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Both Hume and Kant, as we have seen, begin by acknowledging that taste or the ability to detect or experience beauty is fundamentally subjective, that there is no standard of taste in the sense that the Canon was held to be, that if people did not experience certain kinds of pleasure, there would be no beauty. Both acknowledge that reasons can count, however, and that some tastes are better than others. In different ways, they both treat judgments of beauty neither precisely as purely subjective nor precisely as objective but, as we might put it, as inter-subjective or as having a social and cultural aspect, or as conceptually entailing an inter-subjective claim to validity.
Hume's account focuses on the history and condition of the observer as he or she makes the judgment of taste. Our practices with regard to assessing people's taste entail that judgments of taste that reflect idiosyncratic bias, ignorance, or superficiality are not as good as judgments that reflect wide-ranging acquaintance with various objects of judgment and are unaffected by arbitrary prejudices. Hume argues further that the verdicts of critics who possess those qualities tend to coincide, and approach unanimity in the long run, which accounts, for example, for the enduring veneration of the works of Homer or Milton.
So the test of time, as assessed by the verdicts of the best critics, functions as something analogous to an objective standard. Though judgments of taste remain fundamentally subjective, and though certain contemporary works or objects may appear irremediably controversial, the long-run consensus of people who are in a good position to judge functions analogously to an objective standard and renders such standards unnecessary even if they could be identified. Though we cannot directly find a standard of beauty that sets out the qualities that a thing must possess in order to be beautiful, we can describe the qualities of a good critic or a tasteful person.
Then the long-run consensus of such persons is the practical standard of taste and the means of justifying judgments about beauty. Kant similarly concedes that taste is fundamentally subjective, that every judgment of beauty is based on a personal experience, and that such judgments vary from person to person. By a principle of taste I mean a principle under the condition of which we could subsume the concept of the object, and thus infer, by means of a syllogism, that the object is beautiful.
But that is absolutely impossible. For I must immediately feel the pleasure in the representation of the object, and of that I can be persuaded by no grounds of proof whatever. Although, as Hume says, all critics can reason more plausibly than cooks, yet the same fate awaits them. They cannot expect the determining ground of their judgment [to be derived] from the force of the proofs, but only from the reflection of the subject upon its own proper state of pleasure or pain.
Kant , section But the claim that something is beautiful has more content merely than that it gives me pleasure. Something might please me for reasons entirely eccentric to myself: I might enjoy a bittersweet experience before a portrait of my grandmother, for example, or the architecture of a house might remind me of where I grew up. By contrast, the judgment that something is beautiful, Kant argues, is a disinterested judgment.
It does not respond to my idiosyncrasies, or at any rate if I am aware that it does, I will no longer take myself to be experiencing the beauty per se of the thing in question. If one is walking through a museum and admiring the paintings because they would be extremely expensive were they to come up for auction, for example, or wondering whether one could steal and fence them, one is not having an experience of the beauty of the paintings at all.
One must focus on the form of the mental representation of the object for its own sake, as it is in itself. Kant summarizes this as the thought that insofar as one is having an experience of the beauty of something, one is indifferent to its existence.
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One takes pleasure, rather, in its sheer representation in one's experience:. Now, when the question is whether something is beautiful, we do not want to know whether anything depends or can depend on the existence of the thing, either for myself or anyone else, but how we judge it by mere observation intuition or reflection. Everyone must admit that a judgement about beauty, in which the least interest mingles, is very partial and is not a pure judgement of taste.
Kant , section 2. One important source of the concept of aesthetic disinterestedness is the Third Earl of Shaftesbury's dialogue The Moralists , where the argument is framed in terms of a natural landscape: if you are looking at a beautiful valley primarily as a valuable real estate opportunity, you are not seeing it for its own sake, and cannot fully experience its beauty.
If you are looking at a lovely woman and considering her as a possible sexual conquest, you are not able to experience her beauty in the fullest or purest sense; you are distracted from the form as represented in your experience. And Shaftesbury, too, localizes beauty to the representational capacity of the mind. Shaftesbury , For Kant, some beauties are dependent—relative to the sort of thing the object is—and others are free or absolute.
