Sunday, January 05, 2014

Beauty again . . . but 'scrutinizing' this time . . .

Roger Scruton
Photograph by Pete Helme

Readers will recall that I recently posted a brief passage from Dave Hickey's words on beauty in his book The Invisible Dragon: Four Essays on Beauty:
In images, beauty is the agency that causes visual pleasure in the beholder, and since pleasure is the true occasion for looking at anything, any theory of images that is not grounded in the pleasure of the beholder begs the question of art's efficacy and dooms itself to inconsequence!
This grabbed my interest and was on my mind when I just happened to notice that Roger Scruton had published a philosophical book on Beauty, in which he says
Beauty . . . is a real and universal value, one anchored in our rational nature, and the sense of beauty has an indispensable part to play in shaping the human world. (page x of ebook version)
I don't know if Hickey would agree or not, but that doesn't matter to me. Scruton, by the way, is alluded to in my novella:
There's even an English philosopher who has scrutinized the culture of alcohol and claims that virtuous drinking has contributed to the Western tradition of democratic rule because it loosens the tongue without loss of reason.
Those words are spoken by Mr. Em to the Naif only a few brief pages into The Bottomless Bottle of Beer. My novella doesn't discuss the concept or even experience of beauty, but I would like to think that I have accomplished something beautiful in writing it.

But to judge if I have done so, I need to know what beauty means, and perhaps Scruton can help me there . . .

Labels: , ,


At 6:36 AM, Blogger Kevin Kim said...

Do you think Alfred North Whitehead's formulation, "Beauty is the harmony of contrasts," has any value? When I first heard that as a contrarian undergrad, my initial reaction was that it was trite and facile—a cute bumper-sticker aphorism. Now, decades later, I'm not so sure. It's a formulation that may require some respectful unpacking, especially within the context of Whitehead's process philosophy.

At 7:10 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

I've had your reaction, but I know too little of Whitehead's thought to judge.

I really don't know how to define beauty, though it does seem to have something to do with a balance of features.

Jeffery Hodges

* * *

At 3:58 PM, Blogger Carter Kaplan said...

If I might interject a little analytic philosophy:

You can not prove an aesthetic proposition. Ergo, all propositions regarding beauty, its definition, its criteria, and its essence are subjective; that is, a matter of opinion (what Locke would call an "indifferent matter."

Zappa would certainly agree:

1) Beauty is a Lie

Beauty is a french
Phonetic corruption
Of a short cloth
Neck ornament
Currently in

Zappa does suggest, however, that beauty (or something like it) can be achieved in a composition by likening the composition to a mobile, and subjecting it to the physical rules which govern mobile construction. Under this paradigm, the components of a composition should move around and balance like the arms and weights of a turning mobile.

At 4:53 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Or there might be some limits to analytic philosophy, Carter. We'll see, maybe.

Jeffery Hodges

* * *

At 3:14 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

My teacher certification program required me to take an art course. Motivated only to get the required credit, I chose an online art appreciation course through an accredited college I had never heard of. Initially content to skim through the assigned readings and take the easy quizzes, I became drawn into the subject matter as it gave me the language to explain why certain works of art appealed to me while others did not.

While watching an Eat Street program on favorite food truck dishes yesterday, I noticed that the varied food items from meaty sandwiches to vegan pancakes all incorporated contrasts in flavor and texture: savory pork marinated with fruit, whipped cashew cream topped with crunchy almonds.

The harmony of contrasts can be appreciated through all of our senses.


At 3:23 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Thanks, Sonagi. The "harmony of contrasts" seems to have something to it in our appreciation of beauty, but how does art achieve this, I wonder?

But what about "ugly" art? Is that an oxymoron?

Jeffery Hodges

* * *

At 4:46 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Lines, shapes, colors, and balanced asymmetry of one larger object with two or more smaller objects are all used to compose a harmony of contrasts.

I do not think of ugly art as an oxymoron. Appreciation of art most people find unappealing is a normal variant like left-handedness or taste buds that strongly reject commonly eaten food ingredients.


At 5:42 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

De gustibus non est disputandum?

Jeffery Hodges

* * *

At 7:32 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for the Latin lesson, Jeffery. Yes, I think taste is subjective but not arbitrary, meaning there are genetic and experiential factors that shape personal taste.


At 7:39 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think I might have mentioned to you the name of a favorite modern artist, Frank Stella. Do a Google image search of his name and you will see multiple examples of abstract art that thrives on contrasts in forms that are symmetrical and asymmetrical. If you do not appreciate his work, then your artistic sense is obviously a normal variant.


At 7:44 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

It's the only Latin sentence I have memorized, and I committed it to memory for occasions such as this.

I'll try to take a look at the artist you mention (the name is familiar). My taste in art is fairly omnivorous.

Jeffery Hodges

* * *

At 12:51 PM, Blogger Carter Kaplan said...

May I also thank you for the Latin lesson.

