Monday, September 05, 2005

beautiful assumptions

Posted in: Philosophy

most people have heard or used the expression, "beauty is in the eye of the beholder." but only a few dare to question the validity of such a statement that seems so obvious at first glance. i refer to this statement as an unquestioned assumption. this statement, if i may be permitted to speak in general terms, assumes an idealist metaphysic. the idea behind it is that something is beautiful based on the idea of beauty already in the mind of the onlooker, hence, beauty is wholeheartedly subjective. however, maybe it is possible that the form of the object in extra-mental reality contains certain universal standards that render an object beautiful regardless of who likes it. in the current debate on beauty, the idea of taste and beauty have been used basically a synonyms. i think a distinction needs to be made between these two terms. beauty relates to the objective qualities of an object, whereas, taste corresponds to one's feelings and experience of the object. therefore, something which is beautiful does not have to be liked by everyone, and something that is ugly does not have to be despised by everyone either. regardless, of whether people agree with me on all of these issues, i still think it is time to question the notion that beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

13 Comments:

Blogger Sal Monella said...

Its about time you blogged here you slacker! Glad to see you have finally graduated from My Space. Thanks for the content. Good stuff!!

The Mullet

8:30 AM  
Blogger Doctor Logic said...

If beauty is absolute, how do you objectively determine whether a thing is or is not beautiful?

If taste is our only guide, then it would seem that beauty cannot be absolute. For in that case, your theory about the meaning of beauty would be indistinguishable from your theory about the meaning of taste.

I think that assertions of absolutes that are not backed by science can only be used for mischief, as it renders another man's personal taste as a crime against Nature.

12:30 PM  
Blogger davis said...

"I think that assertions of absolutes that are not backed by science can only be used for mischief, as it renders another man's personal taste as a crime against Nature."

Logic,

can the assertion that assertions of absolutes that are not backed by science can only be used for mischief be backed by science?

1:20 PM  
Blogger Doctor Logic said...

Hi Davis,

can the assertion that assertions of absolutes that are not backed by science can only be used for mischief be backed by science?

Sure. By prefixing my statement with "I think" I am allowed to state my own personal moral values. I do not think it right to condemn a man for his thoughts or actions unless there are measurably adverse consequences to those thoughts and actions. Absolutes that are not backed by science have no measurable adverse consequences because they are irrelevant to experience (except insamuch as we toy with them mathematically).

4:55 PM  
Anonymous leibniz said...

Hello once again, Dr. Logic.

This most recent post of yours seems to miss Davis's point. You have asserted that "assertions of absolutes that are not backed by science can only be used for mischief." (The fact that you preface this remark with 'I think' doesn't change the fact that you are asserting this.) But what you are asserting appears to be an absolute, namely, that absolutes not backed by science can only be used for mischief. (You don't claim that such absolutes may, or sometimes, have this property, but that they always have this property; hence it's an absolute.) But the assertion 'assertions of absolutes that are not backed by science can only be used for mischief' cannot be backed by science. So on your view it follows that what you are asserting can only be used for mischief.

10:50 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree with much of this post, even though our 'metaphysical beautician' seemed to be testing the waters. He has a lot more to say on the issue. Dive in man.

Beauty may be objective as such, and yet we certainly would admit a subjective component that plays into its perception. So I wouldn't interpret Spicher's comments as indicating some kind of vulgar absolutism towards beauty, any more than someone who rejects epistemological relativism as not being able to consider matters of subjectivity in how beliefs are formed. I would think there is no danger, Dr. Logic. What need is there to fear non-positivist ways of thinking? The consideration that beauty is something which originates in the object is enough to permit its distinction from taste, and grant it some objective component. This does not mean that the person perceiving the beauty, and that person's taste, is simply to be disregarded in the analysis.

-ariel (with log-in troubles)

1:58 PM  
Blogger metaphysical beautician said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

8:16 PM  
Blogger metaphysical beautician said...

"If beauty is absolute, how do you objectively determine whether a thing is or is not beautiful?"

beauty is not supposed to be determined. it should be discovered. plus, the belief that beauty is objective does not mean that any one person must have the objective determination as to what is or is not beautiful. this does not prove beauty is subjective, it only proves that man is finite.

8:21 PM  
Blogger Doctor Logic said...

mb,

What are the consequences of your belief that beauty is objective?

9:01 PM  
Blogger metaphysical beautician said...

Doc,

i am not quite sure that i understand the significance of your question in this discussion. first and foremost, the issue revolves around whether the objectivity of beauty is the truth about the way things are in reality. i don't want my starting point to be how it will effect me or any other consequences, i want my starting point to be what is true. so could you clarify your question because i think i am possibly misunderstanding what you are asking? thank you.

8:19 AM  
Blogger Doctor Logic said...

mb,

You have claimed that some proposition is true, i.e., "beauty is objective."

I theorize that what you mean by beauty is not what humans customarily mean by the term. Customarily, beauty is in the eye of the beholder (at least statistically) by its very definition. When we say a thing is beautiful, it has meaning because it has consequences - i.e., we can say how we expect to feel upon perceiving that thing. If I tell you that "I have a beautiful ring for you", you know what the consequences of my statement are. You expect that you (or me, or most people) would perceive this ring as beautiful.

I question whether your use of the symbol "beauty" is the same as it is in normal discourse. Customarily, judgement is implied in any measure of beauty. So, the meaning of the beauty you are referring to cannot be the customary one. In that case, I cannot perceive the meaning of your proposition.

My question is on two levels.

First, what other propositions follow consequentially from saying that "object X is objectively beautiful"? Can we say anything else about object X given that it is objectively beautiful?

Second, why are you motivated to make this claim? How will it (or should it) change our behavior if we accept your proposition?

8:47 AM  
Blogger metaphysical beautician said...

"When we say a thing is beautiful, it has meaning because it has consequences." D.L.

i don't agree that meaning is contingent on the consequential nature of an idea. i agree that the meanings of things often will and should effect us, but even if they didn't, the meaning would still be the same.

You're right, however, that i don't use the term "beauty" in the common way that people use it today. One of the goals of philosophy is to make distinctions, and most people don't take the time to do this. so they throw terms around [i.e. beauty, taste, meaning, significance, etc.], and yet they have never thought about the implications of what they are saying. that is why i refer to the expression, "beauty is in the eye of the beholder," as an unquestioned assumption. i believe that taste is in the eye of the beholder, not beauty. beauty is the term used to describe the objective qualities of an object that make it pleasing, but taste describes the subjective response to the object.
Response to first question: i don't that anything else specifically follows from making the claim that object X is beautiful because we are entitled to our own tastes. For example, Whitney Houston. I will never buy her cd's, i don't like her music at all. but i cannot sit here and say that she sucks. she definitely has a skilled voice, but i just don't like it.

Response to second question: My motivation is simply because i believe it is true. i am an artist, and for the majority of my life, i believed that beauty was in the eye of the beholder and that you could do whatever you wanted and justify it in the name of art. now i just think that justifying anything and everything in the name of art is just an excuse to be lazy and not strive for excellence.

7:02 AM  
Blogger Doctor Logic said...

Excellent response, mb! Not what I was expecting.

Equating beauty to artistry, to a devotion to an artistic principle, to a triumph of design and inspiration over entropy, makes good sense to me.

By this definition, dousing some monkeys in paint and having them wrestle on a canvas would not likely create objectively beautiful art, even if it were to some people's taste (as, no doubt, it would be).

8:52 AM  

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