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Esthetics as a branch of philosophy?

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KevinD
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Esthetics as a branch of philosophy?  

73 members have voted

  1. 1. Should esthetics — the study of the essential nature of art — properly be considered part of philosophy?

    • Select this choice if you emphatically agree that esthetics is a branch of philosophy — and you feel reasonably confident in your ability to articulate why this is so.
      34
    • Select this choice if you harbor any doubts or confusions whatsoever about the status of esthetics as a full branch of philosophy.
      12
    • Select this choice if you would agree that esthetics is a branch of philosophy, but consider it to be somewhat of lesser importance than metaphysics, epistemology, ethics and politics.
      21


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Please take a moment to make your selection above, and post any comments you'd like to make relative to this topic in the thread. I'm looking for your personal reactions to this question, not the "Objectivist position" as such. No one will be chastised for their responses (at least not by me), so please answer with ruthless, soul-searching honesty. I'm asking this question in connection with a project I'm working on about esthetics, and would greatly appreciate hearing your responses. Thanks very much!

Edited by Kevin Delaney
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I selected "lesser importance"--but my opinion on this is evolving and has diverged from "what the heck is *this* doing *HERE*?!?! and has been for the last couple of years. So in a couple of years I might have a different answer.

Edited by Steve D'Ippolito
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I would be unable to explain the connection between aesthetics and philosophy. Personally, I like aesthetics so much, particularly in design and music, that it doesn't worry me much that I don't know the precise technical importance of it in my life; it's already a huge value. Of course, I plan to read about it later, but other subjects, such as history, economics, and ethics, are further up on the list.

To note, I haven't read The Romantic Manifesto, or much of what Rand had to say about aesthetics.

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I emphatically agree with Rand when she stated:

"Of all human products, art is, perhaps, the most personally important to man and the least understood."

There are too many things to say on this, but I will try to narrow it down. Firstly, I find it dissapointing to see how the votes have come out so far. It is particulary ironic considering the principles of Objectivism were essentially laid out in fiction. And let us not forget that Homer and Hesiod came before Thales and Socrates.

The results of the vote so far seem to prove Rand's statement about art being the least understood human product. Art is a metaphysical necessity of man. Although it is a derivative branch of philosophy, it has the power to convey complex philosophic ideas in terms understandable to man in a way no other format can. When answering this question, consider the power that The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged have as great works of literature. One who truly understands Howard Roark and John Galt understands Objectivism. Most beginning students of Objectivism can answer the question "What would John Galt do?" before they can conceptually identify and articulate the proper solution to any particular ethical issue in life. In the same manner, art has a power over children that is unique: A child can say "I want to be like Buzz Lightyear, or a Power Ranger, or a Cowboy, or Batman, or a such and such" and emulate this hero. By doing so, the child is subconsciously identifying life-affirming values before he has the mental capacity to explicitly grasp their meaning. Good art will continously do this to your soul as you grow older. As such, it satisfies a critical role. As Rand says (paraphrasing), "The task of art is to set a man's soul on fire, and never let it go out" and "Art is the technology of the soul."

To quickly respond to JASKN: Victor Hugo said in Notre-Dame de Paris: "Thought emancipates itself in all directions at the same time as the arts." Plato wanted poetry expelled from his Republic because he realized its power. As for your areas of study, consider these facts: 1.) Aristotle himself says in the Poetics that ""Fiction is more important than history. History tells us what was. Fiction persents the world as it might and ought to be" and, 2.) I trade stocks for a living. Nonetheless, I recognize the backseat role that economics and finance take to aesthetics. Note the primary role that the professors of Humanities have in universities, in terms of how they set the direction of thought.

A great book on this topic is literary critic Harold Bloom's Where Shall Wisdom Be Found? In it, Bloom pairs together philosophers and great writers in an effort to depict where he has found wisdom in his life. Bloom's opinion (and my own) can most succintly be summarized by the following quote, taken directly from page 66:

At the gates of death, I have recited poems to myself, but not searched for an interlocuter to engage in dialectic.
Edited by adrock3215
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Dr. Peikoff once gave a lecture where he asserted that philosophy has this structure.

metaphysics + Epistemology

These are the "base" components of philosophy, the combination of these is ethics. Ethics then branches out into politics and esthetics.

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Thanks to everyone who has taken the time to respond. Interesting to see the voting becoming more confident as the thread progresses! :)

Please remember that I am asking for your personal impressions as to whether esthetics should be considered a full branch of philosophy, of equal importance and carrying equal weight as the others.

Is there such a thing as a complete philosophic system without a theory of esthetics?

Could one reasonably summarize Objectivism if he discussed only Objectivism's stance in metaphysics, epistemology, ethics and politics, skipping its esthetic theory?

