PHIL 332 Philosophy of Beauty -- Fall 2020 -- Materials -- Methods - Lecture Outlines Test

Instructor: John H. Brown Office: Skinner 1118B. Tel. 301-232-8862. Email: Office Hours: MW 3:30-4:30 and by appointment.  On-line meetings: MW2-3:15.


1. Roger Scruton, Beauty (to be purchased). Of immediate relevance. Get it quick.
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 and click on the relevant items: 332 Philosophy of Beauty, Intro/Part I, Part II, Part III, etc.

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 material that is entered as the course progresses. In each file there is a table of contents that is updated regularly.

1. 332 Beauty Supplement Very important material, text and illustrations, in this file.

2. 332 Scruton How to find the examples Scruton cites that you've probably never heard of.

The character of the course

1. Presuppositions

*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 criticism.
*Interest in historical and contemporary theories of beauty and other aesthetic values.
*An open mind concerning whether beauty is a real property. That is, willingness to study seriously the reasons given by defenders of the realist view.

2. Basic problems of the course in a few nutshells

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 than another's? 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 negative.
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 genuine reality.
e. Reviewing what is known about the world to see if those conditions are actually satisfied.
f. Exploring ways in which even a subjective beauty might be more or less rational.

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. Online class participation (See explanation under that title below). 40%
c. Final exam 10%

Weekly Papers

After years of standard term paper assignments, plus midterm and final essay exams, several year ago 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.

Late papers.The usefulness of the papers depends a lot on timeliness, so late papers will be penalized unless there is a good reason for their lateness. At the beginning of the course late registrations will count as a good reason. Other cases will be decided on a reasonable basis. No very late papers will be accepted without extraordinary justifications.

Revisions or additions to papers: Revisions and additions are always welcome and are acceptable until the deadline for the final exam. Improvement of the initial grade is possible.

Class participation

Attendance.   Attendance is recorded automatically. This applies equally to lectures and breakout discussion groupsIn view of participation in class discussion being a major factor in the course grade, attendance is obviously important. You can't participate if you aren't present.

Online lectures will normally last for not more than 40 minutes. During lectures students will be free to ask questions (and the instructor will sometimes solicit views regarding the material).

Immediately after the lecture there will be about 25 minutes for students in break-out groups of 4 or 5 to discuss the problems set by the lectures and the reading. The instructor will act as roving facilitator if and when asked by a group to intervene. Experience has shown that groups have no difficulty in finding matters to discuss. They should try hard to find reasons 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.

As backup, lectures will be recorded. The basic principle is for everything to be available. Redundancy is better than disappear after first presentation.

Permanent lectures on the website

Lectures for the Fall 2019 in-class offering of the course are contained in this file. They are somewhat longer than the online lecture outline and are useful guides to the matters not able to be covered in full detail in the Zoom sessions. They contain more references to works and images than can be included in the shorter online lecture sessions, which illustrate or challenge the points made, and so forth.

The current online lecture outlines are entered into the course website in this file, "Syllabus."

5. Weekly assignments: week of

Aug. 31: 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 Saturday, Sept. 5.

Sept. 7: 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 noon, Tues, Sept. 8.

Sept. 14: Scruton, Beauty, Ch. 2, "Human Beauty." Submit a short paper, electronically commenting on a topic in Scruton Ch. 2 by noon, Mon, Sept. 14.

Sept. 21: Scruton, Beauty, Chs. 3-4, "Natural Beauty" and "Everyday Beauty." Submit a short paper, electronically commenting on a topic in Scruton Chs. 3-4 by noon, Mon, Sept. 21.

Sept. 28: Scruton, Beauty, Ch. 5,"Artistic Beauty." Submit a short paper electronically, commenting on a topic in Scruton Ch 5 by noon, Mon, Sept. 28.

Oct. 5: Scruton, Beauty, Ch. 6, "Taste and Order." Submit a short paper electronically commenting, on a topic in Scruton Ch. 6 by noon, Mon, Oct. 5.

Oct. 12: Scruton, Beauty, Ch. 7, "Art and Eros." Submit a short paper electronically, commenting on a topic in Scruton Ch. 7 by noon, Mon, Oct. 12.

Oct. 19: Scruton, Beauty, Ch. 8, "The Flight from Beauty." Submit a short paper electronically, commenting on a topic in Scruton Ch 8 by noon, Mon, Oct. 26.

Oct. 26: Scruton, Beauty, Ch. 9,"Concluding Thoughts" and TOB, Part I, "Ancient theories of beauty" Submit a short paper electronically, commenting on a topic in Scruton Ch. 9 or TOB, Part I by noon, Mon., Oct. 26.

Nov. 2: and TOB, Part II, down to "Applications." Submit a short paper, electronically commenting on a topic in the week's assignment by noon, Mon Nov. 2.

Nov. 9: 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 noon, Mon, Nov. 9.

Nov. 16: 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 noon, Mon, Nov. 16.

Nov. 23: TOB, Part 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 noon, Mon, Nov. 18. Stress the material in Lecture Outline 22 rather than the historical material and note the additional material on color in Beauty Supplement, pp. 109ff.

Nov. 30: Beauty Supplement, items under Sense of Beauty matters throughAesthetic appreciation/judgment, pp. 83-97 plus remainder of the TOB III, pp. 20ff. and Beauty Supplement pp. 109ff. Submit a short paper, electronically commenting on a topic in the week's assignment by noon, Mon, Nov. 25. Stress the material in Lecture Outlines 22, 24, and 25.

Dec. 7: Continued study of TOB pp. 20 to the end and all the material in Beauty Supplement pertaining to the theory. Submit a short paper, electronically commenting on a topic in the week's assignment by noon, Mon, Dec. 2. The essential assignment is the whole theory of beauty.

Final Examination: as follows, deadline for submission is Dec. 14, 3:30 p.m.

1. The short final exam is a take-home exam to be transmitted to my e-mail address by the official date of the exam. You should copy out and sign the standard avowal of the work on the exam being yours. This exam is to be roughly equivalent to 3 brief papers in length, counting 10 points out of 100 in the course grade).
Two options:
a. 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.
b. Select a work shown on the course website or of your own choosing, which is available in a good reproduction, hard copy or digital file, and give the kind of searching beauty-relevant description of it as the ones in Beauty Supplement pp. 89-93. This will involve terms for crossmodal resemblances. Try to cover all the relevant aspects of the work and cite as many crossmodals as apply to it.

