyone's attention on the subject that is up for discussion that very week, which should make the class much better informed than the traditional scheme did. It also encourages students to think for themselves about the material, since the instructor's views aren't yet given.
The instructor returns a written response to each paper and a grade that reflects the overall quality of the student's thought and expression. Obviously at the beginning of the course it isn't expected that the comments are based on deep knowledge. But it is still possible to judge how intelligent and thoughtful the beginner's comments are. Over the course of the semester the knowledge gained will be expected to show to advantage.
The initial papers may be supplemented by responses which are handled in the same way. The point is to conduct a conversation about the points raised in the initial papers. Grades on the papers will be revised upward where justified by later submissions.
This plan gives the student a running record of his or her performance in the course. No one will be unaware of how well he or she is doing at any stage of the course so far as written work is concerned.
Attendance and sign-in. Attendance will be taken by a sign-up sheet. If it
goes around before you arrive, sign in at the end of the class.
No laptops, no text messaging. Along with many of my colleagues I am adopting a
policy forbidding operating laptops, messaging on cell phones, and in general
the use of other such gear once the class has begun. The same goes for doing
crosswords or reading printed materials instead of attending to the class
presentation. This leaves note taking, listening to the lecture and other
students' comments, and entering into discussion as the only forms of allowable
intellectual behavior. We shouldn't have to lay down these rules but enough
students have become accustomed to violating them that it is necessary to do so
if the classes are going to be fruitful.
Since lectures will normally last for not more than 50 minutes, there will be about 25 minutes for students to discuss the problems set by the lectures and the reading in groups of four or five. The instructor will act as roving facilitator. Since each student will have written a paper (see above) on the current reading for the week, there should be no difficulty in the groups finding plenty to talk about. The lecture just given will supply other topics. Views should be exchanged and considered by the participants. Reasons should be sought to support the views put forward. A consensus may emerge or not, as the case may be. But all parties to the discussion should end the session with a better understanding of the matters discussed.
Lectures will be connected to the lecture outlines but will not try to cover all the points on them. A selection will be discussed and the rest left for students to use as prompts for papers and discussion. Lectures are open to comments, requests for clarification, display of works illustrating the points made, and so forth. Thus the lectures will not be set pieces to be absorbed by silent, scribbling auditors. Rather they will be stimulants designed to connect with auditors' aesthetic experience and facilitate coherent thought about it.
The lecture outlines are entered into the course website in this file,
5. Weekly assignments
Aug. 28: TOB, Introduction down to
"Ancient theories of beauty" and Scruton, Beauty, Ch. 1, "Judging beauty," through p. 13. Submit a short paper electronically commenting on a topic in the week's reading assignment (or in the first lecture material) by end of day Sat, Sept. 2.
Sept. 4: Scruton, Beauty, the remainder of Ch. 1, "Judging beauty." Submit a short paper electronically commenting on a topic in the week's reading assignment by end of day Mon,Sept. 4.
Sept. 11: Scruton, Beauty, Ch. 2, "Human Beauty." Submit a short paper electronically commenting on a topic in Scruton Ch. 2 by end of day Mon, Sept. 11.
Sept. 18: Scruton, Beauty, Ch.
3, "Natural Beauty."
Submit a short paper electronically commenting on a topic in Scruton Ch. 3 by end of day Mon, Sept. 18.
Sept. 25: Scruton, Beauty, Ch.
4,"Everyday Beauty." Submit a short paper electronically commenting on a topic in Scruton Ch 4 by end of day Mon, Sept. 25.
Oct. 2: Scruton,
Beauty, Ch. 5, "Artistic Beauty." Submit a short paper electronically commenting on a topic in Scruton Ch. 5 by end of day Mon, Oct. 2.
Scruton, Beauty, Ch. 6, "Taste
and Order." Submit a short paper electronically commenting on a topic in Scruton Ch. 6 by end of day Mon, Oct. 9.
Scruton, Beauty, Ch. 7, "Art and Eros." Submit a short paper electronically commenting on a topic in Scruton Ch 7 by end of day Mon, Oct. 16.
Oct. 23: Scruton, Beauty, Ch. 8, "The Flight from Beauty," and Ch. 9, "Concluding Thoughts." Submit a short paper electronically commenting on a topic in Scruton Ch 8 by end of day Mon., Oct. 23.
TOB, Part I, "Ancient theories of beauty" and TOB, Part II,
down to "Applications." Submit a short paper electronically commenting on a topic in the week's assignment by end of day Mon Oct. 30.
Nov. 6: Section in 332Beauty Supplement relating to James Kirwan, pp. 77-81 and TOB II, pp. 41-46 on Cicero and Plotinus. Submit a short paper electronically commenting on a topic in the week's assignment by end of day Mon, Nov. 7.
TOB, Part III through p. 8 plus the sections in Beauty Supplement on color, pp. 56-63. Submit a short paper electronically commenting on a topic in the week's assignment by end of day Mon, Nov. 13.
TOB, Part III, down to Hutcheson's Section II: "Original and
Relative Beauty." Submit a short paper electronically commenting on a topic in the week's assignment by end of day Mon, Nov. 20.
III, the remainder of Hutcheson's Theory. TOB, Part III, "Hume's criteria" to p. 19 of Part III. Submit a short paper electronically commenting on a topic in the week's assignment by end of day Mon, Nov. 27.
Dec. 4: Beauty Supplement, items under Sense of Beauty matters through Aesthetic appreciation/judgment, pp. 83-97 plus remainder of the expanded TOB III.
Submit a short paper electronically commenting on a topic in the week's assignment by end of day Mon, Dec. 4.
Final Examination: Thursday, Dec. 14, 8:00-10:00 a.m. in the classroom.
Note the coursemail advisory on the various exams for different categories of students.
The final exam is a take-home exam to be transmitted to my e-mail address by the official date of the exam, December 14. You should copy out and sign the standard avowal of the work on the exam being yours. Then choose between the following two options:
1. Short exam (roughly equivalent to 3 brief papers in length, counting 10 points out of 100 in the course grade).
What parts of the full updated theory of beauty offered by the instructor do you think would be hard to convince serious, well-backgrounded and open-minded students of beauty are correct? By hard to convince I don’t mean impossible to convince, but parts that would meet with initial resistance. Say something about how you would go about convincing them.
2. Long exam (roughly equivalent to 9 brief papers in length counting a maximum of 25 points out of 100 in the course grade)
Recapitulate the updated theory of beauty offered in the course, proceeding from the bottom up. Be sure to include all the details. Once that is done, proceed to answer the question posed on the short exam above.
Note 1: In both cases you need not include the part of the theory that relates to abstract beauties (math et al) since that part has not been explicitly presented to you. But your exams will be graded largely on the basis of the accuracy of your report of the core theory itself in all its complexity.
Note 2: Missing weekly papers, or revisions of those papers, will be accepted though the date of the final exam, viz. December 14.
A student-facing page of UM policies and resources covering the various aspects of student-instructor relations is posted at: http://www.ugst.umd.edu/courserelatedpolicies.html.
Lecture Outlines (subject to revision a week
before they apply)
Prima facie reasons for doubting the
reality of beauty
Long history of
disagreement about beauty, individual and cultural.
Conspicuous differences of aesthetic taste, culture to culture, person to
person, simultaneous and historical.
Difficulty of making another agree (or enabling another to see) that something
is or is not beautiful.
Prima facie reasons for believing in the
reality of beauty
Obvious cases of beauty/ugliness exist, even
if many cases are disputable.
Aesthetic education seems to improve taste by broadening it and sharpening it.
Panels of expert judges are commonly used where aesthetic decisions are needed, with a good deal of public acceptance.
(Examples shown in class of beautiful humans and of imaginary ugly creatures. See also Beauty Supplement, pp. 29-35)
Bad reasons for rejecting aesthetic
realism in favor of relativism or subjectivism
The following are common reasons (sometimes
acknowledged, sometimes not) for the popularity of some form of subjectivism.
In each case a little thought should convince you that the reason has no
logical force. That is, even if the facts alleged are as claimed, they
provide no evidence that subjectivism is true. The most they can do is show how tempting it is to think that beauty is merely "in the eye of the beholder."
1. Diplomacy (tact, kindness, gentility; desire for public
harmony, avoiding all controversy)
2. Pedagogical benefit (encouragement of beginnners to develop preferences without worry about "correctness")
3. Confusion about facts and values ("opinions")
4. Desire for aesthetic freedom (resistance to aesthetic dictation)
5. The demands of creativity (finding "one's own beauty")
6. The irreducibility of beauty to a set
7. The unattainability of absolute
certainty regarding many beauty questions
8. Conviction that agreement is of little
9. Not wanting to be bothered.
- What would be good reasons for aesthetic subjectivism?
- Subjectivism as a last
resort when all attempts to establish a viable basis for realism fail.
- Other postures toward the issue of realism/subjectivism:
- Agnosticism: leaving the issue unresolved.
- Probabilism: regarding the probabilities as favoring one or the other view.
- What lessons can be drawn from serious thought about beauty?
- Lesson 1: the complexity of issues about beauty.
- Lesson 2. There are truisms about Beauty: everyone who understands what beauty-statements mean knows a number of things about beauty, for instance:
- 1. Beauty-ascriptions are seriously
commendatory, i.e. beauty is a positive value, other things being equal.
- 2. Beauty is an aesthetic value as opposed to
other types of value.
- 3. Dependence (supervenience)
of beauty-ascriptions: Beauty depends on beautiful properties.
- 4. Some beauty-ascriptions are aspect
- 5. Some beauty-ascriptions are overall or
all things considered.
- 6. All beauty-ascriptions carry an implied
relativity to a standard.
- 7. Some beauty-ascriptions are relative to
a limited domain; others are not.
- 8. Differences of threshold for ascribing
beauty are ultimately inessential. (All genuine questions about beauty can
be answered without reference to them.)
- 9. Beauty is an ideal (Note here the
ambiguity of "absolute beauty:" supreme/pure)
- Consequently, 10:
a. beauty judgments are, in a sense, always (at bottom) comparative.
b. Beauty-values (+/-) lie on a continuum (rank-order) of
- Disputed principle, realism vs.
- 11a. (realist) Things
are more or less beautiful, i.e., are
or are not worthy of admiring contemplation, without respect to merely variable, unregulated human views. "Beautiful to me (you,
them)" is always reducible to "believed to
be beautiful by me (you, them). It is never fundamental.
- 11b. (subjectivist) Things are more or less beautiful only relatively to particular human views -- only
beautiful to this or that person. All beauty assertions carry an
implicit "to me (you, them)" that is not reducible to "believed to be..." No basis exists for rational
decision about what people ought to believe to be really beautiful.
What is a theory of beauty? What must
such a theory do?
- Define beauty and other sorts
of aesthetic value, or provide a way to convey the idea.
- Definition gives an ontological criterion of beauty.
- Set forth epistemic
criteria of judgments of beauty.
- Set forth normative criteria of beauty.
- Thereby facilitate aesthetic
recognitions & judgments and the understanding of aesthetic experience
How does one get started in building
- a. Gather obvious truths about beauty: truisms and
incontestable examples (positive and negative).
- b. Sketch the general conceptual landscape surrounding beauty.
- Relate beauty to aesthetic and
- Distinguish beauty from ethical
and practical value
- Relate aesthetic questions to
psychological and sociological ones
- Relate aesthetic theory to
aesthetic judgments about individual things
- c. Study historical theories of beauty
- Study key texts that set forth
theory and applications
Learn the philosophical system
presupposed by these texts.
Investigate ways of perfecting
Course Material Website:
Plausible examples of ugly animals: http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/science/20100812ugly.html?ref=science
Dubuffet's off-beat beauties: http://www.casa-in-italia.com/artpx/moma/moma.htm See Beauty Supplement 1.4 for Dubuffet's aesthetic credo.
Lecture 2: Scruton's Beauty 1
The work is best regarded as a treasury of opinions and appreciations rather than a fully developed theory of beauty.
Highly relevant to the theoretical enterprise.
But no attempt is made to build a fully reasoned case for answers to the basic ontological and epistemological questions.
Scruton does take a position on the objectivity-subjectivity issue.
Beauty is "a real and universal value."
Beauty is deeply connected with our "rational nature."
And on many other important issues.
The text serves a theoretician admirably as a set of reminders, suggestions, and challenges.
Yet his cultural agenda needs to be kept in perspective. Movie about Scruton: Beauty and Consolation: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0amDwXHr0v4.
Preface and Chapter 1
1. Beauty's impact. How well-rounded is Scruton's opening description? Doubts:
Lots of beauty seems to be unrecognized by some cultures.
Immense diversity of undiscovered beauty.
Is beauty unlike other value properties in this respect?
Not likely. And any robust realism about beauty has to bet on this (similarly for moral goodness).
Easy/obvious beauties do have universal impact. Uglinesses also.
2. Beauty compared with goodness and truth as ultimate values
"Ultimate" = intrinsic, worth pursuing for their own sake.
- Worth having right beliefs about
- Worth desiring to embody in one's life and world
- Worth acting consistently with
- Since the three are different values, the pursuit of one can conflict with pursuit of another.