At this stage, I'm primarly interested to hear from those who are even the least bit confused as to why esthetics is considered one of the five major branches of philosophy.

Edited by Kevin Delaney
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I would say that aesthetics is one of the most important (if not the most important) branch of philosophy because the aesthetics a person has will often be the main factor in his 'choice' of philosophy. I doubt many people became adherents of Objetivism based on Ayn Rands non-fictional works for example - the attraction of the philosophy lies in the strength of the vision which she put forwards in her fiction. I think that aesthetics (or 'sense of life') comes prior to philosophy for most people - someone who reads the Fountainhead and is repulsed by the character of Howard Roark isnt likely to become an Objectivist. Perhaps politics(/sociology) is more important than aesthetics (because many philosophies can be best understood in terms of their political motivations), but its one of those 2 that I'd pick as being the most important if I had to.

Edited by eriatarka
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Thanks to everyone who has taken the time to respond. Interesting to see the voting becoming more confident as the thread progresses! :fool:

Please remember that I am asking for your personal impressions as to whether esthetics should be considered a full branch of philosophy, of equal importance and carrying equal weight as the others.

Is there such a thing as a complete philosophic system without a theory of esthetics?

Could one reasonably summarize Objectivism if he discussed only Objectivism's stance in metaphysics, epistemology, ethics and politics, skipping its esthetic theory?

At this stage, I'm primarly interested to hear from those who are even the least bit confused as to why esthetics is considered one of the five major branches of philosophy.

One could summarise Objectivism just with axioms - it would just take a great mind (like Ayn Rand) to expand these axiomatic concepts. No philosophy is without an esthetic theory, even if the original philosopher didn't bother writing it down.

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No philosophy is without an esthetic theory, even if the original philosopher didn't bother writing it down.

To carry this to its logical end, note that a great many philosophers are, in a sense, great artists (and vice-versa). Nietzsche in Thus Spoke Zarathustra, Plato in the Dialogues, Aristotle in Poetics, Cicero's works, Voltaire's works, Rosseau in The Confessions, and the numerous essays of Montaigne and Emerson. And of course Rand in Atlas Shrugged, one of the greatest literary and philosophical works in history.

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  • 2 weeks later...
To carry this to its logical end, note that a great many philosophers are, in a sense, great artists (and vice-versa). Nietzsche in Thus Spoke Zarathustra, Plato in the Dialogues, Aristotle in Poetics, Cicero's works, Voltaire's works, Rosseau in The Confessions, and the numerous essays of Montaigne and Emerson. And of course Rand in Atlas Shrugged, one of the greatest literary and philosophical works in history.

I don't think thats a logical end. What if you are someone like me? I'm moderately well-informed about art, especially from the Objectivist corner, but that doesn't mean I have the technical ability to churn out moderately good Romantic works - just that I can appreciate them.

Similarly, a man may be paralysed and unable to construct a sentence, but still be able to think of complex abstractions. This man might think to himself an entire system of philosophy, starting from the axioms and concluding that Romantic Realism is the most appropriate form of art, but he cannot create anything beautiful.

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I don't think thats a logical end. What if you are someone like me? I'm moderately well-informed about art, especially from the Objectivist corner, but that doesn't mean I have the technical ability to churn out moderately good Romantic works - just that I can appreciate them.

That's why I said "in a sense." I think that there is a commonality between universals in art and universals in philosophy, and they employ a similiar mind. On a more concrete level, many philosophers tend to use wonderful, almost poetic, prose. That was the basis for my comment.

Similarly, a man may be paralysed and unable to construct a sentence, but still be able to think of complex abstractions. This man might think to himself an entire system of philosophy, starting from the axioms

This is rationalism, don't you think?

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That's why I said "in a sense." I think that there is a commonality between universals in art and universals in philosophy, and they employ a similiar mind. On a more concrete level, many philosophers tend to use wonderful, almost poetic, prose. That was the basis for my comment.

Ah, I see, I thought you were suggesting that an understanding of esthetics, either recognised or by virtue of holding a learned philosophy, is enough to create art.

This is rationalism, don't you think?

I can't see that, if you wouldn't mind explaining, how?

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  • 4 months later...
  • 8 months later...

I haven't been on this board in nearly five years, but I just can't pass up commenting on this rather odd survey.

"Of lesser importance"---to whom? Personally, I think one could make a very strong case that aesthetics is of greater philosophical importance than politics, particularly in the framework of an individualistic philosophy such as Objectivism. I mostly agree with adrock's initial post in this thread, only I think he could have gone much further. (As he said himself, "There are too many things to say on this" in a brief forum post.)