2. The long final exam (roughly equivalent to 9 brief papers in length counting a maximum of 20 points out of 100 in the course grade) is a take-home exam on the following subject. Recapitulate the updated theory of beauty offered in the course, proceeding from the bottom up. Be sure to include all the details, explain the terms used in the theory, and show how the theory applies to at least one example. Once that is done, proceed to answer the question posed in either option a or option b for 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: Revisions of or additions to the weekly papers will be accepted only though the date of the final exam.
Note 3: The final pages of Beauty Supplement are highly relevant to the exam, so don't fail to study them (pp. 107 and beyond).

University Policies

 A student-facing page of UM policies and resources covering the various aspects of student-instructor relations is posted at:


Lecture Outlines (subject to revision a week before they apply)

Lecture 1

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. 12, 36)

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 of rules

7. The unattainability of absolute certainty regarding many beauty questions

8. Conviction that agreement is of little practical use.

9. Not wanting to be bothered.

What is a theory of beauty? What must such a theory do?

How does one get started in building a theory?

Course Material Website:

Plausible examples of ugly animals (shown in class)

Dubuffet's off-beat beauties: See Beauty Supplement 1.4 for Dubuffet's aesthetic credo. Also check out the cow with the subtile nose:

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 clear or reasoned position on the objectivity-subjectivity issue. But his sympathies are anti-subjectivistic:
          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 to be dealt with.
   Yet his conservative cultural agenda needs to be kept in perspective. Movie/audio about Scruton: Beauty and Consolation (may not have visual):

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

3. Beauty as a "transcendental" value: a strictly universal +/- value.

4. Scruton's platitudes about beauty that go beyond 1-9 in Lecture 1. JB's correctives:

5. Scruton's paradox: beauty and reasons

6. Scruton on minimal beauty: star-quality vs. workaday beauty.

Note that there are other relevant constrasts, e.g.

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. Lasso Bartok Faure

But note that reserving "beauty" for the highest grade would be theoretically ruinous.

10. Intrinsic value vs. instrumental (functional) value

11. Beauty and individuality: wanting X for its beauty. Rachel and her peach: No equally beautiful peach will do. (Is that really so?)

12. Scruton on form and function in general:

13. Scruton on form and function in architecture:

14. Scruton on beauty and the senses

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).

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.

Scruton's historical discussion can be left until later when we study the history of aesthetic theory

More on dancers:

Amazing/wonderful dance by handicapped dancers:

Contrasting songs: Kanye West Ghost Town as opposed to Leonard Cohen A thousand Kisses Deep

and Hallelujah

Lecture 3. Scruton, Beauty, Ch. 2: Human beauty

Scruton's critique of evolutionary aesthetics

Displays: : Eliud Kipchoge:

Dua Lipa serious pop song cp to Leonard Cohen:

Li’l Buck or Charles Riley dancing “The Swan”:
contrasted with Tallchief on dancing for Ballanchine:
Recommended: Roland Petit Bolero for aesthetic delight (sexy too):

Points on Beauty and Desire displayed in class

Beauty and sexual desire
         Here are some truths about the relation between beauty and sexual desire.
1.  When a person’s true beauty figures in a guy’s sexual desire, as it obviously can, it’s not necessarily the beauty that is causing the desire. The beauty may be a bystander. Being an ordinary looking female may be enough.
2. Beyond that, if beauty has a role, what is playing that role has got to the guy’s recognition of the beauty, not the beauty itself.
3. Further still, there’s an important distinction between such recognition facilitating arousal and arousing the desire. I make this distinction in Beauty Supplement, pp. 47-51. Take a look.
4. Also, sometimes a guy wants credit for having made out with a beautiful other. This is like desire for shoulder candy. Here the person’s beauty isn’t what is sexually arousing. The beauty just adds ego-value to the anticipated sexual satisfaction.
Application of the above to beauty and desire for art works, music, etc.
       Is there anything to be desired about an art or musical work other than aesthetic pleasure of contemplating it? Sure, there may be. Like shoulder candy, there’s cultural reputation capital. Occasionally there is sexual stimulation. Erotic art has this as one of its appeals. But that doesn’t keep us from disinterested pleasure in contemplating paintings or music. Different satisfactions can occur concurrently.
The overriding lesson: Take account of the varieties and complications. Love to find them! Don’t oversimplify.

Lecture 4. Scruton Ch. 3, Natural Beauty

How to deal with this chapter
The parts about art history and Kant are not likely to be well enough known to write the short papers about. I advise steering clear of them and focusing on small topics that you can connect with your experience.
For instance, your experience of the difference Scruton speaks of in going from small objects to landscapes. What is it like in your experience to walk through an aesthetically interesting landscape? How does it compare with the intermediate experience of walking through an impressive building? Or enjoying an ornamental garden? Are the terms explaining your aesthetic response different from the ones that apply to flowers and animals? How exactly? Use examples and go into detail about the similarities and differences.

3. The aesthetic value of wilderness

Is wilderness more natural than inhabited or farmed topographies are? In what sense of “natural” is that so? Is that concept of naturalness coherent?
     Natural = not artifactual? What counts as an artifact?
     Natural = not human or human-produced? Why aren’t humans natural? “Human-produced” covers more than you think.
The real difference between natural objects and inorganic artifacts:
Limited aesthetic relevance to selected properties (inorganic artifacts)
Unlimited aesthetic relevance of properties (organisms, topographies)

Scruton's footnote on Marxism and social theory.

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.

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, as anyone knows who knows what war is like.
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. It has created marvels -- like civilization.

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 rightly understood 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.