3. Beauty as a "transcendental" value: a strictly universal +/- value.
- N.B. don't confuse with a high, ethereal value in the Platonic sense.
4. Scruton's platitudes about beauty that go beyond 1-9 in Lecture 1.
- Scruton's i. Qualify: when recognized, beauty pleases us.
- Scruton's v. Add that mental states can also be beautiful.
- Scruton's vi. Question: can't second-hand judgements be valid?
- Scruton on enjoyable. Suggestion: it's better to contrast what is merely enjoyed from what is worthy of being enjoyed.
- This connects with the value-loaded sense of desirable: viz. worthy of being desired. Enjoyable by itself lacks this sense.
5. Scruton's paradox: beauty and reasons
- Impersonal (transferable) reasons
- First-hand (non-transferable) reasons
6. Scruton on minimal beauty: star-quality vs. workaday beauty.
- Scruton associates this with independent beauty as opposed to beautiful as background (star vs. supporting factor).
Note that there are other relevant constrasts, e.g.
Low-level artistic vs. everyday beauty (high or low-level)
- Simple vs. complex beauty, workaday or fine.
- Easy beauty vs. challenging beauty (difficult to appreciate)
7. Beautiful vs. pretty, charming, elegant, exquisite, lovely, cute, good-looking, neat, suitable, fitting, harmonious, expressive, powerful, functionally excellent, etc. These combine:
Grades of beauty
Species of beauty
Near relatives of beauty
Note the complexity and casualness of ordinary language, its fluidity, slipperiness, subtlety, etc. Aesthetic theory needs a technical vocabulary. (Beauty Supplement, p. 86)
The relevance of the adverbial as opposed to the adjectival form of a beauty-claim: beautifully skillful, beautifully balanced, beautifully organized, etc.
8. Scruton's suggested two concepts of beauty:
Beautiful = artistically successful
Beautiful = purely-enrapturingly-ravishingly-consolingly beautiful (or some degree of this)
Exemplary cases: Orlando di Lasso, Bartok, Faure.
But note that reserving "beauty" for the highest grade would be theoretically ruinous.
10. Intrinsic value vs. instrumental (functional) value
- How rigid is this distinction?
- Scruton's caution is well taken.
- Also extraordinary functionality may be worthy of admiring contemplation for its sake alone, hence beautiful. (See article "The functional beauty of organisms" on my website.)
11. Beauty and individuality: wanting X for its beauty. Rachel and her peach: No equally beautiful peach will do. (Is that really so?)
- What distinctions are needed to untangle this?
- Interest in an individual X for its b'ful property P is generally interest in the way P fits into X's other characteristics and what other things are available to one; it is rarely just interest in P abstractly.
- Scruton seems to take interest in a thing's beauty as like interest in an intimate relationship with an individual where one's interest is in the whole person.
- That fits love relations but not all aesthetic appreciations; more abstract appreciations do also occur.
12. Scruton on form and function in general:
- A functioning artifact's form has to suit its function.
- Therefore to judge its beauty you have to know its function.
- I.e. You have to judge it as a b'ful artifact of that kind.
- Does Scruton mean you can't admire functionally irrelevant form? That's not obvious at all.
13. Scruton on form and function in architecture:
- Architectural form serves basic utilitarian functions but
- Beautiful form attracts admiring contemplation.
- In fact it looks like beautiful form fulfills an aesthetic function!
- Examples confirm this, e.g. the Alhambra and other architectural masterworks.
- Hence speaking of the function of a thing is misleading if the idea is that it has one and only one function.
14. Scruton on beauty and the senses
- a. Literary beauty is "presented through the senses, to the mind."
- [Scruton's historical notes: Kant, St. Thomas, Ruskin et al. Many complications here, which we will sidestep.]
- Or is it through the imagination as well as intellect? And not just visual imagination either.
- Plus infusions of thought:
- Thought expressed by characters
- Thought supplied by the author by the way she presents the characters and the story.
- b. Taste and smell are "insufficiently intellectual to prompt the interest in beauty"... "not capable of systematic
organization"... "barely [engage] our imagination or our thought"
- See Beauty Supplement, pp. 17-25, re. an art of taste and smell.
- Have we simply neglected those senses; or is the problem one of low grade human sensitivity compared with that of other creatures?
- See Beauty Supplement pp. 63ff., re. lack of systematic structure of taste and smell.
- Should we restrict beauty as severely as Scruton does?
- c. Aesthetic pleasure never merely pleasant sensation but on pleasure taken in the presentation of the beautiful thing.
- Too bad Scruton doesn't say more about this!
15. Disinterested interest = interest in a thing "for its own sake," i.e. not for our sake. (for its qualities, for what it is, not for what it can do for us).
- Disinterested pleasure = pleasure derived from disinterested interest.
16. Beauty = what we can pleasurably contemplate as an individual (or quasi-individual) for its own sake and in its presented form taken as the full and final focus of our mind.
- Another aspect: Disinterested pleasure = pleasure taken in something conceived as worthy of every rational person's disinterested approval.
"Only creatures like us -- with language, self-consciousness, practical reason, and moral judgment -- can look on the world in this alert and disinterested way, so as to seize on the presented object and take pleasure in it."
Scruton's historical discussion can be left until later when we study the history of aesthetic theory
Lecture 3. Scruton, Beauty, Ch. 2: Human beauty
critique of evolutionary aesthetics
- What does evolutionary aesthetics claim? Two versions:
- Group benefit of aesthetic responsiveness
- Dissanayake: "making
special" that serves social groups
- E.g. Mursi body decoration, labrets
selection improved by display of reproductive fitness (strength,
birds of paradise, plumage and dances
- Scruton's criticisms of both:
- a. Neither claim shows that beauty is required; non-aesthetic responses would suffice.
- b. Neither explanation connects with the distinctive rationality of the response to beauty.
- c. Both explanations oversimplify the connection between beauty and sexual attractiveness.
- How valid are Scruton's criticisms?
- Must evolutionary aesthetics claim aesthetic responsiveness is more than one contributor among others to survival? (No)
- Need evolutionary aesthetics assume more than proto-aesthetic responsiveness in pre-human subjects? (No)
- But Scruton is right that evolutionary aesthetics does not explain the higher levels of aesthetic responsiveness.
- Additional thoughts (JBs):
- No evidence suggests that responsiveness to beauty is in itself a survival plus.
- Aesthetic responsiveness is a sign of advanced cognitive competence, which is a survival plus.
- The "survival of the prettiest" does not result in ever-increasing beauty when not managed by humans for that purpose.
- Dissanayake amply distinguishes different forms and levels of making special.
- Scruton on beauty and desire
platitude (Scruton's vii): human beauty prompts
desire, first sexual, then contemplative.
- I.e. desire for reproduction,
physical or ideational.
implausibility of Plato's single-species eros.
Beauty Supplement: "Beauty and sexual attractiveness," pp. 47-51
- Scruton on
contemplation vs. possession
of X is inherently unable to be possessed by Y
a fine tangle, that! Possess = enjoy? Possess = control access to? Possess = acquire for oneself?
- Scruton on
beauty and desire for an individual, as opposed to sensuous
desire, which is for a property (a kind).
desire is for an individual, not mere sensuous desire.
even after physical exhaustion
- JB: Scruton seems
to be talking about love, not mere desire.
use of love as the desire to "possess" the individual is
problematic, even with the qualification "as a free
- Scruton on a b'ful human body as = a b'ful embodiment of a person
body or body part as containing the self.
interaction as "summoning the self."
- Withdrawing the self is an obscenity.
- Does that mean bodies taken just as living bodies can't be beautiful? (That doesn't seem right.)
- Scruton on
"pure endorsement" of another person who is trusted, intimate,
and loved, as an experience of the person's beauty.
- Scruton on beauty and the sacred:
things as things properly set apart, kept inviolable.
persons as similarly precious.
as deserving similar reverence.
- Scruton on childhood beauty and virginity
for idealized beauty
cult of the Holy Virgin - its Platonic character
- Application of this to interpersonal love among adults
- A love that is both human and divine.
- Beauty that is a symbol of redemption.
- (JB) How much of this can we believe?
Lecture 4. Scruton Ch. 3, Natural
- Scruton on the gradual development of appreciation of the natural world in the 17th-18th centuries as reflected in the emergence of pure landscapes (landscapes without Biblical or other literary themes).
- [Let's reserve these ideas for later discussion.]
- Scruton on the universal human appeal of (some) natural landscapes.
- What is the most admired landscape type? See image in Beauty Supplement, p. 27.
- Connection with Pleistocene advantage.
- But can this be disinterested? Does that matter?
- What aesthetic properties can landscapes (real or depicted) possess?
- Openness, grandeur, world-like expansiveness (and their contraries)
- Where do
gardens and parks fit into love of nature?
- Scruton's footnote on Marxism and social theory.
red herring so far as aesthetic theory is concerned.
- But an idea that has had devastating influence on nature.
Marxist deflationary ideas of the worth of aesthetic interest
Landscapes with laboring peasants, gypsies, etc. can be admired as a way of diverting attention away from exploitation by the social order. Aesthetic preoccupation can thus be evasive. Sure. Aesthetic interests do not necessarily block social reform any more than scientific interests do. Both require freedom to pursue non-political ends e.g., to avoid the scramble to meet living expenses or to secure research support, and so forth. So pursuit of beauty and knowledge may conflict with the time and effort one puts into reform of social injustice. Also, advocates of these non-political pursuits may think of them as justifying bourgeois arrangements that exploit the disadvantaged classes. But that does not invalidate the worth of aesthetic value in and of itself. (Indeed lessening social injustice is aesthetically valuable!) Aesthetes who accept socially unjust arrangements are wrong to do so. But their moral negligence need not invalidate their aesthetic judgments. Similarly scientists, politicians, businessmen, lawyers, doctors, military officers, and others often share in this immoral attitude, but that need not invalidate their professional judgments on matters within their speciality.
- Scruton on our
"enhanced sense of belonging" in the natural world.
- How does that fit with the disinterestedness of aesthetic pleasure?
- Scruton on the relation of this to Kant's aesthetic philosophy.
- [I prefer to leave this until later.]
thought about the earth being justified by our aesthetic joy:
- (JB) This points in a good direction, at least, even if it's extravagantly romantic taken literally. Needs interpreting.
- Questions about Scruton's phenomenology of aesthetic experience
bringing categories to nature distinguish aesthetic from scientifically
appreciating nature as we like to imagine it more aesthetic than
appreciating nature as we honestly believe it to be?
immersion in natural scenes essentially different from immersion in a
film or music?
- Similarity of reverence
for nature and religious reverence; similarity of feeling for natural beauty and feeling for the
depth of feeling, sense of profundity is the common thread.
- Kant's idea of "purposiveness without purpose:" as-if designed without actually being so.
the human instinct to search for meaning in the face of immensities too vast to encompass is natural but proves nothing.
if the world were divinely governed, would that affect its beauty?
- Excellent functionality does not entail design.
- Further reflections on Scruton's treatment of natural beauty.
- No wisdom
is imparted as to what goes into the beauty of organisms, which are
more/less beautiful than others.
JB's suggestions about animal beauty in Beauty Supplement, pp.36-40.
- A big idea: if the universe is a self-generated natural system originating from the Big Bang and developing by entirely natural processes, it may, for all we know, be the most beautiful of all really possible universes.
- Another big idea: since humans are products of evolution in the natural world, can we justify separating natural and artifactual beauty? Aren't cities in the same general category as beaver dams?
- A third big idea: since humans are far and away the most complex organic systems with the most impressive capabilities yet produced, shouldn't we regard our species as the most valuable so far produced? Why then should we be so keen to preserve as many other species as possible?
- In judging the beauty of Earth (as opposed to the universe) how much if any beauty should we ascribe to tectonic plate shifts and earthquakes? (This is exemplary of the many questions that arise about earth.)
How beautiful are sunsets? How do we tell? Here are some examples:
Thoughts on the sublime
Things are sublime only when they are vast in extent, or number (this applies to the microlevel), or intricacy, or in power, perhaps in intelligence and who knows how many other respects. Sublime things are overwhelming in some way or other. But the way seems essential, for sublime things are aesthetically positive and not all vast things are positive. Historically stress was placed on the phenomenon being frightening if one were unprotected. That assumed an interested regard. When one felt protected one could adopt a disinterested attitude and exult in the power or speed or whatever.
Earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and plagues are not sublime; devastation is not admirable; nor is continental drift. The demonic is not sublime. (Milton’s Satan is sublime only because nobly tragic.) War has been thought sublime because it promoted noble sacrifice, courage, etc. But this is a false view of war overall.
Black holes and collisions of supernovas are not sublime. Solar flares aren’t either. Too destructive. The mother of all bombs is not sublime either. Nor is the big bang.
But the whole career of the universe from the big bang to the present is arguably sublime.
Being protected is not enough; the sublime does not call for compassion with sufferers (esp. innocent sufferers).
Niagara Falls and other huge waterfalls are sublime only because they are formful. The immensity is well ordered. This is what makes them majestic.
The stars in the sky are scattered without readily visible order but they sparkle against the deep black in a beautiful way.
