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Does aesthetics really belong in philosophy?

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Aesthetics, such as art or culture, is crucial to the survival of man's mind; the mind is crucial to man's physical existence. Personally, I find some appeal in certain nihilistic forms of art in their appropriate setting, or dissonant sounds within a musical composition. But consider the effects on a mind that ONLY consumes nihilistic art, loud irritating forms of music, and blood-sport as entertainment. I've met such people; they're not very rational, neither are they very good company in the long run.

Artistic creations are nutrition for the conscience.

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Esthetics concerns itself with two issues which are essential to a fully integrated philosophic perspective: metaphysical value judgments and sense of life.

 

Qua branch of philosophy, esthetics studies the nature of art; its meaning and the role it plays in man's life. Esthetic principles, however, have application well beyond the evaluation of art works. Properly understood, they can shed enormous light on the way a man experiences himself, and how he sees himself in relation to the universe.

 

Esthetics represents "the soul of philosophy." A person could conceivably attain a high level of awareness of Objectivist metaphysics, epistemology, ethics and politics, but lacking a clear grasp of its esthetics, he is unlikely to make Objectivism his way of life. Philosophy will seem somewhat distant to him — somewhat removed from his moment-to-moment existence.

 

Ayn Rand was an artist, and in a sense she had to be. While you can learn a lot from her nonfiction (as well as Peikoff's OPAR and other works), if you haven't read The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged, you haven't yet experienced the full impact of the Objectivist vision. These novels are literary and philosophic powerhouses; they make their ideas real to the reader in a way no treatise or series of lectures ever could.

Edited by Kevin Delaney
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It’s only part of the philosophy to the extent philosophy is the study of “everything”, or basically fundamentals. Aesthetics is no different from science or ethics in that it is a different science which requires is a specific application. Philosophy just underpins everything since it covers the broadest abstractions.  From there you move to specifics which is where the sciences, politics, or aesthetics come in. 

 

As for Objectivism and aesthetics, Rand was an artist’s so naturally she made critical thoughts on it and applied her fundamental to this specific enterprise, much like she did to ethics and politics.  If you look around here you’ll see a lively debate on the subject and how to apply those principles. 

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  • 2 years later...
On 1/16/2014 at 11:59 PM, KevinD said:

Esthetic principles, however, have application well beyond the evaluation of art works. Properly understood, they can shed enormous light on the way a man experiences himself, and how he sees himself in relation to the universe.

Esthetics represents "the soul of philosophy." A person could conceivably attain a high level of awareness of Objectivist metaphysics, epistemology, ethics and politics, but lacking a clear grasp of its esthetics, he is unlikely to make Objectivism his way of life. Philosophy will seem somewhat distant to him — somewhat removed from his moment-to-moment existence.

Ayn Rand was an artist, and in a sense she had to be.

I agree completely with this. Aesthetics is a much more fundamental branch of philosophy than it normally gets credit for. I think hierarchically it should follow directly from metaphysics, and actually has implications in epistemology and ethics.

In the same sense that everyone has to be a philosopher to some extent, since man by nature must be guided by a comprehensive view of life, do you think in a sense everyone has to be an artist to some extent, since aesthetic principles also perform a necessary function in the guidance of life (when it comes to metaphysical value judgments and sense of life)?

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On 12/28/2016 at 10:26 AM, RomanticRealism said:

No, I don't think everyone needs to be an artist

I disagree, I think they do.

Not as a career path, obviously, but I'm yet to meet someone who decided to try to create art, and regretted it. I don't think it would be possible: creating art fills a hole in us that nothing else could fill.

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On 12/27/2016 at 11:57 PM, epistemologue said:

In the same sense that everyone has to be a philosopher to some extent, since man by nature must be guided by a comprehensive view of life, do you think in a sense everyone has to be an artist to some extent, since aesthetic principles also perform a necessary function in the guidance of life (when it comes to metaphysical value judgments and sense of life)?

I would say that, to the extent that one intends to live an interesting and fulfilling life, he should develop within himself the soul of an artist.

Indulge greedily in works of art, yes — but more broadly, cultivate your personal values (what you like, enjoy, appreciate, etc.), and curate your life in such a way so that your daily existence reflects and embodies that which matters most to you.

Edited by KevinD
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  • 3 years later...
On 1/17/2014 at 2:56 AM, Repairman said:

Aesthetics, such as art or culture, is crucial to the survival of man's mind; the mind is crucial to man's physical existence. Personally, I find some appeal in certain nihilistic forms of art in their appropriate setting, or dissonant sounds within a musical composition. But consider the effects on a mind that ONLY consumes nihilistic art, loud irritating forms of music, and blood-sport as entertainment. I've met such people; they're not very rational, neither are they very good company in the long run.

Artistic creations are nutrition for the conscience.

I also similar find appeal in all kinds of art that is not romanticist. According to the Romanticist theory, art's purpose is to embody abstractions that consciousness can sum up as a guide. So then what would be the function of 'nihilistic' art? And if that's the only art you enjoy and you wanted to change some underlying premises let's say - what are you supposed to do then? refuse to enjoy any art because it and thus repress yourself?