Bird Songs (not calls) and other  animal vocalizings – how musical are they?
       Brief phrases repeated, followed by other brief phrases. Often interrupted by wheezes or other entirely unmelodic sounds. Listen, and think. Champions are canaries in cages. Songbirds in the wild are enjoyed aesthetically largely because of the context. Thrush song in the deep woods in the cool of evening has a beautifully liquid sound, full and richly liquid-like.
These bring to mind rather forcefully the aesthetic good that can be found in things or situations that are not outstandingly beautiful. The hoot of an owl makes the evening woods a lot more enjoyable. We don’t want it to sing like one of the famous tenors or even sound like a piece of guitar or flute music. We want it to sound wild. Beautifully wild? Maybe: it’s softer and richer than the sighing of the wind in conifers. The hoot of a great horned owl is tender, almost as if loving. One has to listen to it in a concentrated way to reach a decision.

The joys of nature are really something. An enthusiast is apt to say we should appreciate the harsher sounds in the wild, the shriek of a barn owl or raccoons mating. Are those cries beautiful in any way? Do they add beauty to the wild context? In the daylight the shriek of an eagle high on a crag may perhaps be said to be bracing. Its energy may be beautifully in tune with the rough crags. Interesting problem. What we can be sure of is that the cry of the gnu being savaged by lions is not beautiful. Cries symptomatic of distress can’t be beautiful because they are “defective” in the broad sense of signs of defective states.

What of roars or snarls of anger? Can they be beautifully determined, confident, expressive of strength, and so forth? Imagine a filmmaker wanting one in a scene. Give me a really big roar! Give
me a really sinister snarl! She wants one that is beautifully appropriate, but that doesn’t mean the roar or snarl itself is beautiful. Perhaps it’s relevant here to cite The Wrestler. Relevant youtube
roars: Lion:

Elephants trumpeting
in anger:
I don’t think anyone would say these are beautiful vocalizings. And they aren’t meant to be
admirable just to listen to – that would detract from their functionality. But can they contribute to a
beautifully wild savannah scene (or boreal, in the case of the bear)? I suppose a beautiful savannah
scene (temporally extended) might feature a cheetah capturing and killing an antelope:
This video mixes different speeds but is very beautiful. And the event itself has significant beauty.
Like a tragedy with beautiful language, characters that earn our interest and sympathy, and a
continuously gripping plot.
Sound of wind in aspens:
Or in winterspruce:
Or burbling streams and bird calls:
Lyrebird vocalizings: :

A point worth making about ugliness: Familiarity can dull one's sensibility, enabling people to be comfortable even with ugly things and scenes. This does NOT make them less ugly. It only makes them less obnoxious to viewers.

Lecture 5. Scruton, Ch. 4, Everyday Beauty

What the current use of the term "Everyday Beauty" teaches us:
It applies to some typical examples, but
It misdescribes a vast collection of others, notably varieties of Design
    See the section below on Design; also Beauty Supplement pp. 101-2.
All degrees of artistic quality are found in these categories.
So the term has to be supplanted by more specific terms in any serious discussion. All things considered, "Design" is preferable for the total domain.

Other categories of artifacts/performances with aesthetic properties
Games and sports of many kinds can be beautiful: they allow of beautiful performances, a general category that we certainly can’t ignore, since the performing arts put that beyond doubt. What can one say about beautiful and unbeautiful sport performances? A thousand things, but let me pick one example of athletic beauty contrasted with one of comparative unbeauty. Gymnastics doesn’t just enable beauty but is judged in part on the basis of it. Professional wrestling on the other hand is comparatively unlovely. Martial arts score much higher in grace, agility, and lack of pretense (real martial arts, that is, not the fictionalized, fly-about stuff in movies). Grace is not a principal aim, exactly, but a necessity for the efficacy of the performance. NCAA or Olympic wrestling strikes me as being insufficiently graceful to be very beautiful overall, though the quickness, muscularity, and stalwart balance displayed are impressive.
      Football, baseball, basketball, soccer, tennis et al don’t quality as beautiful overall but certainly do contain beautiful moves or episodes. And like everything else they have some overall aesthetic value. (The Harlem Globetrotters see to it that their performances have more aesthetic value than the norm for ordinary games.)
            In games, chess is outstanding for the intellectual beauty of moves that achieve or enable checkmate several moves down the pike against the cleverest riposte. Beautiful insightfulness. There are plenty of videos with narratives that explain the thinking behind the various moves and behind the high praise given for the beauty of the winning strategy. Just Google “beautiful chess moves”. It may strain your mind to follow the demonstrations, but you will be convinced that the authority is justified in calling the moves beautiful.
            This kind of beauty in chess is limited in an interesting way. If a player just stumbled on the winning sequence without foreseeing its success the performance would not be beautiful. There can be no accidental beauty in chess, only accidental success. So the beauty is really that of strategizing. The sequence taken strictly by itself is not beautiful.
Fashions that are “time-sensitive”
Fashions are notoriously time-sensitive. But what precisely does that mean? Can beauty be so unstable as to fluctuate with the social scene? Here we must exercise great care. Otherwise theory of beauty will fracture into chaos. Clothes are not just embellishments. They are emblems of a local culture at a given time. Hence in order to fit into one’s time and place one has to dress in a way normal for that context. Otherwise one’s garb is a costume rather than simply clothes. Of course even clothes can be eccentric or “tribal” within a given culture, as Goth outfits are in our time, and also Mennonite clothing that hasn’t changed much in two centuries while the rest of the country has moved way on. One dresses in a way aimed at showing one’s solidarity with one’s chosen public. And since the style adopted at time T1 changes to a different style at T2, one changes one’s dress with it. Compliance with a group style has some harmony in it, but only an extremely modest degree, hardly worth praising as beautiful.
            Fashionistas go much further, changing style seasonally. They dote on the trendy but also seek to be exceptionally stylish. There is therefore a kind of time-sensitivity to some of the terms used in the world of fashion. “Elegant 1950” will not called elegant in 1990 but quaint or something of the sort. Does this mean that once elegant clothes cease to be elegant with the change of fashion?
            Here I think we ought to hesitate. If an outfit was really elegant in 1950, it is because it has aesthetic values that are real, not just advertised or promoted. It’s because of the fine design, materials and workmanship in the outfit. None of that ceases to apply to the outfit when styles change. New designs refer to a different cultural context. A designer who desires to be “creative" will necessarily want to create designs that go beyond those of the past in a good direction. Artists do this too.
            Clothes have to be assessed in context, though. One factor is the social support system that is needed to make a given fashion type possible. Ladies’ maids were essential to fancy styles before the 1920s. So were valets for men. Togas worked only if you didn’t have to do any manual labor. (See Bty Supplement p. 103). Like any other category of aesthetic interest it is essential to find out what a given garb was like in context. Present day garb is accepted more because it is easy for the unaided wearer to use, clean, and press than because its informality is more beautiful. Especially when one is on a tour.
The role of practical functionality in everyday beauty
People tend to think that practical functionality of things that have it (architectural things, for instance) is somehow inconsistent with true beauty. But aside from the possibility of functional beauty, which requires really extraordinary functionality, practicality plays a role in limiting the competition class under consideration (say doorframes in northern European row houses, one of Scruton’s examples) to ones that are practical enough. Doors too narrow to admit average-size humans would be excluded, for instance, regardless of how good-looking they are as objects. The question which design to choose applies only to doorways within that competition class, does it not? So that question can be entirely aesthetic, dealing with the look of the patterns involved. This doesn’t cover all aspects of such situations, but it gets us started on the right foot.