According to Wikipedia:

"De gustibus non est disputandum is a Latin maxim meaning 'In matters of taste, there can be no disputes' (literally, 'There is no disputing of tastes')"

This agrees with what Locke means by "indifferent matters."

And hence also the notion from analytic philosophy that logic cannot prove aesthetic propositions.

Of course, things become controversial when this exclusion is applied to moral, internal, and external/empirical propositions.

At 2:23 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Yeah, I like that Latin sentence, too, and I've for some time agreed, but I'm reading now to find out if 'taste' really is so arbitrary.

As for "hence also the notion from analytic philosophy that logic cannot prove aesthetic propositions," I'm not entirely clear on what it means, not precisely, anyway."

Jeffery Hodges

* * *

At 12:28 PM, Blogger Carter Kaplan said...

Propositions are meaningful statements describing states of affairs, and they must be either true or false.

Consider four types of propositions: 1) analytic, such as "All triangles are three-sided"; 2) internal, such as "I have a headache"; 3) external, or empirical, such as "I see a table here before me"; and 5) moral, such as "Human beings should not kill other human beings." Perhaps we should add aesthetic propositions here, too, such as "pornography is never beautiful."

Conjecture: There is only one type of proposition that can either be true or false: analytic. The others are rather statements of a different order. Internal propositions do not describe anything that can be logically proven: whether they are true or false has no bearing upon our philosophical understanding or the description of actual reality. Rather such statements guide (or do not guide) our behavior. External propositions can be no more than descriptive. If descriptive statements are false then they are simply nonsense; that is, they don't inform us about anything, except perhaps that a person who vocalizes them is stupid, blind, or a liar. Moral propositions--or rather the expression of moral beliefs--are neither true nor false, they are simply statements about belief. The question is, are they persuasive? Same goes for aesthetic propositions--they are not true or false; rather, they are either persuasive or they are not persuasive.

At 1:13 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

"There is only one type of proposition that can either be true or false: analytic."

That would be a coherence theory of truth.

"External propositions can be no more than descriptive. If descriptive statements are false then they are simply nonsense."

And if they are not false, then they make sense and are true. This would be a correspondence theory of truth.

Analytic statements are thus not the only ones that are either true or false.

Jeffery Hodges

* * *

At 3:43 AM, Blogger Carter Kaplan said...

Yes, but do we "prove" descriptive/empirical propositions with logic?

At 6:27 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

A statement of empirical fact is confirmed as true on the basis of its correspondence with external reality. We're in the realm of inductive logic, not deductive logic.

Deductive logic can work with facts, however, checking their coherence in a formal system, as science aims for. If a contradiction is found, the incoherence is attributed to a faulty observation, such that the facts must be rechecked. In this sense, deductive logic can deal with facts, calling them into question, leading to a disproof of one or more, though the actual disproof is primarily a matter of empiricism. Alternatively, deduction can predict a fact not yet known, somewhat as sub-atomic physics has predicted the existence of various sub-atomic particles. In this sense also, deductive logic can deal with facts, though only by having its prediction confirmed through empirical observation.

Jeffery Hodges

* * *

At 2:19 AM, Blogger Carter Kaplan said...

1) The logical positivists are not in the main stream of analytic philosophy. You seem to argue against them, but their brand of analytic philosophy is an offshoot. The positivist project to make philosophy into a science has been abandoned by the analytic philosophers; it remains the project of the Continentals, which itself boils down to a political project driven by the Corporate/Government/Ivy League revolving door club to create technocracy (in my humble opinion).

2) Our science is not empirical, it is skeptical-empirical. It does not reveal "truths," rather it reveals statistical trends and probable correlations--and the conclusions of experimentation are never conclusive. Science is on-going, shifting, building, deconstructing, and building again...

At 5:55 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Yes, I was deploying arguments derived from my views on Logical Positivism because I was trying to get a handle on your position, which was not clear to me.

Nevertheless, Kurt Gödel's theorems (mentioned elsewhere) apply not just to Logical Positivism, but to any formal system.

I have no objection to your remark on science as skeptical-empirical, but I don't see that this prevents us from speaking about empirical truths. We merely add "seems to be" to "true," recognizing the provisional character of what we know. What I was getting at in my comment on science was its use of induction and deduction, not that it leads in some continuous process toward total truth.

I am puzzled by your analytic dismissal of metaphysics (unless I've misunderstood you) as well as your analytic dismissal of truth claims in the realm of ethics and aesthetics (again, unless I've misunderstood you). Perhaps there are none, of course, but I leave open the possibility.

Here's the blog of a friend of mine who does analytic philosophy but allows for the possibility of truth claims in science, ethics, aesthetics, and metaphysics.

I prefer to have a bit of elbow room in my noetic life . . .

Jeffery Hodges

* * *

At 12:40 PM, Blogger Carter Kaplan said...

Thanks for the link. I'll take a look.

You might find Anscombe's paper interesting:

Modern Moral Philosophy

At 7:04 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Looks interesting . . . and long . . .

Jeffery Hodges

* * *


Post a Comment

<< Home