The idea in particular that free beauty is completely separated from practical use and that the experiencer of it is not concerned with the actual existence of the object leads Kant to conclude that absolute or free beauty is found in the form or design of the object, or as Clive Bell put it, in the arrangement of lines and colors in the case of painting Bell By the time Bell writes in the early twentieth century, however, beauty is out of fashion in the arts, and Bell frames his view not in terms of beauty but in terms of a general formalist conception of aesthetic value.
Since in reaching a genuine judgment of taste one is aware that one is not responding to anything idiosyncratic in oneself, Kant asserts , section 8 , one will reach the conclusion that anyone similarly situated should have the same experience: that is, one will presume that there ought to be nothing to distinguish one person's judgment from another's though in fact there may be. Built conceptually into the judgment of taste is the assertion that anyone similarly situated ought to have the same experience and reach the same judgment.
In ethical judgments, however, the universalization is objective: if the judgment is true, then it is objectively the case that everyone ought to act on the maxim according to which one acts.
The judgment conceptually entails a claim to inter-subjective validity. This accounts for the fact that we do very often argue about judgments of taste, and that we find tastes that are different than our own defective. The influence of this series of thoughts on philosophical aesthetics has been immense. One might mention related approaches taken by such figures as Schopenhauer, Hanslick, Bullough, and Croce, for example.
We have now reached our definition of beauty, which, in the terms of our successive analysis and narrowing of the conception, is value positive, intrinsic, and objectified. Or, in less technical language, Beauty is pleasure regarded as the quality of a thing. An object cannot be beautiful if it can give pleasure to nobody: a beauty to which all men were forever indifferent is a contradiction in terms.
Santayana , 50— It is much as though one were attributing malice to a balky object or device. The object causes certain frustrations and is then ascribed an agency or a kind of subjective agenda that would account for its causing those effects. Now though Santayana thought the experience of beauty could be profound or could even be the meaning of life, this account appears to make beauty a sort of mistake: one attributes subjective states indeed, one's own to a thing which in many instances is not capable of having subjective states.
It is worth saying that Santayana's treatment of the topic in The Sense of Beauty was the last major account offered in English for some time, possibly because, once beauty has been admitted to be entirely subjective, much less when it is held to rest on a sort of mistake, there seems little more to be said. What stuck from Hume's and Kant's treatments was the subjectivity, not the heroic attempts to temper it. If beauty is a subjective pleasure, it would seem to have no higher status than anything that entertains, amuses, or distracts; it seems odd or ridiculous to regard it as being comparable in importance to truth or justice, for example.
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And the twentieth century also abandoned beauty as the dominant goal of the arts, again possibly in part because its trivialization in theory led artists to believe that they ought to pursue more real and more serious projects. However, there has been a revival of interest in beauty in both art and philosophy in recent years, and several theorists have made new attempts to address the antinomy of taste. To some extent, such approaches echo G.
One interpretation of this would be that what is fundamentally valuable is the situation in which the object and the person experiencing are both embedded; the value of beauty might include both features of the beautiful object and the pleasures of the experiencer. Similarly, Crispin Sartwell in his book Six Names of Beauty , attributes beauty neither exclusively to the subject nor to the object, but to the relation between them, and even more widely also to the situation or environment in which they are both embedded. He points out that when we attribute beauty to the night sky, for instance, we do not take ourselves simply to be reporting a state of pleasure in ourselves; we are turned outward toward it; we are celebrating the real world.
On the other hand, if there were no perceivers capable of experiencing such things, there would be no beauty. Beauty, rather, emerges in situations in which subject and object are juxtaposed and connected. Alexander Nehamas, in Only a Promise of Happiness , characterizes beauty as an invitation to further experiences, a way that things invite us in, while also possibly fending us off. The beautiful object invites us to explore and interpret, but it also requires us to explore and interpret: beauty is not to be regarded as an instantaneously apprehensible feature of surface.