Lecture 6. Scruton, Ch. 5. Artistic Beauty

Prelude: An example of high art music and of exceptional vocal virtuosity by a countertenor, i.e., a male alto range singer. In the Renaissance and later period, male countertenors sang female parts, just as in Shakespeare's time boys took the female parts (as shown in the film Shakespeare in Love, which is highly recommended).
Three countertenors sing “Alto Giove,” Derek Lee Ragin first  Lyrics:
Mighty Jove, the great gift of immortal life
that your sovereign command granted me
is your blessing and your glory.
But to give me
that beautiful, loving goddess
I so sighed for
is a gift beyond compare, as is your magnificence.
From Nicola Porpora’s “Polifemo”
Compare Ragin's performance with the other two that follow.

Compare those high art performances with exceptional vocal virtuosity in a popular music song:
Blind voice auditions:
Diana Rouvas sings “Vision Of Love” by Mariah Carey


Before Scruton

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 Show Monreale JX Pantocrator Ppt
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 Show Royals in regalia Ppt
3. The personal connection to fine art
            To preserve the memory of one’s dear ones. Make it and them as beautiful as possible. Show John Singer Sargent portraits of patricians Ppt or
From the above all sorts of other connections spread out. General traits of fine or high art include seriousness and display of consummate craftsmanship. The works are expensive because it’s costly to hire the best artists for the time needed to make the works. Materials are also usually expensive. Appeal to the public is also often a practical requirement. But in the old days it always came with a feeling of the extraordinary, the uncommonly excellent. In Renaissance times the greatest religious paintings were objects of local pride.
Visual and literary art often dealt with inherently unbeautiful subjects but did so in ways that were in important respects beautiful. Art elevated the atrocity (massacre, martyrdom) to the level of heroism or at least some consolation. Show Judith with Holofernes’ head; Massacre of the innocents is another good example of the latter. The Holy Family escaped and Herod was satisfyingly vilified. But what about the rape of the Sabines? That was a Roman conquest: the women were incorporated into a coming state and the Sabine men weren’t of much concern, I suppose. But what of crimes like the Rape of Lucretia? They are commendations of virtue and satisfaction at retribution against the wicked. They can therefore be beautifully dramatic, as when virtue is tested and holds firm and when villainy is plotted and executed, the villain made both intelligible and contemptible. The victim can be beautifully heroic and the presentation beautifully composed. The tale can also be beautifully insightful of the foibles, the crimes, and the occasional heroism in human life.
All this and more stands behind the concept of fine art – fine implying high standards of craftsmanship, decorative beauty, composition, representation, expressiveness, and thematic content. Unfortunately Scruton begins the chapter focusing on what he takes to be a grotesque perversion of these ideals by 20th century avant-garde art – which, he says, dropped art into the urinals of Paris. A crucial corrective of this is the abundant evidence that the high ideals are still very much alive. This will be a main theme before we are finished with the book.

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? (spoken with incredulity)

The arrival of non-art art, art by fiat: Found art: Fountain, In Advance of the Broken Arm, et al.

Preface to the continuation: Skeleton Coast article: beautiful or sublime?
“The Skeleton Coast of southwestern Africa offers an epic view of an elemental struggle: raw, churning ocean in an endless tug-of-war against the indomitable march of desert sand. The word “beautiful” may not come to mind when voyaging here, though the name itself suggests “beauty” is wrong somehow. The shoreline, partly preserved in a 6,300-square-mile national park, evokes a feeling perhaps better described as “sublime,” with all the attendant awe and grandeur and fear that the word implies.”

Same article, Singapore Airport decorations: The Mirror Maze in Jewel Changi Airport was designed by the puzzlemaker Adrian Fisher, who also created the airport’s hedge maze.
It makes a bleak kind of sense that a country waging an existential battle against rising sea levels would come up with fantastical approximations of nature. As for what it’s like for visitors, the photographs of Matthew Pillsbury offer a clue, while evoking the dreamy liminal state of travel. Individuals blur into one another as they move within these optimized and extravagant unnatural natural spaces, subsumed by the experiences and environments constructed for them. The blurred masses seem less substantial, less vivid, indeed less real than the mesmerizing, climate-controlled city they move within.

Additional thoughts about the preceding topics
Re. Art and entertainment: the case of Cirque du Soleil. How to explore it.
1. Find cases that are certainly high art and compare them with the nearest thing in the Cirque. E.g., Pilobolus Dance Troupe:
2. The closest I have found is in parts of Mystere: But the acrobatic is dominant, not the human relation.
3. Also, marvel at the juggling of Viktor Kee from Dralion: and note that the fanstastic agility, balance, precision, etc. of this is basically the same as in all of Cique du Soleil performances. What is lacking is mystery. What they have is acrobatic mastery put to the purpose of excitingly spectacular but unchallenging entertainment. (There is also a general story of rivalry for political domination among the several groups of Cirque acrobats.)
4. Note the aids to levitation in the Cirque performances: the floor trampoline, the lifts, etc. Ballet works with a plain wooden floor and the unaided muscles of the dancers.
5. Confirm the finding by comparing a case that is indisputably high art and asking how well the contrast holds up. E.g. Rudolph and Nureyev and Margo Fonteyn: from 14:35f. and 23.35f

Beyond all the above, note the profusion of other dance categories: ballroom, tap, ice, roller skating, B-boying (break); also Fred Astaire's super-elegant dancing:

Re. Art photography vs. other (professional) photography: the case of Andreas Gursky (Beauty Notes) -- unmistakable art (in this case, appealing only as art) Other subartistic categories: journalistic, portrait, fashion, advertizing, sports, etc.
Overachievers in these categories: art-grade productions and artistic aspirations:
Cartier-Bresson, Arnold Newman, Dorothea Lange, Philip Jones Griffiths, Mary Ellen Mark, et al

Re. Beauty: (High) art is often less beautiful overall than entertainment or other types of artifacts or perfomances. No paradox in that.