Intergalactic immensities are not sublime, just very large finite magnitudes.
Mountains are sublime only if formidable…what else makes them sublime? Read Ruskin’s description of a day in the Alps for leads (in Beauty Supplement p.2f.)
The divine is a classic case of superlative power under control, supposedly wise even if inscrutable. The manner of being and acting is supposed somehow superlative, not disordered or capricious.
Mystery is closely associated with sublimity because the overwhelming is beyond human understanding (until it is understood!) – uncanny, unearthly…..
Poetic sensibilities tend to have a low threshold for (apparent) sublimity.
Some ruins can awake the sense of the sublime: Mayan temples, e.g. Why?
Might it be necessary for species to suffer great extinctions and lesser plagues, etc., for some greater good to come into being? If so, would they therefore turn out to be sublime? No, I don’t think so. It would just show that the greater good required some badness. This would be a reason to tolerate the extinctions but not a reason to celebrate them.
The aspect of drama in the sublime
Harsh, discordant and violent phenomena are fascinating to us IF there is enough drama in them, whether they are auditory or visual or theatrical, etc. What is involved in a thing or sequence being dramatic?
Well, it must have a narrative quality (explicit or suggested) which has significant form, one that keeps the hearer’s interest. It may build up suspense and then reveal all or otherwise bring the tension to a resolution. Or it may sustain interest by each part being delightful, as with wit or interesting characters interacting with each other in a way that is worthy of admiration.
Lecture 5. Scruton, Ch. 4, Everyday
- Vast diversity of
categories of everyday beauty
- High and low skill endeavors
- Industrial and luxury goods (and everything in between)
- Central or marginal role of beauty
- Varying potential for artistry in the materials
- Varying roles in the life of viewers/users/occupants
- No generally accepted cut-off point for "everyday beauty"
- See Beauty Supplement pp. 101-103 for info about the categories.
- Included in Design disciplines (from Wikipedia) are:
Applied arts Architecture Automotive design Benchmarking design Communication design
Configuration design Engineering design Environmental graphic design Experiential graphic design Fashion design Game design Graphic design Information architecture Industrial design ......(lots more, take a look)
- 1. Gardens and landscape
basic rationale: putting ourselves in nature -- a way of making our
inwardness physically real.
- Differences between enclosed
and open (gardens vs. landscapes)
- Individually managed
(private) vs. collectively managed (public)
- Examples: http://www.littlesparta.co.uk/
and Beauty Supplement, p. 44.1
radical environmentalists have a valid complaint about these gardens?
- What is the best mixture of managed and wild nature? What is the value of extreme wilderness (virtually "virginal" nature)?
- Is it substantial or a mere shibboleth?
- 2. Handiwork, carpentry,
like art? Ordinary functionality plus relevant aesthetic properties.
joinery, structures, furniture, architectural features, appliances,
Scruton's "redundancy" substitute "multiplicity of options"
- Scruton's adaptation of Kant's "purposiveness without purpose" ("purpose" understood as non-aesthetic purpose)
- How is
the process of deciding what looks right an exercise in rationality?
Factors presumably intended by Scruton:
right can incorporate knowledge of what is right.
consideration of all relevant factors.
out the best -- i.e. the most satisfying -- of the available options.
one's preferences by the response of others.
a shared environment.
intuition as the final arbiter.
- Scruton's "discretion," "appropriateness,"
choice as a "genuine realm of rational life".
- Does all this add up to
resolution via negotiation avoid arm-twisting or sacrifice?
our intuition is based on cognitively useful patterns.
- The response-dependent theory gives meaning to rationality
- The practical vs. the
- Where should the line be drawn? How strict should it be?
where dire consequences threaten?
goodness can be of practical social value, but only of comparatively low degree.
is generally of some instrumental value
- Rephrasing the question as merely practical vs. merely aesthetic helps
- 3. Style according to Scruton:
a sense of a person or society or way of life.
one discover oneself.
- Home decorations, automobiles, equipment of all sorts.
- Fashion as fundamentally
social: a bid for approval (building a taste public, fitting in or standing out)
delight and impress
shock and offend (but can this be beautiful?)
Mainline, eccentric, outsider/dissenter.
- Can beauty be
time-sensitive? Fashion, art, etc.?
for Victorians, stodgy for anyone now?
this a correct judgment of the beauty of a costume? Or art? (Cp. Eddy Zemach on time-sensitive properties)
effect of context: what exactly is the object of judgment? How defined?
what are the appropriate optimal Humean conditions?
of unchanging value in costume divisions in museums of art.
backward look vs. the forward look: different difficulties.
- Current runway shows: http://www.wwd.com/wwd-video/?bclid=21900703001&bctid=1195804320001
- Aren't these displays largely entertainment rather than creative fashion art?
- Style as expressive of ideals of permanence or evanescence
- Ancient Egyptian priesthood re. permanence
- Japanese Tea Ceremony re. evanescence (Wabi-Sabi aesthetic)
Lecture 6. Scruton, Ch. 5. Artistic
1. The religious connection to fine art
Make it beautiful in order to honor the gods/ancestors (and receive their favor)
Make it awesome to overawe the worshipper
2. The political connection to fine art
To celebrate the ruling power or the state or a private person as a political power.
To intimidate rivals/dissidents with fearsome beauty
3. The personal connection to fine art
To preserve the memory of one’s dear ones. Make it and them as beautiful as possible.
Scruton's Opening gambit: What does it take to be,
or to become art? Problem cases that generate the baffled question: Can that be art?
arrival of non-art art, art by fiat
art: Fountain, In Advance of the Broken Arm, et al.
artistic-type merit can such works have?
merit? Beauty, even? What kind of beauty?
- Wit +
comment about the artworld +
- Widespread suspicion of a scam
such phenomena signs of a cultural crisis?
to WW I?
to the rise of abstraction in art?
with witty representational art using commonplace motifs: Lichtenstein, for example.
with focused protest: Daumier, Kollwitz.
- Scruton's question about the possibility of Dada et al being paradigm works of art.
- As opposed to fringe
works in a late artistic tradition within a multiverse culture
- Art vs. entertainment or pseudo-art: Collingwood, Croce.
- Collingwood on authentic personal expression vs. stereotypes
- Scruton on the effect of photography: "reality addiction"
- (JB) Art-grade photographs resist this leveling tendency
- Scruton on "distance," disinterested sympathy
- Example of pure (and sumptuous) entertainment: Cirque du Soleil: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QvYZ9Ss4mUQ
- http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9nwxzlIARy0 Also the URLs at the end of this lecture.
- JB: marks of entertainment:
- Aims to exercise, relax and restore without challenging the viewer or listener in sobering ways
- Discourages viewers from serious reflection on life
- Negative emotions (fear, dread, revulsion, etc.) are directed only toward others.
- JB: Cultural categories like art and entertainment are:
- Internally graduated: paradigm, normal, fringe
- Have fuzzy boundaries overlapping with other categories (e.g. art and entertainment
- Hybrids exist
- Another type is:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ztXmzMvSXZ0&list=LP5chEtTMSjPg&index=1&feature=plcp
- Fantasy and imagination: Can Scruton's distinction be vindicated?
- Imagination: representation saturated by thought guided by reality
- Fantasy: surrogate satisfactions, stock situations, the more vivid the better.
- JB: Essential difference is interestedness rather than disinterestedness
- JB: Scruton's verbal usage is idiosyncratic or technical
- Style, artistic and extra-artistic
styles: cultures, periods, schools
styles (Van Gogh, Lichtenstein, etc.)
vs. artificial style (which is Bouguereau's?)
of style: examples (most photos, many flower paintings, etc.)
- Content and form
- Representational content
- Expressive content
- Iconological (symbolic) content
- Implicit (allusive, suggestive)
- Form: projection system, drawing system, color, etc.
- Form: composition of elements
- Can two works that differ in form have the same content?
In photographs, lens, shutter speed, f-stop are variables.
- Exactly the same depictive content? Not unless the content is very simple.
- Exactly the same expressive content? The same attitude, emotion, feeling?
- Problems of determining the content: vagueness, ambiguity, subtlety, complexity.
- Problems posed by translations, performances, degraded or damaged paintings, etc.
- If the art work is the "irreplaceable vehicle of its meaning," does that make the work more valuable than non-artistic works, as in expressive behavior in life?
- Analyzing (and demystifying) "expression"
-- showing what one (actually) feels
-- by a cross-modal resemblance
the two in art and life:
- Depicting a character expressing feelings in a work
- Here the work is depicting, not expressing.
- A work expressing the feelings of the artist
- The creator's momentary feelings are rarely expressed.
- The creator's attitudes, values are more often expressed.
- A work being expressive of feelings (not necessarily of the artist).
- Here the work conveys what the creator knows about feelings.
about the expressive capacity of instrumental music or abstract visual
- Form and content in architecture
is the content of a building? What does the Salute say?
much of the content Scruton cites shows in the
- Do its
critics have a point in regard to the clutter and the blank chapel walls?
the Katerina church in Stockholm, the Redentore in Venice, etc.
Ruskin have a point about the apertures in the dome and the volutes? Compare
domes, test effect of removing the apertures
- Is Gehry's museum more than visually entertaining?
- The pathos of architecture: conflicting interests, limited resources, time-sensitivity, etc.
- Meaning and metaphor: Scruton on the non-arbitrary character of metaphorical descriptions in regard to art.
of metaphors when in the presence of the work
- http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=izQsgE0L450&feature=related (Barber's Adagio)
Yet being appropriately backgrounded may be a
condition of uptake.
Also conditions of viewing/listening are important.
to absorb the input, feel the resonance in oneself.
with the range of expressiveness in that category.
- The value of art
on art as play
modes of "play" -- idle play vs. constructive/creative play
- Scruton's special spin on this -- the highest form of beauty.
- Do we
learn why we exist through art-like play? Or through artistic
- Beauty and truth
aphorism: "'Beauty is truth, truth beauty' -- that is all/Ye know on earth and all ye need to know." (Ode
to a Grecian Urn)
- Scruton: art shows "the truth of the human condition," and "the worthwhileness of being human"
Art and entertainment: the case of Cirque du Soleil. How to explore it.
Art photography vs. other (professional) photography: the case of Andreas
Gursky (Beauty Notes) -- unmistakable art (in
this case, appealing only as art)
subartistic categories: journalistic,
portrait, fashion, advertizing, sports, etc.
in these categories: art-grade productions and artistic aspirations
Arnold Newman, Dorothea Lange, Philip Jones Griffiths, Mary Ellen Mark,
Beauty: (High) art is often less beautiful overall than entertainment or
other types of artifacts or perfomances. No
paradox in that.
Entertainment: This term does not properly cover many, many kinds of
other term does either.
Lecture 7. Scruton
Ch. 6, Taste and Order
- The shallowness of the "democratic" notion of taste
irony of its rationale: to defend one's unique individuality, since
individuality involves our social and moral nature.
social and moral nature favors a reasoned consensus about values: "a
consensus within which we can feel at home" (113)
- The challenge is to fashion a consensus that is "rationally compelling."
- The case for subjectivism
is really just "emotional infection" masquerading as veridical perception.
is just persuasion or manipulation.
reduce to rationalizations for what one likes.
often disappear when relevant facts are known because shared values are
case of Whistler's nocturnes
particular background of the works
general appeal of such subjects in life
duck-rabbit, even (or other ambiguous pictures)
- The case of Blake's Oh Rose, thou art sick.
agreement achieved is appropriate or right in relation to the example.
- The subjectivist's objection to the above
disagreements disappear, they don't do so because it would be irrational
not to agree!
is no deductive relation between the reasons and the conclusion.
are based on consensus, but the consensus doesn't transfer.
standards necessarily stifle creativity and aesthetic discovery.
- Scruton's rejoinder: all
cultures acknowledge certain general universals: unity, order,
proportion; closure, harmony; novelty, excitement.
Florentine artistic context in that period: Perugino's
lament; the analogy in architecture; theprofusion
of precedents for Michelangelo's work;Michelangelo's
at more specific levels does not imply de facto universality; rather
of a value = its capacity to contribute to human flourishing.
of this sort are various and not necessarily universally available. There are circumstantial limitations.
this respect aesthetic values are like secondary qualities, e.g. color,
which is objective, is it not?
- Scruton on rules and originality:
are optional not mandatory.
But this means that "rules" are only guidelines to a given
of thumb" is an apt description covering selected properties.
the rules of counterpoint or perspective or architectural
Laurentian Library vestibule: how much "overt defiance" of rules is there in this?
Beware the tendency to overdramatize artistic novelties.
to exaggerate the rule-determined character of great icons, e.g. the
works are outstanding exemplars that guide later art students, not
the product of rules antecedently in place.
academies in the past sometimes imposed rules as a pedagogical
San Zaccaria Sacra Conversazione altarpiece: is that rule-governed?
Or is it merely structurally strong with its charm concentrated in
myriad details of figure, color and lighting?
- But Scruton rejects the sufficiency of rules anyway.