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On 1/20/2014 at 7:57 PM, Jonathan13 said:

The philosophy of Objectivism began with Rand's aesthetic views and responses. Prior to consciously working out her philosophy, she had an aesthetic view of existence of mankind as capable, heroic, etc., and later she based her adult philosophy on that view.

 

J

If those were her subconscious views, does that mean they were formed non-volitionally? I have wondered after reading the 'sense of life' essay how much of our philosophy is actually just formed in childhood by chance.

 

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On 12/28/2016 at 7:57 AM, epistemologue said:

I agree completely with this. Aesthetics is a much more fundamental branch of philosophy than it normally gets credit for. I think hierarchically it should follow directly from metaphysics, and actually has implications in epistemology and ethics.

In the same sense that everyone has to be a philosopher to some extent, since man by nature must be guided by a comprehensive view of life, do you think in a sense everyone has to be an artist to some extent, since aesthetic principles also perform a necessary function in the guidance of life (when it comes to metaphysical value judgments and sense of life)?

@epistemologue

This is a really interesting question. 

There is this quote from 'the psycho-epistemology of art' which I was trying to understand and I think it might be relevant:

"When we come to normative abstractions — to the task of defining moral principles and projecting what man ought to be — the psycho-epistemological process required is still harder. The task demands years of study — and the results are almost impossible to communicate without the assistance of art. An exhaustive philosophical treatise defining moral values, with a long list of virtues to be practiced, will not do it; it will not convey what an ideal man would be like and how he would act: no mind can deal with so immense a sum of abstractions. When I say “deal with” I mean retranslate all the abstractions into the perceptual concretes for which they stand — i.e., reconnect them to reality — and hold it all in the focus of one’s conscious awareness. There is no way to integrate such a sum without projecting an actual human figure — an integrated concretization that illuminates the theory and makes it intelligible."

From what I understand she is saying that embodying an abstraction demands years of study? So basically then, to practice art according to her view, is a full-time job.

On 12/31/2016 at 3:48 PM, Nicky said:

I disagree, I think they do.

Not as a career path, obviously, but I'm yet to meet someone who decided to try to create art, and regretted it. I don't think it would be possible: creating art fills a hole in us that nothing else could fill.

What hole do you think it fills that is not normally being filled?

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4 hours ago, Jonathan Weissberg said:

If those were her subconscious views, does that mean they were formed non-volitionally? I have wondered after reading the 'sense of life' essay how much of our philosophy is actually just formed in childhood by chance.

 

Yes. And relates to your other thread. By happenstance, when very young, a sense of life - "subconscious, preconceptual" - was not under one's control. The metaphysical benevolent/malevolent view of the universe was formed mostly then, I think. One may and can adjust a malevolent premise to a greater or lesser degree, later on, through conscious, conceptual thought.

Edited by whYNOT
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4 hours ago, Jonathan Weissberg said:

I also similar find appeal in all kinds of art that is not romanticist. According to the Romanticist theory, art's purpose is to embody abstractions that consciousness can sum up as a guide. So then what would be the function of 'nihilistic' art? And if that's the only art you enjoy and you wanted to change some underlying premises let's say - what are you supposed to do then? refuse to enjoy any art because it and thus repress yourself?

I don't think it's necessary to repress yourself in the pursuit of anything rational. If there is a "function of nihilistic" art, I'm not entirely sure I can answer that; I can only speak for myself. Nihilism and/or realism in bold artistic statements of human imperfect gives me a sense of connection with the outraged and frustrated others, as so many of us feel in moments of alienation. I find it's something that can help me to explore or sink to the depths of my own darker moods with music or other "culture for misfits" that reflects some sort of macabre aesthetic, or noir realism. Dark moods are a part of life. Dark moods won't guide your life, unless you allow them. Rationality can be inspired through art as well, however, art that inspires rationality and heroism is rare in these desperate times, so you have to seek it. My observations have been that some people only consume the sort of culture that inspires darkness and meaninglessness. They immerse themselves in it. It's always a matter of choice. Rising from out of the depth of darkness, to live again, is very rational.

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12 hours ago, Repairman said:

I don't think it's necessary to repress yourself in the pursuit of anything rational. If there is a "function of nihilistic" art, I'm not entirely sure I can answer that; I can only speak for myself. Nihilism and/or realism in bold artistic statements of human imperfect gives me a sense of connection with the outraged and frustrated others, as so many of us feel in moments of alienation. I find it's something that can help me to explore or sink to the depths of my own darker moods with music or other "culture for misfits" that reflects some sort of macabre aesthetic, or noir realism. Dark moods are a part of life. Dark moods won't guide your life, unless you allow them. Rationality can be inspired through art as well, however, art that inspires rationality and heroism is rare in these desperate times, so you have to seek it. My observations have been that some people only consume the sort of culture that inspires darkness and meaninglessness. They immerse themselves in it. It's always a matter of choice. Rising from out of the depth of darkness, to live again, is very rational.