Re. Entertainment: This term does not properly cover many, many kinds of non-(high) art. No other term does either.

Other terms for subcategories: Decorative or applied art, Folk art, Outsider art, Commercial art, Advertizing art, Design (zillions of subdivisions here) , etc.

Lecture 7. Scruton Ch. 6, Taste and Order

Preliminaries about the language of "taste" in art and aesthetics

Scruton, Ch. 7, Beauty and Eros: how can art present an object of sexual desire as an object for contemplation and hence as beautiful?

Additional material presented in class

Beautiful porn? Is it possible? Does it exist?

It is not logically impossible for a pornographic film to have beautiful aspects, such as the cinematography, but the clientele doesn’t ask for that and doesn’t even want it. I think there is reason for this, because anything really beautiful is going to distract from sexual arousal in the viewer. Even the new wave of feminist porn in Denmark sticks to the same cheap filmic values, plus the adolescent plot and thin characters. It’s still all artificial. A truly aesthetically disinterested viewer is going to be repelled by the product – maybe briefly amused but ultimately bored and repelled.
Porn creators can’t base their methods on scientific knowledge of social effect. They proceed by their notion of the market and the market is made up of interestingly different groups. They don’t aspire to cover the waterfront but just attract enough uptake to fund their films and maybe win a prize or two. Check out Hot Movies:  . It’s hilarious!
As to Scruton on porn subjects showing their desire, in hard porn in particular I have not found that true. They are all imitating it, and that badly, very badly. They aren’t at all credible. In typical erotic art they are showing their desire, and in soft porn they typically enact it less artificially. Good erotic art is good art and humanly salutary.
I’d…emphasize how very bad porn films are aesthetically, how the actors are not even trying to enact real individuals in the presented situation (they are quite effective in enacting porn actors doing their part on a porn set!) So dramatically porn is a zero. Also I’m not sure what you mean by the “tunnel into our deepest sexual desire.” I don’t think there’s anything deep about the desires in porn movies. Perhaps the Japanese erotic (non-porn) film “In the Realm of the Senses” can be described that way – certainly the desires there are extravagant and indeed pathological. You can get a description of the plot from numerous websites.

Objectification/reduction to the body oversimplification
Objectification” and attention only to the body of the target is far too simplistic an account of their mind-set. There is plenty of interest in the emotions and behavior of the target. Only it’s an imposed script, the perpetrator’s self-serving fantasy of domination. That’s the problem.
First, the desire for sexual relief, sexual exercise and consummation, if unaccompanied by concern for the person, can still involve a lot of different ways of regarding the other. It rarely reduces the other to a mere object. Usually it wants the other to respond both physically and emotionally. Sometimes to respond as a helpless victim who after resisting falls passive and lets the act be physically done. But more often, I think, as a victim who is caught up in the sex act and yields to it. Movies in the old days were full of that. Sexual predators often relish the transition to willing participation. In short, guys on the make almost often have a script for their targets reflecting the liking of the perpetrator, part of their self-satisfying fantasy. The considerable variety of these scripts is more disturbing than simple “objectification” is because it multiplies the types of sexual abuse.
Is porn disgustingly vulgar?
Vulgarity is an interesting property that needs some analysis. Some musical comedies are in various ways aggressively vulgar: The Brecht-Weill Threepenny Opera is a fine example. But it is also theatrical art, indeed a classic. So it’s necessary to convict porn of vulgarity that has no redeeming virtues, for instance is not intelligently critical of unbridled capitalism or is not musically consistent with its theme, or…

Titian’s Venus
Titian’s Venus (not his title!) celebrates marital sexuality, as the domestic interior indicates (Scruton is right here.) Of course she may turn on horny guys. They’re turned on by anything! But those who understand the work will only hope they can have such an appealing mate to come home to. And Scruton is right that she is offering herself only to him, not to his buddies. Again, it’s the domestic setting that does most of the work on this matter. The hand covering the pubes, incidentally, is a thousand year trope coming from Greece. Her face is not really stereotypical, only a bit idealized.
        Titian’s Venus radiates desire but does not invite the viewer’s desire. Therein lies the crucial difference. So the aesthetically-minded viewer contemplates her (and her desire) disinterestedly, not self-interestedly. The painting invites only contemplation, not sexual stimulation.
       That needn’t keep horny viewers from being stimulated. But the more anyone is experienced in art, the less that will happen. It’s really not all that different in speech and everyday interpersonal. If there’s no invitation in a sexual candidate’s manner of speech, a perceptive and considerate person isn’t likely to be sexually aroused – or if aroused, will know to keep it under control or try to coax the other into a sexier mood by his/her behavior – unless it’s obviously not the right time.

Botticelli’s Venus
Botticelli’s Birth of Venus is definitely not erotic art. There’s no sexual drama in it at all. Nudity is not enough to make a painting erotic, as Scruton correctly says. I’ll discuss that work tomorrow. And beware of making morality the main issue. It’s only one of many factors in determining the artistic or aesthetic status of a work. An immoral work may be beautiful in lots of respects. Its immorality doesn’t count in its favor but it doesn’t keep it from having a pretty high aesthetic rank overall.

Boucher’s Miss O’Murphy
        Boucher’s odalisque is meant to be (mildly) erotically arousing for part of its audience but also to be artistically good enough in other ways to fall outside of the soft porn ambit.