The insufficiency of rules simply reflects the very great complexity of
human responses to environmental stimuli.
there are no simple rules for perceptual recognition, why should there
be for aesthetic response?
for a sense of beauty theory
theory does not require rules, or a single criterion of Uniformity and
Variety. In fact the idea of a sense suggests the opposite.
is essential (JB) is the in principle possibility of consensus under
final example: Banraku drama and the
traditional culture of Japan (re. Scruton's
reference to Chikamatsu Manzaemon's
puppet plays). http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=44dH7j-rITwhttp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C1119A2RZXA&feature=related (3:06-3:20) How
can the harshest aspects of Banjuro ethos be approved by more liberal
or individualistic cultures?Does
that bring the idea of objectivity or rationality into question?
Ch. 7, Beauty and Eros: how can art present an object of sexual desire as an
object for contemplation and hence as beautiful?
- Scruton's idea of
representing individuality in such a person depicted in a sexually available way: what factors are relevant to implementing this idea? Presumably
personality, serious life concerns
these include sexual vulnerability or desire?
they exclude sexual vulnerability and desire?
- The effect of absence of
sexual invitation because of:
in sexually neutral activity
of a sexually chilling state of mind
- Examples: Titian, Venus
of Urbino; Boucher, Miss O'Murphy; Rembrandt, Susanna and the Elders; Philippe Halsman, Marilyn
Monroe; Manet, Olympia; Courbet, Sleep; Petty, Petty Girl 1955. Most in ppt.
If anyone wants real porn, there
are zillions of sites: e.g. http://www.pussy.org/9/hustler-centerfold-alexis-malone-fucked-in-boots/ Male homoerotic pornography is well illustrated at: http://www.pornhub.com/pornstar/jeff-stryker/photos (click on the second set). I
won't be accessing any of these in class.
does Titian avoid erotic titillation in the Venus of Urbino? (face, skin, setting)
with Boucher's Miss O'Murphy
with Rembrand's Susanna
with Manet's Olympia (on the one side)
Courbet's Sleepers (on the other)
- Scruton on
Heavenly and Earthly Beauty
Botticelli's Birth of Venus http://www.haltadefinizione.com/magnifier.jsp?idopera=10&lingua=en
of skin texture in Botticelli's Venus, in Titian's Venus, and in the other examples.
- Other factors.
- How convincingly do Botticelli's Venus's face and figure capture individuality?
- Compare Botticelli's three Graces.
convincingly does the image suggest celestial spirit (one who moves in heavenly
with Susanna's undeserved earthly shame.
- Scruton on
Miltonic loving attachment of embodied individuals: Adam and Eve: sexual desire and
erotic love fused.
(Paradise Lost, Bk. IV, 738ff., Bk. VIII, 536ff., Bk. IX, 1013ff.
of a genuinely loving sort
lover commited to the other
lover enjoys and admires the selfhood of the other
erotic art insinuates pathos into the representation
- Milton's account of pre-
and post-lapsarian sexual love
from Paradise Lost
does the essential difference lie between before and after the fall?
- Scruton on art
- Boucher's Blonde Odalisque on the edge:
- How is the viewer invited to respond?
- How much aesthetic potential does the work have?
does this relate to pornography?
standard hard core pornography?
standard soft pornography?
Japanese Shunga paintings?
high art examples, e.g. Courbet's Sleep? To a radical example: Courbet's Origin of the World
- Scruton's judgments:
is capable of having some beautiful properties but it is locked into
sexual arousal at all costs.
lowers its appeal for disinterested contemplation and hence its overall
Why should erotic arousal block an adequately disinterested admiration
for a work?
that depend on what else the work has to offer?
- And also on the aesthetic training of the viewer?
- JB: An oddball question. Could a pornographic work be functionally beautiful -- beautifully suitable for erotic arousal or satisfaction? That's a hard one.
- Further reflections about Halsman's photo of Marilyn Monroe as sex bomb: is that soft porn and if not, why not?
- Are the understandings on which such judgments depend arbitrary conventions?
- Present Artworld responses to Courbet's Origin of the World: (a) photograph (in Ppt), (b) performance: http://hyperallergic.com/131008/performance-artist-does-the-impossible-shows-up-courbets-origin-of-the-world/
- Female nude performance art is well illustrated by Marina Abramovic on the wall in: https://www.artsy.net/artist/marina-abramovic-1
Lecture 9. Scruton Chapter 8. The Flight from Beauty (1)
- Scruton's two concepts of beauty:
(1) = aesthetically successful in general vs.
(2) = ideally fulfilling or consoling
- Art can be beautiful 1 while being far too challenging to be beautiful 2
- Yet it must refer to the
ideal in order to fulfill its essential mission as art.
Eliot's Wasteland, Shakespeare's King Lear, Goya's Disasters
of War, countless realistic novels with
Baudelaire's Flowers of Evil!
tranquility, and sensuous delight
- Scruton's attack continued: much contemporary art dismisses beauty 2 as escapist.
Hirst's celebrated shark in formaldehyde: The
Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living 1991
Such "transgressive art" is an unprecedented attack on
- Does Scruton mean both (or all) sorts of beauty?
- The background of this
- Bouguereau's Salon Art: "art that was not art at all": Nymphs and Satyr, 1873
- Manet's Luncheon
on the Grass 1862-3 et al. which rebelled against the Salon.
- (Scruton cont.) All
the great modernists retained reverence for beauty 2 (along with beauty 1).
sought to renew and refresh the grand tradition (Picasso, Matisse, et al)
composers ditto: Schoenberg's Erwartunghttp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iYHHXY2lhe4
- (Alternative: Pierre Boulez's Repons, 1981-4): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NK3YoFSQp08 )
- (Another: John Cage, Amores III: Solo for prepared piano: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E2q67baGA8s )
- (A third: Edgard Varese: Integrales: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JHm31yPaahs )
- Scruton on
Schoenberg vs. Vaughan Williams re. melody:
- But the shock of the new finally led to the idea of transgression as an end in itself.
- Is Scruton's attack justified? A pause to test his interpretations and fill in more
much do the modern greats celebrate the ideal beauty2? What idea of it do
much of the human world do they present to us?
- But how
much of their world did the old masters tell us? Botticelli, Raphael,
Michelangelo, Palestrina, Bach, et al?
cultural developments propelled the arts into "transgressive"
huge proliferation of high-quality popular culture
abundance of everyday and luxury beauty
availability of past art and cultural artifacts in public collections
huge increase in art schools
availability of reproductions, recordings, films, etc.
art market, high, low and middle demanding more and more variety.
variety of art: modes, styles, degrees of excellence.
risky experiments, fringe works, etc.
of abuses, idiocies, celebrity syndrome nonsense.
- "Transgressiveness" is by no means dominant.
acute problems of communication are legion.
artistic "orthodoxy" is likely to emerge, nor is it desirable
(re. Scruton p. 119).
all serious artists aspire to being interconnected.
- Scruton is
right that serious artists aspire to comparability with greats of the
and Delacroix re. Women of Algiers
- Scruton is
also right that serious (high) art stands apart from lesser sorts:
case of American Realism
(technically competent, popularly appealing) practitioners; versus
museum-grade artists of a realist persuasion (e.g. Pearlstein, Estes)
this difference be explained on a spiritual basis, as Scruton thinks?
- Youtube discussion of Francis Bacon's Portrait of Lucien Freud. Highly recommended.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ppStHoxvIqA
Lecture 10. Scruton 8. The flight from beauty (2)
- How much real
desecration of beauty is there in high-status art?
opposed to mediocrity oversold by the artworld?
- As opposed to spiritual waywardness: the case of Marina Abomovic's performance art (is it really therapy rather than art?).
opposed to elevation of marginal types of beauty to center stage
(Dubuffet and visionary art)? E.g. The cow with the subtle nose,
1975. Beauty Supplement, pp. 4-7.
most plausible target for Scruton's criticism
is conceptual art.
- Or art driven by questionable theory, e.g. Yves Klein's among many others. See Wikipedia article and https://www.artsy.net/artwork/yves-klein-anthropometry-of-the-blue-period-ant-82/zoom
- Joseph Kosuth: Nine Paintings with Words as Art,
Barry's word art pieces are often problematic. E.g. All the things I know of which I am not at the moment thinking -- 1:36 PM;
June 15, 1969.
Sol Lewitt's best are certainly not:
even the weirdest suggest some sort of serious human venture, often of a
meditative sort, rather than desecration of beauty. An off-beat sort of
almost everyone who survives finally gets less minimal and cryptic, easier to appreciate.
- Kosuth's giant Rosetta stone in Figeac, France, Place
des Ecritures, 1991.
- Tracey Emin is my pet horror, almost certainly one of Scruton's too.
there is something like desecration supported by the establishment: a
- Yet even here there is some reference to prior figurative art: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edvard_Munch#/media/File:The_Scream.jpg
- Kitsch and beauty. For general background:
of genuine art-quality + lack of intrinsic artistic merit (lowest grade won't presume art-quality)
emotionally appealing, stereotypical, undemanding
and propaganda, kitsch and religion, kitsch and decor
quandaries as to where to draw the line: are copies of art works kitsch?
- Scruton's take
on kitsch: an almost demonic force corrupting the world.
all popular entertainment culture is allegedly kitsch (besides the types listed above)
- "Transgressive" art is a
misguided recoil from kitsch.
does Scruton think we'd do better not to have
kitsch in our culture?
- Scruton on
sacrifice (small or large) as an antidote to kitsch -- as long as
dedication to beauty is preserved.
alternative perspective on kitsch (JB's)
- Is deconstructive
architecture hard to justify in terms of credible artistic values?
- Daniel Libeskind's Imperial War Museum North
- UFA Palast, Dresden by Coop Himmelb(l)au
- Gasometer project, Vienna by Coop Himmelb(l)au et al
Auditorium by Santiago Calatrava
confuse serious architecture with novelties:
Product Catalog Store facade by SITE
odd-balls: Milk bottle building
exemplary can radical architecture be for mid-level buildings?
exemplary can it be for entire city centers? Is it essentially for
- Consider radical moves
in the other direction: Leon Krier's neo-classicism, endorsed by Scruton.
questions about such schemes (don't they give up the attempt to express qualities of contemporary life?)
questions about them.
- How much justification
is (or was) there for all the rancor? Where does
the fault lie?
Lecture 11. Plato's theory of beauty
- Radical realism about
- Beauty being an inherent property of things of all these
different kinds (possibly of all kinds without exception, a “transcendental”
- Beauty as a “one” that unites the “many”, the aesthetic essence common to all;
- Beauty as highly abstract yet fully real (not just a human idea, let alone a
(thus technically independent of
- Beauty as a value property (hence, worthy of admiring contemplation);
- Beauty as an ideal that can exist (be fully real) even without embodiment.
- What kind of property can be all those
- Plato's answer: Beauty as a "Form"
- Basic concepts underlying this idea:
- Individuals (the many) united
by a property (the one)
- Concrete individuals (particulars)
individuals (e.g. numbers, geometrical forms, moral or aesthetic values)
nouns and noun-phrases
- -ness, -ity, -hood and being___
of abstracts with particulars: instantiation, the subject-predicate
individuals (e.g. numbers, geometrical forms, moral or aesthetic values)
- The is of predication (S is P)
opposed to the is of identity (S=P)
and existence (real although abstract)
real = being the subject of affirmative truths
for this identity:
about abstracts don't depend on the existence of any concrete
instances. (as in geometrical forms).
must be true of something (i.e. of something real).
abstracts that are subjects of true affirmative
propositions must be real.
abstracts like beauty exist (are real):
in space, not in time
as objects of thought
in instantiations? Problems with this.
abstracts can be known:
clear and rational thought
generality no barrier to full and independent reality
particulars, the diammetric opposite of
"starry" idea of abstract Forms like beauty (the lure of the
more abstract (general), the better
better, the higher the order of reality
changeless, more knowable
- Thus beauty itself (the Form) is vastly more
beautiful than any of its instances.
- The Forms as a source of
intellectual and moral virtue
engendering beauty of soul
- An inspiring picture of
beauty itself. But many, many
- Hard questions about Plato's basic theory:
- 1. How many Forms are there?
many as there are properties?
- 2. Are all of them ideals?
negative values also Forms?
some not value-loaded at all?
- Is being
approximately straight a Form?
- 3. Why should greater generality be superior to lesser?
4. What is so bad about
- Can't some concrete particulars be perfect?
- 5. Is the idea of an exalted
special realm coherent?
does this idea come from?
- 6. Is knowledge of Forms
uniformly superior to knowledge of particulars?
mathematics representative of knowledge of Forms?
- A curious note about hair, specifically body hair, moe specifically yet, female body hair: http://nymag.com/scienceofus/2014/06/why-were-grossed-out-women-pit-hair.html
Lecture 12: Plato's theory of beauty (2)
- Plato's myth in the Phaedrus
of disembodied souls seeing the Forms, including that of Beauty Itself.
of the myth to be taken literally (on the surface, at least)
as composite of rational and sensuous faculties (including desires)
existing between lives in a fully disembodied form but capable of
thinking, imagining, and desiring.
are prompted by the gods to envisage abstract realities, e.g. the Forms.
souls prove much more capable of this than others.
- Fanciful aspects of this myth
- Can a
disembodied being see?
colorless, formless (etc.) things be seen?
changelessness imply superiority?
disembodiment give one better mental powers?