And Nehamas, like Hume and Kant, though in another register, considers beauty to have an irreducibly social dimension. Beauty is something we share, or something we want to share, and shared experiences of beauty are particularly intense forms of communication. Thus, the experience of beauty is not primarily within the skull of the experiencer, but connects observers and objects such as works of art and literature in communities of appreciation.
Aesthetic judgment, I believe, never commands universal agreement, and neither a beautiful object nor a work of art ever engages a catholic community.
Beauty creates smaller societies, no less important or serious because they are partial, and, from the point of view of its members, each one is orthodox—orthodox, however, without thinking of all others as heresies. Nehamas , 80— Each of the views sketched below has many expressions, some of which may be incompatible with one another. In many or perhaps most of the actual formulations, elements of more than one such account are present.
For example, Kant's treatment of beauty in terms of disinterested pleasure has obvious elements of hedonism, while the ecstatic neo-Platonism of Plotinus includes not only the unity of the object, but also the fact that beauty calls out love or adoration. However, it is also worth remarking how divergent or even incompatible with one another many of these views are: for example, some philosophers associate beauty exclusively with use, others precisely with uselessness. The central idea of the Italian Renaissance is that of perfect proportion.
In the human figure as in the edifice, this epoch strove to achieve the image of perfection at rest within itself. Every form developed to self-existent being, the whole freely co-ordinated: nothing but independently living parts…. In the system of a classic composition, the single parts, however firmly they may be rooted in the whole, maintain a certain independence. It is not the anarchy of primitive art: the part is conditioned by the whole, and yet does not cease to have its own life.
For the spectator, that presupposes an articulation, a progress from part to part, which is a very different operation from perception as a whole. The classical conception is that beauty consists of an arrangement of integral parts into a coherent whole, according to proportion, harmony, symmetry, and similar notions. This is a primordial Western conception of beauty, and is embodied in classical and neo-classical architecture, sculpture, literature, and music wherever they appear.
This view, as Aristotle implies, is sometimes boiled down to a mathematical formula, such as the golden section, but it need not be thought of in such strict terms. The Canon was not only a statue deigned to display perfect proportion, but a now-lost treatise on beauty. It also refers precisely to the sorts of harmonious and measurable proportions among the parts characteristic of objects that are beautiful in the classical sense, which carried also a moral weight. For example, in the Sophist c-e , Plato describes virtuous souls as symmetrical.
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The ancient Roman architect Vitruvius gives as good a characterization of the classical conception as any, both in its complexities and, appropriately enough, in its underlying unity:. Architecture consists of Order, which in Greek is called taxis , and arrangement, which the Greeks name diathesis , and of Proportion and Symmetry and Decor and Distribution which in the Greeks is called oeconomia.
Order is the balanced adjustment of the details of the work separately, and as to the whole, the arrangement of the proportion with a view to a symmetrical result. Proportion implies a graceful semblance: the suitable display of details in their context. This is attained when the details of the work are of a height suitable to their breadth, of a breadth suitable to their length; in a word, when everything has a symmetrical correspondence.
Symmetry also is the appropriate harmony arising out of the details of the work itself: the correspondence of each given detail to the form of the design as a whole. As in the human body, from cubit, foot, palm, inch and other small parts come the symmetric quality of eurhythmy. Vitruvius, 26— Firstly, integrity or perfection—for if something is impaired it is ugly.
Then there is due proportion or consonance. A very compelling series of refutations of and counter-examples to the idea that beauty can be a matter of any specific proportions between parts, and hence to the classical conception, is given by Edmund Burke in A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of our Ideas of the Beautiful and the Sublime :.
Turning our eyes to the vegetable kingdom, we find nothing there so beautiful as flowers; but flowers are of every sort of shape, and every sort of disposition; they are turned and fashioned into an infinite variety of forms. But what shall we say of the peacock, who has comparatively but a short neck, with a tail longer than the neck and the rest of the body taken together?
Burke , 84— There are many ways to interpret Plato's relation to classical aesthetics.