Effect of porn on viewers
In general I would suppose hard core is more detrimental to good intimate relations than soft porn is. But that’s just a vague generality. Similar generalities apply to S&M porn or to forms of sex that involve chains. An informative site is:  It strikes me as pathetic or worse that some people need whipping or enchainment to get excited, either as active or passive partners. Don’t you agree? Soft porn is a lot gentler and hence seems, on the whole, less problematic. Good and bad is not socially determined but intrinsic to actual human relations – they are harmonious or conflict-ridden, supportive of excellence or not in ways that everyone accepts as valid – intellectual, athletic, artistic, civic, etc.
You make porn into a stimulant for immorality, whereas a lot of porn pleasure is morally neutral. It doesn’t always have to be abuse! It doesn’t have to degrade the viewer morally. It doesn’t count in one’s favor
Sex workers
         There were plenty of courtesans in the Serene Republic, and some were highly celebrated, beautiful and cultured, and available to only the best qualified bidders. That was one way to attain status and respect as a woman in a patriarchical society. (But Titian’s lady is not a courtesan.)
(Lawrence) Scruton talked about women displayed on the notorious page three of The Sun. He writes that they are placed in the fantasies of “a thousand strangers.” He’s not wrong about that part, but afterwards he says that the models who don’t seem to mind this show “how much [they] have already lost” (135). What have they lost? Scruton makes it sound like their morals have been chipped away, leaving an image of something less than human on page three. My opinion on that statement is something else altogether, but I bring this up only to show Scruton feels so strongly on this topic that he is compelled to comment on the degradation of moral character in models who agree to being photographed naked.
 (JB) Scruton is certainly wrong about the Sun page 3 half-nudes, like the one below. Those girls are just trying to cope with a challenging employment situation. More power to them!
I agree that making a career out of this kind of modeling is not ideal but not because it’s immoral. As in athletics, age takes its toll. One is apt to be a target of sexual predation or worse. Etc.
Further, this is a fine case where one can appreciate the bodily beauty of the woman without any actual sexual arousal.
Sex ed
Viewing pornography doesn’t immediately involve an offence toward any person, which makes it less morally offensive than predatory abuse. But it may mess up a person’s capacity for a good sexual relation. It’s lousy training! Its impact depends on the context, doesn’t it? Its aesthetic value is abysmal, but that’s another matter.
        As to sex education, porn of any sort is abominable not morally but as preparing one for good sexual relations. It does not show you what good sexual relations are like. Parents and other experienced caregivers shirk their responsibility from cowardice when they are too “shy” or “proper” or fearful to be realistic and understanding to the young. Leaving sex ed to porn leads to confusion at best and utter incompetence or abuse at worst. Don’t go there! For majority kids and also for the ones who find themselves with unusual drives, understanding adults are the best recourse and in fact the only good one. This is the norm in parts of Europe, in Holland for example. There’s no excuse for our society not to do better than it does at present.

Is sexual desire a human defect?
       I don’t see how sexual desire can be a fault of human nature. It’s not essentially “objectifying” or predatory. You wouldn’t say hunger or thirst were faults, would you?

Lecture 9. Scruton Chapter 8. The Flight from Beauty (1)

Material on Baudelaire
Scruton thinks that Eliot and Baudelaire envisage a beautiful existence (ordre et beauté/ luxe, calme, et volupté = order and beauty/ abundance, tranquility, and sensuous delight). Eliot’s includes revival of Christianity (High Anglicanism). Baudelaire’s does not – I’m not sure what his view of religion is, or of modern life.
Victor Hugo on Beaudelaire’s poems: "Your fleurs du mal shine and dazzle like stars... I applaud your vigorous spirit with all my might." Baudelaire himself wrote to his mother: "You know that I have always considered that literature and the arts pursue an aim independent of morality. Beauty of conception and style is enough for me. But this book, whose title (Fleurs du mal) says everything, is clad, as you will see, in a cold and sinister beauty. It was created with rage and patience. Besides, the proof of its positive worth is in all the ill that they speak of it. The book enrages people … I was terrified myself of the horror that I should inspire…”
Beaudelaire became conservative with age: "There is no form of rational and assured government save an aristocracy. A monarchy or a republic, based upon democracy, are equally absurd and feeble. The immense nausea of advertisements. There are but three beings worthy of respect: the priest, the warrior and the poet. To know, to kill and to create. The rest of mankind may be taxed and drudged, they are born for the stable, that is to say, to practice what they call professions." This is really a reactionary view, harking back to the days of the “ancient regime.” But did he really mean it? Hard to say.

A thoughtful question from Baudelaire re. the artistic problem posed by ugliness and beauty:
"it is easier to decide that everything about the garb of an age is absolutely ugly than to devote oneself to the task of distilling from it the mysterious element of beauty that it may contain, however slight or minimal that element may be. By modernity I mean the ephemeral, the fugitive, the contingent, the half of art whose other half is the eternal and immutable"

Re. explosion of different contemporary types of art
One feature of our artistic tradition is that there cannot really be an orthodoxy because there are too many divergent styles of serious art. This is a genuinely new characteristic in artworlds. Raphael’s style could spawn a school of art, a collective Raphaelesque just as Giotto’s painting created a group style of the “Giotteschi” and Rubens and Rembrandt created a host of continuators. So did the neo-classical painting of Nicolas Poussin in the same century. But as artists proliferated in Europe from Giotto on there was an increased diversity of styles, so that no master’s style, however great, could achieve the same level of dominance as Giotto’s (though his had its rivals too). By the 20th century the number of artists and the diversity of styles was so great that nothing like an orthodoxy could be established. Nor was an orthodoxy desired by the artworld, though some taste publics desired their favorites to be the paradigm. If Eliot wanted a new orthodoxy in visual art or architecture, he was chasing a will o’ the wisp.

Article on realism: groups routine practitioners with undoubted museum-grade painters like Philip Pearlstein, Richard Estes and Larry Rivers. But it admits that realism is a “prodigal child” so far as museums are concerned.
“A testimony to the indomitable persistence and strength of realism as an art form, the Seavest Collection features work by the leading masters of Post War American Realism, among them, John Baeder, Carolyn Brady, Don Eddy, Richard Estes, Janet Fish, Gregory Gillespie, Ralph Goings, Philip Pearlstein, Joseph Raffael, and Larry Rivers.”