- Getting down to the core
what sense does the disembodied soul "see"?
sort of "space" do the Forms inhabit? The
best candidates are property-spaces. Examples:
space: See Beauty Supplement, p. 56 (Munsell Color
numbers (positive integers); Negative numbers (all integers plus 0);
Integral fractions (with/without finite decimalization); Irrational
numbers (pi, square roots of primes); Transcendental
(non-algebraic) numbers (pi, e, etc.)
- Imaginary and
complex numbers; Infinite and infinitesimal numbers; Surreal numbers,
including Superreal, Hyperreal,
etc. (Some of the above categories overlap.)
- How can Forms be
with properties, states, relations.
things whose reality need not be affected by change of (nonessential) properties
things that could, in principle, exist regardless of what else exists.
- What sort of "light"
shines on the Forms?
own inner light individually (?)
light from higher Forms (?)
both cases light = rational intelligibility, clarity, order)
- How is recollection an
appropriate analogy for Plato to use?
of rational thought resembles that of memory.
- Why is beauty's accessibility
to sight so important?
- In what ways is sight the
"most piercing of the bodily senses"?
piercing than hearing? In what way?
piercing than smell or taste (the chemical senses)? How?
helpful in math, geometry, etc.?
revealing about the world?
central to the serious arts?
the easiest embodiment of relevant content and/or form?
more complex content and/or form?
- Can we
have an art of smell, taste? What would it take?
Beauty Additions #10, Joris Huysmans' Against
musical equivalent of Des Esseintes' extreme
aestheticism: Glenn Gould playing the aria in Bach's Goldberg Variations:
you imagine Des Esseintes' scent and flavor organs
producing comparably artful complexity?
What is the best known example of artlike cuisine? Ferran Adrià (videos); Beauty Supplement, p. 25. If this fails, try: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w3sGz1XtD4I
If cuisine is capable of becoming a genuinely fine art, it will have to be like
Adrià's stated goal: "provide unexpected contrasts of flavour, temperature and texture. Nothing is what it seems. The idea is to provoke, surprise and delight the diner." Also "the ideal customer doesn't come to El Bulli to eat but to have an experience."
But there seem to be basic deficiencies of
structure in odor and flavor space, compared with visual and auditory property space, that affect form and content. Beauty Supplement, pp. 63-69. Of these the most pointedly relevant is the last.
So perhaps the conventional wisdom on the
subject is right.
Though unquestionably cuisine of this caliber is an art of some lesser significance.
Lecture 13: Plato's theory of beauty (3): Plato's Symposium and the Ascent of the Soul to Beauty Itself; beauty and love.
- Frist level: Diotima foregrounds the attraction to (love of) an individual body, esp. to a person's body, but any perceptible beauty would do.
- Or is the sexual connection really crucial?
- Diotima doesn't fully explain which aspects are in view:
- Is kinesthetic beauty part of the package?
- Probably, since the Greeks scorned flabbiness, awkwardness, etc.
- Next level: Attraction to all beautiful bodies without distinction (according to their beauty)
- Next level: Attraction to non-bodily beauties of an individual
- of personality
- of moral character
- of intellect
- Next level: Attraction to beauty-making properties of individuals as such, in general.
- But with greater attraction to the non-bodily properties.
- Next level: Beauty of intangibles
- of laws, customs, institutions
- of sciences
- of the totality of tangibles and intangibles
- of knowledge of Beauty Itself
- of Beauty Itself (absolute beauty: "pure, clear, unalloyed...simple and divine")
- What sort of "love" is it that can cover all these things?
- What is love anyway? What truisms can be stated?
- Love comes in these varieties:
- Sensual love (love of sensations, esp. sexual)
- Sexual and nonsexual interpersonal love
- Selfish vs. selfless interpersonal love, sexual or not
- Idealizing spiritual or Platonic love
- Love of doing, of activities, interpersonal or solitary
- Other (?)
- Degrees of love
- Diverse ensembles
- A provisional definition of (well-meaning) interpersonal love:
- Love (of another person) = feeling joy in the other's joy...
- and distress at the other's distress...
- simply because it is that person's joy or distress...
- when the latter is of a non-defective (innocent) sort...
- or at least believed to be of that sort...
- with gradients of intensity and distribution of the joy/distress.
- Note that these conditions do not guarantee the beauty of the love.
- Example of Jane Eyre's love of Mr Rochester (Beauty Supplement, pp. 54-55)
- Variety of aspects involved.
- Mixture of misperception and insight.
- Aesthetic admiration plays a part.
- Not all pluses are beautiful aspects of Mr. R.
- So: The varieties and degrees of interpersonal love are prodigious.
- The near relatives of interpersonal love are also numerous.
- Jane Eyre on St. John (B'ty Suppl., p. 55).
- Extending the basic concept beyond interpersonal love:
- Taking joy in doing__________
- Being (joyfully) devoted to____________
- Being (joyfully) grateful for___________
- Being (joyfully) admiring of ___________
- Back to beauty: what can be so beautiful about Beauty Itself?
- That it is everlasting and changeless?
- That it is strictly eternal (timeless)?
- That it is thoroughly b'ful (pure)?
- That it is free from relativity?
- Two big problems:
- 1. Aren't those properties common to all Forms, whether they are exalted or not?
- If so, they don't set Beauty above any other Forms.
- 2. They assume but don’t specify the beauty-making properties of Beauty that are changeless, etc.
- What sort of aesthetically good properties can an abstract property have? Suggestions:
- 1. Generality: applicability to many categories of things? (At the extreme being transcendental in the medieval sense.)
- 2. Coherence, definability, unitariness (commensurability), comprehensibility.
- Is there reason to think that Beauty qualifies in these respects (is intellectually beautiful)?
- Another question: If Beauty is worthy of being loved, is it possible for us to love every form of it?
Lecture 14: Plato's theory of beauty (4) --
Platonic normative aesthetics
- General constrast between "Apollonian" and
- Apollonianism favors rationality in its various modes.
- Dionysianism favors ecstasy, mystery, and passion at the expense of rationality.
- 1. Architecture
beauty of ancient Apollonian temple design
- (b'ful order, clarity, harmony of form)
in design to produce beautiful appearances
temples and Gothic cathedrals
profusion and complications expressing mystical transcendence, perhaps
- Is there equal beauty? Or just a different beauty?
- Apollonianism in
non-Western architecture: Taj Mahal
- Apollonianism in SE Asia: Wild Goose Pagoda
- Apollonianism in Marsh Arab culture: the mudhif
- Contemporary neo-classical Apollonianism: Leon Krier
- 2. Apollonian and
Dionysian sculpture, Greek and other
- Classical period Poseidon,
as opposed to
Boccioni, Unique forms of continuity in space, 1913.
- Hindu erotic figures
- 3. Golden Section
as exemplary Apollonian beauties
mathematical beauties arising from golden section forms (TOB II)
profusion of b'ful abstract relationships
states of mind contemplating/thinking through mathematical relations
- Attempts to apply these to organisms, e.g. to human faces and bodies. Beauty Supplement
PP. 33-35 & http://www.goldennumber.net/beauty.htm
- Could there be Dionysian mathematical beauties???
- 4. Cosmic beauties and
cosmos at large, as Plato conceived it.
structure of matter, according to Plato.
- 5. Sounds
- 6. Colors: Apollonian preferences
colors preferred to textured ones, perhaps "central" primaries
to mixed hues. ("Lipstick" colors are generally dispreferred.)
preference re. saturation and brightness.
- Garish or clashing color combinations are dispreferred except as accents.
- General rule: sensory elements and compositions suggesting mental clarity and emotional balance are strongly preferred by Apollonians.
- Dionysians favor more textured and "sensual" or even "shrill" colors
- That is, when these colors produce a positive aesthetic result of a Dionysian sort.
- Also note that joyous festivity is not excluded from the Apollonian repertoire.
- Varieties of Apollonianism and Dionysianism
- Narrow and broad
- Functional and dysfunctional
- Fledgling and mature
- Conservative and adventuresome
- Where does Plato fit? Fairly narrow, stately, energetic Apollonian?
- Where do you fit?
- Justice and beauty for Plato
idea of justice in the soul
modern counterpart: Rawls' basic idea of fairness
veil of ignorance applied to beauty
- The rationality of a fair system (getting
disinterestedness out of interestedness)
- Equality as a prima facie condition of fairness.
rule for just inequalities: inequalities are justified when they redound
to the benefit of the least well-off.
- A constitution based on this is arguably beautiful by Apollonian standards, without depending on a questionable analogy to a state of harmony in the individual soul.
- Would it be beautiful by Dionysian standards? If not, what sort of constitution, if any, would be?
Additional cases worth accessing re. Apollonian vs. Dionysian
Postscript to Lecture 14: More examples of Dionysian qualities.
Lecture 15: Plato's theory of Forms confronted: How to make it
credible? How to apply it to beauty?
1. Questions about Plato's basic ontology
- What precisely is a
is an abstract object?
determinable, not a determinate
function as subject or predicate (Aristotle)
- If not
primitive then definable via primitives
primitive then grasped through examples
neither in the mind nor in space-time; in itself is neither
mental nor physical
(but its instances may be all mental or all physical)
- Hybrids of abstracts and
particulars -- a 3rd category not recognized by Plato
- How many Forms must
- Must all or even most be
- Must all or most be
- Must all or most be
- Can any Form be vague or
- Must all or many be
2. Questions about the ontology of beauty (assuming
it is supervenient and admits of degrees)
- Is beauty an inherent property?
of a response-dependent property)
- Is beauty a unitary property?
of a 'multiplex' property?)
limitless reach of beauty in all domains poses a severe problem for the
- Is beauty a self-exemplifying
property? Or is that idea a confusion of identity and predication?
3. Questions about knowledge of beauty
- Knowledge of
there reliable basic principles applicable to all species of beauty?
they be adequately grasped by thought?
extensive aesthetic experience produce clear, conceivable universal
principles which appeal to the intellect?
does such experience only make one more conversant with particular
- Does conceptual
knowledge ever take over from sensory experience in yielding knowledge of
- beauty of
color, atmosphere, lighting, texture, sound, etc.
4. Major questions about Plato's
normative theory of beauty
- Are Forms more beautiful
than concrete particulars?
- Are Apollonian beauties
more beautiful than Dionysian ones?
best Greek temple vs. the best Gothic cathedral or Hindu temple?
universe as anciently conceived vs. the universe as presently conceived?
syntheses of Apollonian and Dionysian beauty perhaps more beautiful
overall than either singly?
- Is Beauty Itself
beauty satisfy the relevant criteria for a Form being more beautiful than
any other Form?
5. Master Question for Platonists: Is
there a property that meets all the essential Platonic conditions for Beauty
- The five non-negotiable
property that generates a
rank-order in which
are more beautiful than concrete particulars;
- A property which is
itself is supremely beautiful,
which is subject to clear a
priori principles of beauty/unbeauty;
- Plato fails to show that there
is a property that satisfies those five.
- Is it conceivable that there
could be such a property?
Prologue to Lectures 16. Examples, examples.
Lecture 16. After Plato: Plotinus and the Neo-Platonic Tradition
1. Plotinus on the elusiveness of Beauty:
the need for a "remoter principle" -- does this help with any of the Platonic problems?
TOB, pp. 42ff.
- Beauty not reducible to
symmetry and charm of colors (sounds, textures, etc.)
beauty of (certain) "simple" things.
beauty of moral and intellectual actions or productions
can be ugly (dull? or worse?).
beauty of the "One" (the Intellectual Principle, the Ultimate
as unity (where some Ideal-Form is present):
things with parts
things unified by a unifying quality (a stone, a color, fire, light)
"One" as the source of all being and beauty.
great chain of being: Beauty Supplement, p. 81.
- A new twist on mental
things (ideas) being more beautiful than physical things. The idea in the
mind of the artist is more beautiful than the art work itself:
Phidias' statues are "copies" of a more beautiful mental idea
- "in his own mind there dwelt a surpassing vision of
beauty; at this he gazed and all intent on this he guided his artist's
hand to produce the likeness of the god."
- "the arts are not to be slighted on the ground that they create by imitations of
natural objects; for, ...we must realize that they
give no bare reproduction of the thing seen but go back to the
Reason-Principles from which Nature itself derives..." (continues with Cicero's idea)
plausible is this grand idea of our mental powers?
specific is our idea? How
perfect is it?
a perfect idea from an idea of perfection.
- 2. Plotinus on how to
experience the higher beauties
intellect, moral virtue, spiritual purity
higher beauties intently
appreciation of their beauty
3. What drives the Platonic instinct to
"seek a higher principle"?
- The appeal of the abstract. Confusion of this with disembodied mentality.
- The appeal of the always accessible.
- Escaping uncertainty,
complexity, confusion, limitation.
The inevitable incompleteness
of sensory perception.
The anguish of time, history
(the wheel of birth and rebirth).
consolations of the eternal.
The romance of the ethereal.
The lure of an
all-encompassing, fully satisfying beauty-experience.
The undoubted beauty of some
Lecture 17. James Kirwan on Neoplatonic beauty - Beauty Supplement, pp. 77-81.
