What Should Aesthetics Do?

“Explain beauty,” obviously. Why thank you, that wasn’t entirely obvious.

The problem here is that “beauty” is a pretty complicated notion, with a lot of intertwined ideas wrapped up into it. Do you have to have a certain approach to metaphysics, anthropology, or ethics to explain beauty, or can it be explained without reference to a particular concept of being, human nature, or morality? Can it be applied to all things that are called “beautiful,” which would be ideal, or only certain classes of these things? Finally, what exactly is the beautiful (assuming it even exists!), and how can it be distinguished from similar, related, or easily confused things?

This would cover the concept’s intension (what is its definition, how is it distinguished from other concepts); its extension (to what things does this concept apply); and its connected presuppositions and implications (what concepts do you need to understand before you get to “beauty,” and what do you need it to understand). Once you have these three, I’d say you have a pretty good working theory.

So simple, it seems, and then you try to actually figure it out. Continue reading

High Art, Good Art, & Bad Ideas

Context, if you want it: a recent article in The Stone, the NYT’s philosophy blog that Brian Leiter likes to mock. The position, if you want it: some forms of art/music/etc. are superior to others, with classical music, for instance, being superior to pop music.

My views, if you want them: sure, there’s good art and bad art. There’s also a whole lot of complications that philosophers of art, especially those who think you can make simple divisions between high culture (the kind academics like and participate in) and low culture (the kind they look down on, or study in “studies” departments) with impunity. Continue reading

What’s the Great Scholastic Novel?

Yes, another aside at the beginning of a post, but, thanks to a very nice reference from The Smithy, home of other fans of John Duns the Subtle, ye olde humble blogge’s visitor counter’s pretty much exploded. Seriously, I’ve gotten almost as many people visiting in the last three days as I’ve ever gotten in a month around here. Thanks for visiting, y’alls!

Why aren’t there any great novels written from a Scholastic viewpoint? For that matter, how many truly great works of literature that weren’t written by Dante can those of you who don’t study the middle ages name that explicitly follow a Scholastic worldview? Heck, what about the great Stoic novel? Sure, Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations aren’t poorly written at all, but really, what great play, poem, or book follows a Stoic worldview, rather than explicitly espousing one?* It seems that you can’t be an existentialist without writing novels (Dostoevsky, Kierkegaard, Camus, Sartre, and de Beauvoir were all pretty dang good novelists), and postmodern nihilism, especially of the “there is no truth—which should really scare you” postwar variety, produced any number of temporally disjointed and bone-crushingly dense black comedies. The Greek aristocratic ideal gave us some of the greatest epic poetry and drama the world has ever known, while postwar Japanese novelists infuse their works with Zen Buddhism’s unique wabi-sabi aesthetic, and Romanticism and German Idealism gave us a flood of great poetry. Heck, even Puritanism has produced great novels—according to at least one argument I’ve read, all of them.** So where’s the great stuff involving the nuances of virtue ethics, natural ends, and hylomorphism? Continue reading

Ai Weiwei Is a Bad, Bad Man

If anyone from the Chinese censorship office is reading this: 草泥马.  The title of this post is meant ironically, and there’s a special place reserved for the likes of you.  Forgive the unprofessional language, but you can go straight to Hell.  What you do is evil, and the civilized peoples of the world, including most of your fellow citizens, will never forgive you for it.  I know one Anglophone philosopher on the Internet means nothing to you, seeing as you have no scruples about silencing thousands of other voices, but there you have it: the truth, and nothing but.

For the rest of you, whom I have no doubt I like much more,* it’s time for radical philosophy, art, and odd curatorial decisions.** Continue reading

Yves Klein and Interpretation III: Much Ado About Nothings

I know I’ve talked about Klein’s Zones of Immaterial Pictorial Sensibility before, but, wouldn’t you know it, it’s hard to leave a good nothing alone.  As I’ve hinted once or twice before (what blog title?) I’m a fan of Eco’s rather Augustinian school of interpretation that allows for multiple overlapping interpretations of a single work—so let’s have another go at interpreting the Zones, shall we? Continue reading

Intentio Lectoris: The State and Art

Google Penance time.*  The Search Engine Juggernaut has been referring more than a couple people looking for information on Umberto Eco’s essay to Ye Olde Humble Blogge, so I guess I should probably give those people a hand.

First, at least part of the essay is on Google Books.  Have a looksee there—Eco’s a good writer, and, in this case, the horse’s mouth is as good a place to hear things from as any.

You’ve read Eco now?  Yes?  Good.  No?  Do it later, you won’t regret it.

Interpretive theories—especially those relating to “constructive” interpretation**—have many applications, most notably in aesthetic criticism and, thanks to Ronald Dworkin, jurisprudence.  Now, while I think Dworkin overstates how far you can take interpretation in law, language, and aesthetics (I may explain why later, for the three people who would ever be interested in hearing why), I do think he raises an important point: the kind of interpretation one does in legal practice is very similar, formally speaking, to the kind one does in aesthetic criticism.  Thus, before I start ranting about Hart, Kripkenstein, and rule-guided behavior, let’s have some art. Continue reading