I find the short shrift given to aesthetics among Objectivists especially bizarre considering that the philosophy was created as a means to Ayn Rand's aesthetic end of projecting the ideal man. I think The Romantic Manifesto is one of Rand's most important philosophical (non-fiction) books, surpassed only by Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology (and perhaps itself surpassing even The Virtue of Selfishness).

Dr. Peikoff once gave a lecture where he asserted that philosophy has this structure.

metaphysics + Epistemology

These are the "base" components of philosophy, the combination of these is ethics. Ethics then branches out into politics and esthetics.

I think that model is oversimplified. Aesthetics is a normative branch, like ethics, and in many ways "spirals" with ethics, but is more directly based on metaphysics and epistemology itself.

Just to clarify my vote, I think art is of less importance in regards to the other branches of philosophy because it is a derivative of those other branches. However, it is powerful in the way Adrock writes and he shares my view on art exactly.

"Derivative" does not necessarily mean "of lesser importance."

Is there such a thing as a complete philosophic system without a theory of esthetics?

Could one reasonably summarize Objectivism if he discussed only Objectivism's stance in metaphysics, epistemology, ethics and politics, skipping its esthetic theory?

Until fairly recently, I would have been inclined to answer, "Well, maybe..." But the more I have studied and come to understand aesthetics (Objectivist and otherwise), the more I am inclined to say, "Probably not."

P.S. It's extremely interesting to me that this discussion is focused on the "importance" of aesthetics, with that term being used in a vague manner and no attempt made to answer the question "important to whom, and for what?" (since "important" is a normative term). And yet, "important" is also a metaphysical term, which usage serves as the standard for what Ayn Rand called "metaphysical value judgments," which in turn form the base of both ethics and aesthetics. (See "Philosophy and Sense of Life" in The Romantic Manifesto.)

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Aesthetics is a branch of philosophy because it deals with a universal topic that affects all men. It would not be a branch of philosophy if it were a special science like math or physics or history. The special skills needed to create art are not universal, but the products are.

The borderline case is written literature which requires the special skill of being able to read.

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Aesthetics is a branch of philosophy because it deals with a universal topic that affects all men. It would not be a branch of philosophy if it were a special science like math or physics or history.

Surely that can't be all there is to it. Sex and nutrition, for instance (among many other things), are universal needs of all men, yet philosophy doesn't deal with them. And one could very well argue that math, history and physics (especially physics) "deal with a universal topic that affects all men." Of course, physics and other special sciences were considered part of philosophy until about a couple of centuries ago, until they began to become more specialized. But why not call aesthetics a special science now, as well, like other special sciences within the humanities like history or psychology? (Not that I disagree with your conclusion, as you can tell from my previous post---just trying to give you a Socratic nudge to hone your argument.)

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Surely that can't be all there is to it.

Do I have to review the ... yes, I do. Sigh.

Philosophy is about a conceptual consciousness dealing with reality. Sex and nutrition are not so much about consciousness as the body, so there is little to say on those subjects to justify an entire field of sub-field of philosophy. Aesthetics is definitely all about consciousness.

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You must be missing something here.

Of course philosophies deal with man's sexual nature and what and how we consume by way of food and drink.

Yeah, I must be missing something, because I've never heard of a philosophy that addresses itself to the question of "what and how we consume by way of food and drink." The last time I checked, the science that deals with principles of nutrition was, well, nutritional science. Ethics can tell you that you should eat food and not poison, but it can't tell you which is which.

Philosophy does have some interesting things to say about sex, but there isn't a whole branch of philosophy devoted to the subject, like aesthetics. That's the context of this discussion.

Do I have to review the ... yes, I do. Sigh.

Philosophy is about a conceptual consciousness dealing with reality. Sex and nutrition are not so much about consciousness as the body, so there is little to say on those subjects to justify an entire field of sub-field of philosophy. Aesthetics is definitely all about consciousness.

Okay, now you're whittling it down a bit, but...sex is about the body and not consciousness? Really? I strongly urge you to re-read the Dagny-Galt sex scene.

And what about other special sciences in the humanities that are unequivocally about consciousness, such as psychology? Your argument about why aesthetics is properly a branch of philosophy would still have to include those as well, and is thus too broad.

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Sex is a single value, subsumed under ethics which studies values universally. Features of sex not subsumed by ethics are not philosophical.

I cheated on psychology by going to the Lexicon entry:

The task of evaluating the processes of man’s subconscious is the province of psychology. Psychology does not regard its subject morally, but medically—i.e., from the aspect of health or malfunction (with cognitive competence as the proper standard of health).

Philosophy is about what is under conscious, volitional control which excludes the subconscious. Next?

edit: deleted requote

Edited by Grames
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