1. Traditional conception: Beauty being something divine, like a force, emanation, source, inner
Itself as a mystical reality.
"beauty beyond beauty."
just kalon but hyperkalon.
active agency above personality.
source of energy.
reality beyond finite concepts.
- 2. The psychological basis of the
sense of earthly beauty being a distant sign of utter or absolute
sense of Beauty Itself being incomparably more beautiful than sensible
beauty of any sort.
sense of Beauty Itself and only Beauty Itself being purely beautiful.
sense of Beauty itself being far more beautiful than any invisible beauty
that we can conceive of, as in mathematics or other abstract domains of
emotional tone of distress or melancholy at the vast distance between the
beauties we can conceive of and Beauty itself.
yearning to transcend the limitations of our natures.
- 3. Interlude: reflection (ours, not Kirwan's) on the above. Granted that people have
imagined transcendent realities and had such feelings, can any these incentives to believe be rationally credible?
the human tendency to suppose that tragic accidents must have a
"reason," as when people cry,
did he have to die?"
that life must have a "purpose," as when people declare
must be a purpose to life"
that there must be a "plan" to everything that happens.
- These tendencies may be
understandable, but do they provide any evidence that there is a reason or
purpose or plan?
- What would it take for there to
really be a reason or purpose or plan?
- Could any reason or purpose of
plan be good enough to solve the problem?
- Strangely, people who ask for a
reason, purpose, or plan never propose coherent hypotheses as to what the reason, purpose, or plan
is. This strongly suggests that the puzzlement is based on a confusion.
4. Kirwan's claim about beauty in particular:
- Even in our ordinary experience of the beauty of a
person or flower or theorem, there is, lying at a deep level, a sense of an
unattainable, ungraspable beauty which the beautiful particular only dimly
- Does this fit your experience?
- If not, are you just not attending properly?
- How should we confirm or correct Kirwan's claim about us?
- 5. Are the ancient and modern Platonists right about our
yearning for a transcendent beauty being rational? (See Beauty Supplement, pp. 77-81)
- What is implied by a
limitless desire for more beauty?
(for the unmatchable).
are the costs of restlessness?
from finite goods.
- What is actually
required of a beautiful life?
pacing of work and relaxation.
development of excellences.
enjoyment of activities (solitary and social).
coherence: a life well lived and fortunate (or not too unfortunate).
of realism and idealism in one's outlook.
- Empirically we know that
we can never achieve all of this optimality.
- Perhaps we cannot form a
clear conception of what a strictly optimal life would be like.
- But would we not be
abundantly fulfilled by a life that falls far short of perfect optimality
as long as it is greatly superior to any actual life?
how long would a life have to be to be completely fulfilling?
the downside of too long life!
helpful analogy: art and life.
- Can it be reasonable to
regret not attaining more than a finite amount or degree of optimality? Is
residual regret not a symptom of irrational obsession?
- Isn't the demand for
transcendence a perverse ambition wrongly envisaged as a noble aspiration?
what way could that demand make one a better person?
it more likely that the aspiration comes from routine disappointments
over the course of one's life and not from insight into real value?
- Preferring a dream of
transcendence over clear-sighted repudiation of it should be a Platonic
clarity and realism are best served by exposing the dream as a tangle of
the best form of Platonism should turn Plato on his head, keeping only:
as an inherent property
properties superior to Dionysian ones in general
a priori knowledge of beauty
ranking system overall (not necessarily fully unitary)
- But that leaves Platonism highly dubious re. the first point.
Overture to Lecture 18, looking back to Plato's normative aesthetics:
Lecture 18. The Sense of Beauty Theory 1
- Why a response-dependent
theory of beauty seems more credible than any inherent property theory.
- It can
explain how endlessly diverse things can all be beautiful.
conforms to the common idea that beauty is closely connected with an
- Yet it
may still allow beauty to be a real property.
Sense of Beauty basics
- 1. The external senses:
sight, hearing, etc. as models for the inner sense of beauty.
of confusion with sense in the sense of impression.
ethical analogue: the conscience as a faculty of ethical knowledge.
- 2. Elements required in
a truly inner sense of beauty of things accessible by the senses:
- A faculty
of knowledge about beauty,
- The proximal
stimulus of which is internal, not external,
(hence an inner not an outer sense)
effect of which stimulus is a distinctive sensory experience,
sensory experience is aesthetically revealing about the distal
the whole functioning of the faculty proceeds by regular physical
and physiological mechanisms.
in Beauty Supplement, p. 84.
3. Relation of the sense
of beauty to the beauty of things: two possibilities:
a way to know beauty (epistemological theory: Shaftesbury's idea)
- Both a
way to know beauty and a key element in beauty itself (ontological theory
- 4. Problems of
interpreting/reconstructing the theories of beauty suggested by the texts,
- Ambiguity and vagueness
of proponents to recognize implications
to supply some parts of the theories
substantial additions and alterations required;
intervention needed to produce a theory worth serious study.
- 5. The spirit of the
theories seems best fulfilled by a conception of beauty as:
(real) response-dependent property (versus a merely subjective
is structurally analogous to familiar natural properties
is (in principle) empirically testable
- 6. The model for the
reconstruction: sensory color:
commonsense concept of the surface color of an object,
as understood by an educated layman, which
- Involves color-sensation in an essential way,
to physical objects and states of affairs,
a physical basis and physiological process,
- Implies criteria of accuracy of perception
pertaining to the perceiver
- Involves "internal" color properties:
Beauty Supplement, p. 62.
- hues ordered by nearness-distance
- degrees of saturation
- degrees of lightness (tone)
- systematic relations of complementarity
- pure (primary, unmixed) and mixed hues.
- Consequently sensory color:
not a purely psychological concept/property
not a purely physical concept
- though it is routinely confused with both of the above.
- is a psychophysical dispositional property
- as opposed to an occurrent or manifest property
- whether inherent or relational.
similar analysis applies to radiant colors, diffraction colors,
interference colors, etc.
- 7. Unbreakable
ontological illusions involved in empirical color:
non-response-dependency of colors in distal objects
qualitative identity of object-colors and pyschological color-qualities (qualia)
- 8. Further explanation
of the components of sensory properties
- a. The
psychological (phenomenal) component: the given' or immediately
presented,' 'sense-data,' qualia' (singular
in (or of) consciousness
likeness to 'merely mental' content i.e. dreams, hallucinations, feelings,
with the capacity to reveal outer reality
- b. The
receptors and processing mechanisms
- c. The
relationships in the stages from stimuli to final output, including
testing for accuracy (Beauty Supplement, p. 85)
sensory color is a dispositional property -- a complex
'hypothetical' state of affairs in contrast to an occurrent or manifest property of state of affairs
normal expression of such states of affairs is by counterfactual
conditionals: If X were to obtain, then
Y would obtain.
practice the credibility of such counterfactuals rests on a combination
theory explaining why the trials succeed.
- d. Special
truth-conditions of sensory property counterfactuals such as sensory
- e. The
empirical testing of sensory property dispositions:
or color-optimality tests which presume: Beauty Supplement, pp. 57-59
human capacity to discriminate colors
of best discriminators under optimal conditions
of those discriminations with a physical basis both distal and neurological
these tests failed: would sensory color be an "objective"
objection to the idea of color as a reality:
- Is there good reason to think normally color-sighted persons have the
same color experiences when they see red, or blue, or green?
- In what ways could their experience differ, given the agreement in behavior?
reasons for an affirmative answer. Beauty Supplement, pp. 62-63
- Are the complications in the dispositional relation too great to sustain the idea of real surface colors? Beauty Supplement, 62-63.
Lecture 19: Sense of Beauty theory 2
I. Review of the preceding: ontology and
epistemology of sensory properties: points needing special emphasis:
- 1. Structure of the causal
See powerpoint diagram of sensing beauty.
Beauty Supplement p. 84.
- 2. Physical basis of the
sensory property: e.g. physical red
- 3. Phenomenal quality of
the sensory property, e.g. phenomenal red
- 4. Sensory property of
red (sensory red): this is applicable to physical objects
but not reducible to a physical property
- 5. Criteria of
accuracy of sensory experience of physical objects (epistemic
- Are a
constitutive part of the very concept of a sensory property
- Are an
immensely complex set of conditions (the fine print of the hypothetical
that defines the concept of sensory red, e.g.)
specific non-standard phenomenal experiences of the sensory property,
- Outcome: sensory red is
conditioned, psychophysical dispositional property of a real
state of affairs.
objects are red in this sense when they possess the physical basis of
that property -- i.e. when they have the capacity to activate the
percipients have a corresponding capacity to "realize" the
disposition by responding -- by seeing red (or redly).
- 6. Presumption of
consensus of all maximal human discriminators under optimal conditions.
deviations from perfect agreement raise questions but do not demolish the
deviations would refute the presumption and color (on this conception)
would not exist.
- 7. Variable
accuracy/inaccuracy of perception under less than optimal conditions or by
less than maximal discriminators.
many cases of such for many different reasons.
- 8. The
"existence" of sensory color when the disposition is not
to the existence of color-sighted percipients or color-optimal lighting
- 9. Skeptics' doubt about
sensory color being a real property of things.
Beauty Supplement, pp. 62-63
many wave-length recipes for any given (surface) color - metamers
among kinds of colored things: surfaces, luminosities, diffraction
of optical effects that shade off into mere appearances, e.g. after-images.
- The possibility of color-vision different from that possessed by humans -- esp. super-chromaticism Beauty Supplement, p. 61).
- The theoretical simplicity gained by giving up the reality of color.
- (But is that a credible position? Like physicalism about states of consciousness it requires an error-theory of large proportions.)
Lecture 19. Sense of beauty theory 3: Application of the color
model to the case of beauty:
- Beauty as a
property accessible by an inner sense:
provide for the evaluational aspect of
beauty-perceptions and judgments,
in part on the psychological/ phenomenal yield of the inner sense of
beauty being related to aesthetic pleasure or satisfaction but not
necessarily consisting of that only.
Hutcheson's sense of beauty theory: Hutcheson's almost full-scale application of the color
model to beauty (ontologically as well as epistemologically)
- 1. Hutcheson's basic
argument-schema to prove we have a sense of beauty:
Aesthetic pleasure is distinct from "rational" pleasure,
because not based on belief.
Aesthetic pleasure/displeasure can vary without a difference of data
(simple or complex) of the outer senses.
Aesthetic pleasure/displeasure can vary independently of outside
dysfunctions or distractions
Some of the variation can only result from a difference of data of
another, "inner" sort.
Inner data can only come from an inner sense.
Some of the hedonic variation must result from the operation of an inner
sense, which we may call the sense of beauty.
2. Filling in the argument (justifying the
premises and the conclusion) -- a sketch of tasks and proposals:
- Keeping aesthetic
distinct from nonaesthetic pleasure
(practical/"rational" or bodily/sensuous)
pleasure à la Shaftesbury
other sources of variation of aesthetic pleasure:
- Specifying the structure
of the beauty-property:
phenomenal data of the relevant outer senses;
phenomenal datum of the inner sense of beauty;
hedonic element (the pleasure);
required relationships among these elements.
- Supplying criteria of
accuracy of the sense of beauty will involve:
discriminators of the relevant properties whether of the outer or inner
of maximal discriminators under maximal discrimination conditions;
of the consensus with a physical basis
- Identifying the general
beauty property (the beauty-maker) -- Hutcheson's proposal:
- a certain
ratio of uniformity and variety...
- Distinguishing types of
(or "absolute") vs.
(or "relative") beauty
- Extending the above to
non-perceptual aesthetic experience:
abstract or conceptual beauties
- via a
sense of beauty response to ideas and thoughts
- Justifying the inference
that the best explanation of the full ensemble of facts is the operation
of a sense of beauty.
3. The resulting ontological
interpretation of beauty: Beauty =
the disposition to elicit a beauty-response from a sense of beauty in such a
way that the accuracy of the response can (in principle) be intersubjectively
Overture to Lecture 20
Lecture 20: The sense of beauty
Hutcheson's normative theory: beauty is
created by (the right ratio of) uniformity amidst variety
Uniformity -- sameness/similarity of certain
properties or relations holding within an object or scene or event.
Variety -- number of elements (or complexity?) in an object or scene or event.
- Note: the "compound
ratio" Hutcheson refers to is not to be taken in Euclid's sense.
- Also the compound ratio as
applied by Hutcheson does not rank two things differing in both U & V.
So it is not a general criterion.
Can uniformity remain the same when "variety" increases or vice
versa? Not if uniformity is the simple negative of variety.
is a misnomer, since Hutcheson uses it for number of elements, not for
diversity or complexity of properties, which the term normally denotes.
For clarity, I suggest:
negative of uniformity can be called diversity. These are
simple complementaries. The more of the one,
the less of the other, necessarily.