A fine example of how a classically trained musician, Wynten Marsalis, can transition to Jazz: Joe Avery's Blues

Lecture 10. Scruton 8. The flight from beauty (2)

A sterling example: Calixto Bieito's production of Mozart's Abduction from the Seraglio. The producer writes: »Sex as a quickly consuming article, sex as a glaring expressionist gesture. Sex is everywhere, in the TV, in the publicity for perfume or butter, everywhere. Only on the stage we do not want to see sex. We want to preserve the opera as a kind of paradise. But I want to touch people with the poetry of violence, with sex, with historic and politic situations of my country.«

How much desectration as opposed to other questionable properties?

A statement by Joseph Kosuth: "Works of art are analytic propositions. That is, viewed within their context – as art – they provide no information what-so-ever about any matter of fact. A work of art is a tautology in that it is a presentation of the artist's intention, that is, he is saying that that particular work of art is art, which means, is a definition of art. Thus, that it is art is true a priori (which is what Judd means when he states that "if someone calls it art, it's art"). "
Joseph Kosuth: "Art after Philosophy, Part I", Studio International, October 1969, pp. 134-137.

Lecture 11. Plato's theory of beauty (1)

Class Notes for Plato
1. Unbeauty as deficiency vs. ugliness as positively bad
        It seems plausible to think of plainness (blandness, etc) as a deficiency of positive aesthetic value. From beauty to plainness we are dealing with greater or less beauty down to zero affect, which is a total absence. The standard affect of Beauty is aesthetic pleasure, so plainness is what excites zero pleasure. It does not excite displeasure. It excites neither welcome nor aversion, neither pleasure nor displeasure.
        Of course zero pleasure can bring disappointment, which is displeasure, but that’s not precisely relevant.
       As value descends from plainness to ugliness, however, we seem to be dealing with something more than a deficiency. We seem to confront a positive defect, the appropriate affect of which is displeasure, which is a “positively negative” state, not a mere deficiency. Behaviorally, it motivates aversion rather than welcome.
2. Comparison of aesthetic and moral value
        Virtue excites appreciation, moral satisfaction. That’s comparable to aesthetic pleasure. Vice excites positive disapprobation, even indignation or outrage if it is extreme enough. It is not mere disappointment. That seems like the situation in aesthetics.
        Virtue can be strong or weak. One can be very courageous or only faintly so. Weak virtue can dissolve into zero. Does that make the moral case like the aesthetic one? Or zero courage necessarily cowardice? Consider this question as it applies to response to a threat. Meeting a threat face-on is courage, ducking it or running away, or capitulating, is cowardice. There seems no true middle state.
        But maybe there are situations that allow of an analogue of plainness, i.e., where virtue and vice, moral satisfaction and moral disapprobation are both zero AND where the zero is not analyzable simply as permissibility.
        Why add this last restriction? Moral permissibility is where no moral question arises. But with aesthetic plainness an aesthetic question does arise: Beauty and ugliness are the alternatives depending on what changes are made in the plain object. Plainness is an aesthetic matter, whereas what I am morally permitted to do is not a moral matter at all. (Coffee or tea, real tea or chamomille)
3. Blandness is an aesthetic rank. Moral permissibility is not a moral rank.
4. Two grades of possibility relevant to the idea of perfection
        The perfection Plato attributes to the Forms of Beauty, Justice, et al is never analyzed fully by him but probably he means it in a highly abstract way. What way is this that relates to perfection?
        Thinking about this leads to the distinction between what is really possible (causally possible for humans) and abstractly possible (is non-self-contradictory, as in “possible worlds”). We don’t know what is causally possible until we encounter it or achieve it, but we can certainly seek a better thing or property and have a fairly clear notion of what it would be, as in Lynn’s choir’s tonality.
        The abstractly possible maximum is more dimly envisageable. In fact we have no idea at all of many sorts of abstract perfection. What would be a perfect life, from cradle to grave? Who can claim to have a definite idea of this? Calling it a Form doesn’t help.
        I should have distinguished these two in my truism 9, which says beauty is an ideal.
5. Equal but different beauties
        This is a highly important relation, but it is very often overlooked. It will play a crucial role in the upcoming theory of beauty. It means that when people choose different paths, different life goals, they may not be in value-conflict. An objective theory of beauty allows of very many different but equally good varieties. Some ranks may be well populated. Ranking a thing does not mean attributing a unique rank to it.
6. Where does Plato’s realistic conception of beauty stand on the previous issues? I think it can accommodate some but not all of the points in 1-5.
        a. Plato will have to accept a Form of Ugliness, Vice, and other value negatives. He cannot get away with deficiency of positive ones.
        b. He will also have to give up the idea of the value Forms being comprehensively knowable. For the extremes, e.g. perfect goodness, beauty, et al, cannot be fully knowable, especially not conceptually knowable.

Lecture 12: Plato's theory of beauty (2)

The musical equivalent of Des Esseintes' extreme aestheticism: Glenn Gould playing the aria in Bach's Goldberg Variations:
Can 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: (article)
If cuisine is capable of becoming a genuinely fine art, it will have to be like this.

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.

Here I insert reflections stimulated by student papers and discussed in class. They are included here to be permanently available. Note that the idea of a unitary rank-order of aesthetic value is supported in these remarks.