Hutcheson calls variety could better be called multiplicity. Its complementary can be called paucity. That terminology isn't
familiar but it seems to fit Hutcheson's idea, which is that of a many-few
groups of humans with various talents (athletic, intellectual, etc.):
increases w/o the multiplicity changing if the diversity of talents
decreases while the size of the group remains the same.
increases w/o uniformity changing if the group gains more members while
the diversity of talents in the group remains the same.
decreases while multiplicity remains the same if the diversity of
talents is increased while the number of members remains the same.
could a change in the ratio increase the value of things (in a certain
uniformity and multiplicity both being independent goods, and
these two being the only goods relevant to those things.
- Hutcheson's example:
geometrical figures. How helpful is this? (See Beauty Additions #7)
regular polygons or solids with more sides and angles more beautiful than
those with fewer? (Not really.)
these examples representative of value (beauty or other) at large?
not: more members with the same talents does not necessarily
increase the group's value; neither need more talents decrease the
value where members remain equal.
A better idea: Variety as number of
of diverse uniformities serves better as a criterion
to geometrical examples
- As in
articles on U&V of polygons and in
the ppt. file to be shown in class.
[not all will be covered]
examples of harmonies and disharmonies
examples (clashing styles)
of subtler changes in a picture
to solar systems
to social systems
to natural organisms
The variety of kinds of uniformity creates
serious problems in scoring overall beauty. Are all of equal
Ptolemaic vs. Keplerian
- The Keplerian has elements of lesser uniformity (ellipses
vs. circles) and numerically fewer elements (no epicycles, no eccentrics)
So is the Ptolemaic more beautiful ('more
gorgeously complicated')? No.
- The Keplerian is indisputably more elegant than the
Ptolemaic; its principles are far more uniform (law of equal sectors in
equal times) than the Ptolemaic; its ellipses are diverse in detail; and
it corresponds better to the full facts about the solar system.
- http://csep10.phys.utk.edu/astr161/lect/history/kepler.html Overall account.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GvX78dpQ7GM Ptolemaic patterns for a planet.
- http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=endscreen&v=wGjlT3XHb9A&NR=1 Animation of Ptolemaic vs. Keplerian systems
Animation of Sun on Ptolemaic principles.
Prologue to Lecture 21: yet more Apollonian/Dionysian questionmarks.
Lecture 21. The Sense of Beauty Theory 5
1. A further
look at the beauty datum: how can we make it more credible than
mere pleasure is?
variable, hence more like sensory data
since enjoyment is most essentially an attitude of welcome, not a sensation.
explanatory of the enjoyment than strictly sensory data of any kind is.
- Aesthetic properties as
candidates for the role of beauty datum:
swiftness/slowness of lines, harmoniousness/disharmoniousness
- Special character of
descriptive aesthetic properties:
- e.g. color temperature (Beauty Supplement, p. 61).
impossibility of exact similarity (indiscernibility)
strong metaphors (e.g., Des Esseintes' descriptions)
aesthetic properties are powers in things to elicit a cross-modal
impression which is nonetheless valid for optimal respondents given
optimal conditions. Beauty Supplement, pp. 87ff.
capacity in viewers to form such impressions conforms to the basic idea
of an inner faculty of a non-propositional sort (a "sense")
certain conditions such impressions explain and justify viewers'
- 2. More
re. beauty-pleasure: disinterested enjoyment
- Intentional "objects" of pleasure (what one is pleased by)
just an object but an aspect, property, or state of affairs.
pleasure is defined in terms of one's own pleasure being part of the
"object" of one's pleasure.
pleasure is defined as pleasure no part of whose "object" is
one's own pleasure.
one's whole pleasure state may contain both an interested and a
- So the
relevant question for beauty is whether one's judgment is sufficiently
determined by one's disinterested pleasure.
- If it
is so determined, then the judgment is guided by the beauty-pleasure and
is (so far forth) reliable.
will be so even if one also has an interested pleasure in the same
- But it
is understood that the pleasure that counts is what is felt under optimal
Another approach to disinterested enjoyment, one
that adapts Rawls' "veil of ignorance" situation to beauty.
Hume's criteria of reliable pleasure-discrimination as a measure of beauty
works are reliably judged by the pleasure of optimal observers under
optimum conditions over time.
of different temperaments.
of moral disapproval of an artist's point of view.
dimensions of accurate sensing of beauty in general:
conditions that conduce to these cognitive values:
exterior conditions (lighting, distance, point of view, etc.)
neurophysiological and mental/emotional conditions: "sound state of the organism" plus optimal
deployment of faculties:
attention to the object
with the object
of mind (freedom from distraction)
from prejudice, phobia, neurosis
wide-ranging, continuing recollection
imagination, including empathy
in weighting the various factors
ability to deploy these faculties in aesthetic discrimination
Optimal outcome (Hume and beyond):
("considerable unanimity of sentiment") under the best
admiration which attends those works...that have survived all the
caprices of mode and fashion, all the mistakes of ignorance and
the best judgment of cultures of origin when an object is being judged;
ranking for the best work of equally developed artistic traditions;
faults may be beauty faults, but they do not cancel the other beauties
of an object or work.
master question: will this theory work?
that full empirical testing is impractical, is the theory of any real
use on lesser, but still demanding, standards?
- On that basis, does it capture the spirit of our best
appreciative and critical practice?
- Beauty Supplement, pp. 96-97 #11-12, contains reminders of important points relevant to this topic. Attend to them!
Lecture 22. Sense of beauty theory 6. More about uniformity and variety.
- 1. Simple beauties (what we call simple beauties)
- How few
uniformities do they have? What is their appeal?
What descriptive aesthetic properties are involved? What is aesthetically
admirable about the simplicity?
on Ppt. and Beauty Supplement, pp. 45-46:
- The twilight or early morning sky:
- Many (descriptive) aesthetic properties
vital human connections
- Meiji (Japanese) ceramic bowl
uniformities and subtle relaxations
of biomorphic rather than geometric character
- Abstract sculptural forms: Brancusi's Torso of a young girl, two
types of uniformity
properties as uniformities
human relevance of abstraction
- 2. The strange case of dismembered
- Why do
missing limbs or a missing head matter so little?Beauty Supplement, p. 11 and Ppt.
there more or less uniformity?
there more or less beauty?
is art so unlike life?
- 3. Hutcheson and beyond on the beauty of
of structure amid multiplicity of parts having that structure, esp. amid
diversity of parts (branches, roots, fruit, flowers) Thus,
- (a) Uniform and abundant foliage is more
beautiful than variegated and sparse foliage.
- (b) More parts of the plant (branches, roots, fruit,
flowers) having analogous structures makes the plant more beautiful than
when fewer parts do.
overall geometrical regularity in plants (under optimal growth
conditions): this is uniformity (symmetry). It is not clear how
multiplicity can figure in this.
we put these ideas to the test, what do we find?
a plant's beauty depend on its foliage being abundant and uniform? Yes, it seems so.
is uniform foliage necessary?
- Perhaps because so much else is diverse
- The pattern of limbs, the bunches of leaves,
- Is a
comparable uniformity of bark needed? If not, why not?
- Can there be too much uniformity in a tree? Would strict symmetry be beautiful? Beauty Notes II.33.
- Which trees are beautiful anyway?
trees? The Major Oak? Most aren't.
well-formed Japanese maple?
about the uniformity of a blossom?
- Are uniformly smooth curves optimal?
advantage of approximate geometry.
connection with radiant vitality.
- 4. Hutcheson and beyond on the beauty of fauna (selectively)
- Human facial or bodily beauty:
what sort of uniformities apply? And why?
- The golden section seems not to be the secret.
normalcy for the species the secret?
radical improvements possible?
we expect a uniquely best model?
should we pursue the quest?
- Survey the complications in the idea
- Try out adjustments via simulations (as cosmetic surgeons do) for sample cases.
- 5. More on descriptive aesthetic
- Descriptive aesthetic
properties and uniformity (plus multiplicity of uniformities)
- The basic connection in many cases, at least.
- But can these properties be beauty-rated on that basis?
- Good and bad descriptive aesthetic properties
- Categories of
descriptive aesthetic properties
Lecture 23. Sense of Beauty 7: Yet more about the key concepts.
- 1. Functional
beauty in relation to uniformity and variety
Hutcheson's "relative" beauty as (beautifully) fulfilling a plan explain it?
fulfilling a plan = accurately resembling a plan? Not strictly, but the
outcome may be the same.
some plans are crude, inept, wasteful and their fulfillments
beauty: is there such a thing? Two
and difficulty of the function
of the functionality
epistemological point to note: Appreciating functional beauty requires
intimate acquaintance and ability to visualize, so that the one has the
data to which to respond aesthetically.
- An interesting connection: high efficiency necessarily requires formal
aesthetic values, e.g. smoothness of operation, which
are plausibly kinds of uniformity.
Value-loading in many aesthetic properties:
verdictive aesthetic properties: beauty,
sublimity, loveliness, exquisiteness, prettiness, etc. and their negative counterparts.
- Normally verdictive aesthetic properties: harmony,
grace, balance, unity, richness, nobility, etc. and their negative counterparts.
- All aesthetic properties but beauty (and ugliness) have descriptive aesthetic properties as components.
full beauty datum will contain both descriptive and hedonic elements.
lines are aesthetically positive when they are ingredients in positive
value-loaded aesthetic complexes.
complexes are subject to criteria suitable for value-convictions (as in
morality) -- i.e. the optimal hedonic response is subject to criteria of appropriateness.
Another restriction on aesthetic pleasure (besides disinterestedness)
-- plus a fact to note.
pleasure is pleasure taken in aesthetic properties
seems the only reasonable way to identify pleasure as aesthetic since:
- Disinterested pleasure occurs in non-aesthetic contexts and
- The felt quality of aesthetic pleasure seems the same as that of non-aesthetic and even that of interested pleasure.
- Hume correctly perceives that the strongest aesthetic pleasure is generally much weaker
than the strongest sensory pleasure.
Personal liking or love is (and ought to be) affected by many factors
other than beauty of any sort.
one's liking or love for beautiful things may appropriately diverge from what
one most admires for its beauty.
attempt to love most what one believes is most beautiful is possible or
- 5. A
word about Hume's "ideal judge" of beauty.
criteria do NOT require that any ideal judge be competent over the whole
range of beauty.
experience shows the impossibility of this.
in sensory qualities it is not necessary that the best judges be
competent over the whole range.
Another restriction on beauty (re. defects, deficiencies, etc.)
plausible requirement on beauty is that no property of defect, deficiency
or lack of any sort can be a beautiful property.
- I.e. There
can be no such thing as being beautifully sick, stupid, vicious,
thing can only be beautiful in spite of being defective, not because of
it (except in a causal sense).
Lecter was not beautifully ruthless, only beautifully adept (and was not a beautiful human being).
- Pleasure taken in a thing because of its defects is either not aesthetic pleasure or else is defective aesthetic pleasure.
- Examples re. class discussion: http://www.moma.org/collection_images/resized/815/w500h420/CRI_166815.jpg
Lecture 24. Sense of beauty 8. Final points, observations, and questions.
- 1. Ugliness in organisms: can it be explained
in terms of lack of uniformity? What kinds of disunity or disorganization or
discrepancy or incongruity make an organism ugly to look at? (Bad "conformation")
asymmetry is usually ugly-making.
fore-and-aft symmetry almost always is. Exception: jellyfish.
top-bottom symmetry usually is, esp. in land animals.
- So is
- 2. The capacity
for graceful and agile movement is also an important overall
- 3. The look of any good capacity, movement or other, is also positive.
- 4. The look of any sort of defectiveness is negative.
- 5. The complexity of factors often makes overall assessment
- 6. The complexity guarantees that there are beauties to appreciate even in things that are ugly to look at in the normal way (whether or not they are readily accessible).
- 7. Beautiful vs. unbeautiful contrasts: how
are they to be understood? How do they relate to uniformity?
- Color contrasts may be either disharmonious, i.e. clashing, or
- Congenial, keyed to each other, setting each other off to advantage. These are beautiful in themselves but may not be suitable for a given context.
- Disharmonies are unbeautiful in themselves, but may contribute to wholes that are beautiful (b'ful suitability).
- Skills can be synergistic or unconnected, well or poorly matched.
- So can personalities in a couple or a team.
- But the idea that we have to have vice or ugliness to enable us to appreciate virtue or beauty goes too far. Lesser contrasts suffice.
- 3. Easy and difficult beauties in musical
- Clear tones, harmonious
chords, simple rhythms, melodies with mostly small steps that stress major
harmonic tones, clear overall structure, smooth flow, prominent high
point, limited length.
- Obscure harmony, much
dissonance, fragmentary melodies, varied rhythms, complex structure, etc.
to like, relatively few easy beauties, etc.
- Example: Schoenberg Phantasy for Violin and Piano, Op. 47 : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gmf4Z9HsnFQ&feature=related
- More for the musical elite than for most music lovers.
- What are the optimal
observation conditions for the appreciation of such music? (Humean conditions)
hearing, high intelligence, great sensitivity to nuances of melody,
harmony, rhythm, excellent memory for musical features;
imagination, deep emotional understanding, extensive understanding of
human nature and social life;
with and understanding of the musical tradition leading up to the work,
and the capacity to enjoy music that exercises the capabilities mentioned
- Lively interest in stretching one's repertoire of enjoyment, discovering new musical horizons.
- Are difficult beauties in general superior to easier ones?
- NO!! Thinking so is snobbism, not enlightenment.
- 4. Taste publics: the inevitability and
desirability of different taste publics locally and globally.
- Specializing in
different genres, media, cultural traditions;
- Representing different
levels of aesthetic and artistic discrimination and cultivation;
- Including the familiar
trio: high-brow, middle-brow, low-brow.
- Implications of the
diversity for aesthetic judgment:
works vs. judging suitability for a taste public.
standards should govern assessment of beauty;
these do not determine suitability for a given taste public.
- Suitability for a taste public = what best contributes to the life led by that public (b'ful suitability is a possibility)
will also be many gradations of excellence or deficiency in pursuing either way
- But not all ways of life are equally good (admirable).
Lecture 25. Subjectivism and realism
- Classic argument against
subjectivism (or relativism): the linguistic argument
subjectivism is true then for any speaker, ‘X is beautiful’ = ‘I like X.’
for speakers A and B
- A: X
is beautiful = I (A) like X
is not beautiful = I (B) do not like X
two judgments do not contradict each other. Both may be true.
‘X is beautiful’ and ‘X is not beautiful’ do contradict each other.
subjectivism is false.
- A comparable argument
proves that relativism is false, since if A and B
are members of different cultures, their positive and negative judgments
about beauty do not contradict each other.
- One solution for the
subjectivist is to give up using ‘beautiful’ propositionally: to limit
oneself to first-person liking avowals.
few if any subjectivists take this route
persist in violating their theory: continuing ordinary usage;
they take it back whenever they meet disagreement.
- In any case their theory,
interpreted linguistically, misdescribes the
meaning intended by non-subjectivists.
- The second solution is
for subjectivists to say non-subjectivists ascribe a non-existent
to assert nihilism about beauty (to say there is no such property)
is closely analogous to atheism's view of religious statements.
atheists don’t fall into the conceptual tangles that aesthetic
- Common ground between
rational nihilists and moderate realists about aesthetic judgments
(admirings) rest upon A-responses
consist of A-likings/dislikings based on
- Unimodal (but may involve more than one modality, may be conscious
(as in non-verdictive aesthetic properties)
(via memory, cultural background, etc.)
suggestions of others, etc.
- In an
on-going process of reflection, reconsideration, etc.
or pathological A-likings/dislikings are
subjectivists will not like to have them, will want to purge them.
reference to the common human nature and collective human heritage is
also common ground. Subjectivists don’t have to be solipsists socially.
want their likings to be shared – that’s a human fundamental
- The essential
disagreement between rational subjectivists and moderate realists
therefore concerns the question:
- Is a
rational consensus possible within the constraints posed by practicality?
manifold non-optimalities affecting admirings and likings.
equivalent but different admirings and likings.
specialisms, accommodations for adverse conditions, stages of maturation
from childhood to old age (individual and collective), etc.
- Would a rational
subjectivist ideal differ substantively from a moderate realist ideal when
all the above is taken into account? E.g. would a subjectivist be happy
aesthetic responsiveness (perceptual or imaginative dullness)?
toward aesthetic discovery (lack of aesthetic curiosity – aesthetic
to aesthetic disagreements (the reasons for them, etc.)?
in the face of aesthetic anarchy?
about aesthetic degradation?
- Would a realist’s ideal
world be one in which everyone has the same A-responses and likes the same
not: that would exclude all specialisms: highly developed aesthetic
sensibilities, all cultural diversity, etc.
difficulties make total agreement impossible in any case.
as to very general aesthetic goods is enough.
realist should respect well-developed, well
functioning alternative value systems.
- Thoughts about relevant
ways of regarding things of aesthetic value
is more complex: respect, reverence, love, or what?
general, admiring = regarding as worthy of being liked.
liking may be absent. Resentment may be present.
combinations in different cases.
should we regard things we once loved but have outgrown? E.g. Bambi
patronizing gambit for cutesy things (esp. for
silly or stupid delights).
abstracting gambit: for elements that are genuine but easy beauties
harmonies, colors, curves, etc.
because expressive of purity.
Bambi does not imply patronizing children's love of Bambi.
simple beauties abstracted from Bambi is important.
different cases deserve different treatment.
Lecture 26. Conclusions: reminders of home truths plus applications
- The beginning of
aesthetic wisdom is to appreciate the multiplicity of sources of
of beauty-making properties even in a single “object”
any X can be b’ful in respect of P1 and unb’ful in relation to other Ps.
beautiful figuration and color but kitschy subject (Bouguereau’s
being b’fully P can make it impossible to be
beautifully Q (for some Qs).
- B’ful sleekness excludes b’ful luxuriant furriness of pelt in animals.
many specific b’ful Ps are rarely encountered
and thus unfamiliar
or at least high specificity is often central to our A-experience.
whole ensemble of properties makes up the beauty we notice.
familiar in one culture are sometimes unfamiliar in other cultures
general, the more specific the less universally familiar.
are often hard to describe (total ensembles and sub-ensembles)
the notion of beauty being ineffable (a je ne sais quoi)
- What sort of rationality applies in trying to understand the beauty of things?
aesthetic delight is a prima facie ground for aesthetic admiration.
- If X
causes more delight than Y, then a prima facie ground exists for X being
more b'ful than Y.
principles applicable to all cognition are relevant to confirming
impressions of beauty.
conditions, for instance.
general principle is to fix the relevant "site" of beauty in a
- Is it
the object overall? part of the object? a property of the object?
- Is it
the subject's feeling? (cozy, comfy, uplifing feeling, feeling of belonging, etc.)
is to assess the candidate beauty-making property
- Is it
a property of defect, deficiency or lack?
can be beautifully stupid, rotten, dysfunctional, misguided, vicious,
- Is it
a property a high degree of which is better than a middling or low
intelligent, skillful, robust, vivacious, agile, coordinated,
significant, strong, luminous, etc.
- Application to an
interestingly controversial case: KAWS' Silent City. It's
indisputably art but is it good art? What beautiful or otherwise good
artistic properties does it have?
painting at first looks both simplistic and chaotic. How to make sense of
figure out perceptually what is going on spatially in it.
planes (protrusions/recessions cued by perspective, shadows,
translucencies) large-scale and loca
sets of forms (planks, panels, disks, rims, flats, bulgies)
inexplicabilities (uninflected shadows, e.g.)
note the references to KAWS motifs (hands, dead eyes. e.g.)
for good gestalts – estimate the order: does it hang together?
for meaning – is there a theme?
it with other semi-abstract works that are coherent and meaningful:
estimate how well it stacks up.
Art images: Lichtenstein; earlier modernist works: Leger.
the claims made for the painting by commentators including the artist.
Snyder’s “chaotic frenzy of shattered form” line – how convincing is
Sponge Bob too silly to carry all that weight?
with undoubtedly serious cartoon-style works: Maus
the other works by the artist in his realist style. Do these help?
so far as theme is concerned
antecedents, if any (aside from the obvious metaphor)?
gods aren't likely related.
animals in cartoons, perhaps.
there an environmental angle to these?
this an idea which can take hold, or a
- My tentative judgment is
that these big paintings are not very well organized, not very meaningful.
- But that’s subject to
change if someone can propose a credible favorable interpretation.
one that shows what this does exceptionally well
showing it has a positive aesthetic property to a high degree.
that it is beautifully expressive of the frenzy in society (whose?
implies recognizably expressive.
intelligent, how insightful, how coherently imaginative, how visually
arresting is it considered under that interpretation?
well does it stack up against the many, many other artistic
- Schwitter’s Ursonate,
Kandinsky’s apocalyptic-seeming abstractions, etc.
had something serious to protest (the barbarism of WWI, the crisis of
faith in modern culture).
- If the conditions
suggested seem too confining, is that because one is trivializing art,
turning it into entertainment?
is of course an option for any culture.
- But it
would that be something to be proud of? Wouldn't it be a big falling off
from what we are proud of in our heritage?
- Human and natural beauty don't have all the complications of art. But the
process of discovery and evaluation is similar and the stakes are also. Scruton is right that beauty is important.
Back to Normative Aesthetics: kinds of
beauty, beautiful aspects, etc.; more truisms about beauty
1. Individual human beauty : What makes an individual human b'ful?
B'ful aspects, b'ful ensembles, b'ful totality
Beauty of different aspects of
Beauty of persons overall --
obvious complications when we try to sum up.
Many beauties are roughly on a par.
Duerer's proportions and Michelangelo's David. Overhead displays.
Clearly unbeautiful bodily condition: anorexia http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aTIjRxT_Y9g&NR=1&feature=fvwp
How beautiful can extreme obsesity be? The case of nomadic Mauretanian marriage criteria: Beauty Supplement, p.47.
The chief factor seems to be fat sex and marriage advantage.
How much appreciation of bodily beauty does that suggest?
New truism derived from thinking about this case:
New Truism 1: Beauty is not identical to, and not dependent on, sexual attractiveness or practical advantage.
Problematic bodily distortions: labrets (Beauty Supplement, p. 52)
Contrast these with genuinely good-looking tribal body décor:
http://www.diretube.com/Les_Tribus_De_L_Omo/The_Painted_People_of_the_Surma_and_Mursi_Tribes_in_Southern_Ethiopia-video_cbd36eb13.html [If this site is blocked, look up Hans Silvester photographer and look through some of the images that are displayed there.]
Can we suppose the people who delight in body painting and decor like this delight in the same way in the labrets?
bare face vs. made up
Plastic surgery gone bad: http://itthing.com/celebrity-cosmetic-surgery-fails
What role do causal factors, cultural or evolutionary, sexual or other, have in determining what is beautiful?
New Truism 2: A person’s reason for admiring a thing for its beauty is never the same as the causal explanation of that admiration. See Beauty Supplement, p. 98)
Non-human animal beauty: what criteria apply?
Suggested beauty-criteria: Beauty Supplement, pp. 36-40.
Examples: Ppt. Ugliness in Nature; on the positive side see the beauty of disvalued creatures: on the positive side of things that are usually unappreciated: http://www.nytimes.com/slideshow/2011/06/07/science/0607-jellyfish-9.html
Do appearances under nonstandard
conditions affect the beauty of a thing? How do we determine what conditions are "standard" for different categories of things?
Ask what natural or cultural kind the thing belongs to. E.g. a painting: what sort of lighting is relevant?
New Truism 3. In judging the beauty of a thing, the category to which the thing belongs is important.
and bodily beauty (proportions, features, skin texture, hair, muscle tone
- kinesthetic beauty (movement, gesture, etc.)
- beauty of
personality (good tempered, understanding, etc.)
- moral beauty (beauty of character: honest, kind, etc.)
- intellectual beauty (quick, insightful, rational, etc.)
beauty (aside from the event-aspects in the above)
Cultural events: music, dance, light shows,
http://www.sportscinematographygroup.com/ew_bigwave.html See also Beauty Supplement, p. 26.
Natural events: weather phenomena:
Landscape, foliage, blossom events, seaside phenomena, etc.
3. Mathematical beauties, e.g. neat geometrical
proofs of Pythagorean Theorem, Beauty Supplement, pp. 16-17.
Examples in Beauty Supplement, pp. 12-14.
Astronomical beauties, e.g. Saturn
http://photojournal.jpl.nasa.gov/jpegMod/PIA14922_modest.jpgSaturn fly-by animation: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wPlTn6bJEOQ
Unbeautiful planetary object:
Hyperion, moon of Saturn; ppt. NYTimes Micro Photos 12-14.
categories of beauty remain to be surveyed: think of beauties of literature,
for instance. Then those of aromas or flavors; those of
architecture and the countless other divisions of design; those of games like
chess; and so forth and so on.
How to deal with the huge variety of beauties: a few
In confronting a candidate beauty (or aesthetic value), do not fixate on the
question of its overall beauty.
Rather, ask what is beautiful about it. What beautiful
properties does it have? This should lead to a close examination of its properties, to be sure one has taken them all in.
Consider the beautiful property question as impersonally as
possible, independently of what practical advantage the properties would give oneself, including one's self-esteem. New Truism 1.
In short, evaluate it in terms of what deserves to be admired about it. Try
to ascertain how admirable it is compared with the well-established paradigms
Do the same for
its properties that are not beautiful.
In this process the
default should be trust in one's positive aesthetic intuitions. But one should expect one's intuition to improve with experience.
Do not obsess about the threshold of beauty as opposed to lesser value. Remember the truism on this point.
Do not obsess about the common meaning of "beauty" as opposed to other aesthetic value terms. What counts is aesthetic value.
Checklist of other points to digest before writing the final essay:
1. Is beauty a property of objects?
2. Are you clear on the difference between overall beauty and the beauty of parts or aspects?
3. Are you clear on the difference between the beauty of an object or event and the beauty of an object in a certain context?
4. Are you clear on the difference between the beauty of an object or event and the beauty of their appearance to humans?
5. Are you clear on the difference between the beauty of a thing and the beauty of a life to which the thing may contribute?
6. Are you clear on how the difference of high-brow, middle-brow, and low-brow fits into the theory?
Are you clear about the limited accessibility of beauty to human cognition? I.e. why some very beautiful things cannot be enjoyed by humans.