12.1. Can Plato’s idea of the relation of Beauty (the Form) to concrete particulars be vindicated? In particular, where does the idea of perfection fit?
As I have already said in class, there are serious, and I think decisive, reasons for rejecting Plato’s belief in the supreme beauty of Beauty. But that is not the same as for the Form of Beauty to specify criteria of perfection as well as lower grades of aesthetic worth. This is exactly what the Form of Beauty does. Forms are essentially properties, and a property is essentially a set of specifications for anything that can count as an instance of that property – and where the property is graduated, specifications for the different grades. The Form Beauty doesn’t have to be beautiful for it to specify criteria.
         The frustrating about Plato’s account of the Forms is that he wants to make Forms somehow like concrete particulars only closer to perfection. But given their abstractness Forms can’t be good or bad in any of the ways that concrete particulars can be, for instance changing for the better or worse or never changing at all in spite of all the forces of decay pounding on them.  (Imagine a perfectly changeless house.) They can’t be swift or slow, subsonic or supersonic or any other speed. They are abstract, not concrete. Think of numbers. Can it be a virtue of the number three that it can’t change or can’t look different in different light? Of course not. So being changeless is not a mark of quality. The only virtue possible for properties is to be intelligible, that is, to yield a priori knowledge, to structure our thinking. Given that limitation, it’s by no means easy to see how Beauty could be highly beautiful, let alone supremely so.
         What about concrete particulars? Can they be perfectly beautiful? I’ve said in class that when we try to lay out the specs for a perfect thing we find we lack any clear idea of strictly perfect beauty to apply to anything (a house, a horse, a person, so the matter lacks clear meaning. What we accept as paradigms are only exceptionally good compared with what is normal. This is not an imperfection in the universe!
In particular, can a unitary rank-order be justified (everything potentially occupying a rank on a single rank-ordering -- no incommensurability)?
          As I have said in class more than once, the comparability question for things in different categories is a tough one. My colleagues look aghast at the very idea of a unitary aesthetic rank-ordering. I once was sympathetic to their aversion but now I don’t see how to avoid a unitary conception. The definition applies to all, so why wouldn’t there be full commensurability – of everything with everything? I think the best way to go is with general levels of aesthetic value rather than anything more specific – a notion of being in the same league without further ranking. In tennis everyone gets an ordered rank even though not all these numbers mark a valid distinction. In comparing great works of art or music or literature, or even things in more far-flung categories, I think we can often say, quite validly, that they rank on the same rather capacious level or one is definitely higher than another. We can’t be precise and we don’t need to be. The things in question are so complex that we shouldn’t expect to come up with perfectly sharp overall assessments.
          Curiously, even works within the same category often have to be treated in this way. Novels and plays or films. Novels compared with novels. The procedures of prize committees would bear scrutiny, I bet.
          But there will be really difficult cases. Lots of them! The difficulties teach one a lot. I don’t think they sink the whole enterprise. And note, these difficulties have no impact on the objectivity-subjectivity question.


Note that for reasons of time I don't assign the material in TOB II on Plato's normative aesthetic principles or the detailed discussion of his ontology and epistemology that follows. But I encourage anyone who has the time and interest to read these sections. I regret our inability to go through all of it in appropriate detail, including relevant examples. The most I can do is to refer to various parts of it in lecture.

Lecture 14: Plato's theory of beauty (4) -- Platonic normative aesthetics

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


2. Questions about the ontology of beauty (assuming it is supervenient and admits of degrees)

3. Questions about knowledge of beauty

4. Major questions about Plato's normative theory of beauty

5. Master Question for Platonists: Is there a property that meets all the essential Platonic conditions for Beauty Itself?

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.

3. What drives the Platonic instinct to "seek a higher principle"?

Lecture 17. James Kirwan on Neoplatonic beauty - Beauty Supplement, pp. 77-81.

Overture to Lecture 18, looking back to Plato's normative aesthetics:

Lecture 18. The Sense of Beauty Theory 1

Sense of Beauty basics

Gao Yanjinzi, Beijing Modern and Contemporary Dance Company: Beck’s snow art:  

Lecture 19: Sense of Beauty theory 2

I. Review of the preceding: ontology and epistemology of sensory properties: points needing special emphasis:

6. Presumption of consensus of all maximal human discriminators under optimal conditions.

7. Variable accuracy/inaccuracy of perception under less than optimal conditions or by less than maximal discriminators.
Indefinitely many cases of such for many different reasons.

8. The "existence" of sensory color when the disposition is not activated:

9. Skeptics' doubt about sensory color being a real property of things. Beauty Supplement, pp. 62-63.

Indefinitely many wave-length recipes for any given (surface) color - metamers:

Differences among kinds of colored things: surfaces, luminosities, diffraction effects, etc.

"Profligacy" of optical effects that shade off into mere appearances, e.g. after-images.

"Profligacy" 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 20. Sense of beauty theory 3: Application of the color model to the case of beauty:

Hutcheson's sense of beauty theory: Hutcheson's almost full-scale application of the color model to beauty (ontologically as well as epistemologically)


2. Filling in the argument (justifying the premises and the conclusion) -- a sketch of tasks and proposals:

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 validated.

Overture to Lecture 21

Lecture 21: The sense of beauty theory 4

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.

How could a change in the ratio increase the value of things (in a certain respect)?

A better idea: Variety as number of uniformities

The variety of kinds of uniformity creates serious problems in scoring overall beauty. Are all of equal importance?

Ptolemaic vs. Keplerian planetary systems

Lecture 22. The Sense of Beauty Theory 5:
A New Sense of Beauty Theory: TOB III. pp. 20 ff.

1. A further look at the beauty datum: how can we make it more credible than mere pleasure is?

2. More re. beauty-pleasure: disinterested enjoyment

5. Optimal outcome (Hume and beyond):

Lecture 23. Sense of beauty theory 6. More about uniformity and variety.

Lecture 24. Sense of Beauty 7: Yet more about the key concepts.

Lecture 25. Sense of beauty 8. Final points, observations, and questions.

Lecture 26. Subjectivism and realism

Lecture 27. Conclusions: reminders of home truths plus applications

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 persons:

  • Facial and bodily beauty (proportions, features, skin texture, hair, muscle tone etc.)
  • 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 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
  • 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:
  • [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?
  • Cosmetic surgery, bare face vs. made up
  • Plastic surgery gone bad:
  • 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:
  • 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.               
  • 2. Event beauty (aside from the event-aspects in the above)
             Cultural events: music, dance, light shows, fireworks, etc.
                    Athletics 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.
    4. Astronomical beauties, e.g. Saturn fly-by animation:
            Unbeautiful planetary object: Hyperion, moon of Saturn; ppt. NYTimes Micro Photos 12-14.

    Many other 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 pointers.

    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 of beauty.

    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?

    7. Are you clear about the limited accessibility of beauty to human cognition? I.e. why some very beautiful things cannot be enjoyed by humans.