Although not quite a "sense of connection" with those, I agree it makes for an insight into their cynicism or nihilism or "ressentiment" and quite valuable for one's understanding of general trends, moral and artistic. My opinion is one needs to look at the dark side in art too. One emerges stronger and more certain for the experience I think (like one's intellectual, artistic "immune system" is enhanced from the exposure). Naturalism, that broad category, holds merits, often technical and stylistic, and at least as a foil to romantic realism. Best put, maybe, that one comes to finely discern the light from the darkness, while noting/appreciating the shades between them.

The art content and presentation by extremely capable artists or authors will usually hold several enjoyable take-aways which, if nothing else, heighten the capability to *see* (and conceptualize).

E.g. Any well-crafted novel but the most boring, naturalist, ones always has a prominent and often absorbing individual character, typifying individualism, but - he/she may be the doomed-Byronic type, having volition "in regard to consciousness, but not to existence"; or on the other Classical Romantic side, he succeeds in his ambitions but does so without an expressed reason: possessing volition "with regard to existence, but not to consciousness". Then rarely, one finds the authors and their characters who combine both elements, in greatly refreshing romanticism-heroism for one's spirit. I advise to read and view them all and find out/identify/enjoy for oneself. An art 'echo chamber' is needlessly self-constrictive and limiting.

Edited by whYNOT
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  • 4 weeks later...

Great post, whYNOT.

On 12/22/2020 at 4:17 PM, whYNOT said:

My opinion is one needs to look at the dark side in art too. One emerges stronger and more certain for the experience I think (like one's intellectual, artistic "immune system" is enhanced from the exposure).

Stronger in what sense? more certain of what?

On 12/22/2020 at 4:17 PM, whYNOT said:

The art content and presentation by extremely capable artists or authors will usually hold several enjoyable take-aways which, if nothing else, heighten the capability to *see* (and conceptualize).

What do you mean when you say this? Do you mean conceptualize better the different kinds of literature and identifying their elements elsewhere? Or do you mean to say literally reading a good author helps one in better forming all kinds of concepts?

I've heard reading good literature more 'perceptive'. The idea is certainly motivating, but I don't think I've experienced that (much). Do you think this means simply relating things you see in actual people to characters in good novels?

On 12/22/2020 at 4:17 PM, whYNOT said:

E.g. Any well-crafted novel but the most boring, naturalist, ones always has a prominent and often absorbing individual character, typifying individualism, but - he/she may be the doomed-Byronic type, having volition "in regard to consciousness, but not to existence";

Jack London's Martin Eden

On 12/22/2020 at 4:17 PM, whYNOT said:

or on the other Classical Romantic side, he succeeds in his ambitions but does so without an expressed reason: possessing volition "with regard to existence, but not to consciousness".

Makes me think of 'Vikings', although that's a TV series.

On 12/22/2020 at 4:17 PM, whYNOT said:

Then rarely, one finds the authors and their characters who combine both elements, in greatly refreshing romanticism-heroism for one's spirit. I advise to read and view them all and find out/identify/enjoy for oneself. An art 'echo chamber' is needlessly self-constrictive and limiting.

The trouble is reading all often involves trying to read inaccessibly difficult books (for me). And then you're simply relying on someone who is claiming that "it's a classic" and worth the work. All these posts on my part are me trying to find more about why reading the classics more broadly may be good for me.

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On 12/22/2020 at 4:52 AM, Repairman said:

I don't think it's necessary to repress yourself in the pursuit of anything rational. If there is a "function of nihilistic" art, I'm not entirely sure I can answer that; I can only speak for myself. Nihilism and/or realism in bold artistic statements of human imperfect gives me a sense of connection with the outraged and frustrated others, as so many of us feel in moments of alienation. I find it's something that can help me to explore or sink to the depths of my own darker moods with music or other "culture for misfits" that reflects some sort of macabre aesthetic, or noir realism. Dark moods are a part of life. Dark moods won't guide your life, unless you allow them. Rationality can be inspired through art as well, however, art that inspires rationality and heroism is rare in these desperate times, so you have to seek it. My observations have been that some people only consume the sort of culture that inspires darkness and meaninglessness. They immerse themselves in it. It's always a matter of choice. Rising from out of the depth of darkness, to live again, is very rational.

Would you be open to expanding more on what it means to "explore or sink to the depths of my own darker moods?"

Do you mean as a tool for introspecting? or as a kind of soothing balm to help you stay with your feeling rather than escape it? 

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2 hours ago, Jonathan Weissberg said:

Would you be open to expanding more on what it means to "explore or sink to the depths of my own darker moods?"

Do you mean as a tool for introspecting? or as a kind of soothing balm to help you stay with your feeling rather than escape it? 

Simply, dark moods happen. As with anyone experiencing periods of deep introspect, it's personal. But, as it relates to the arts, certain music is appropriate in such moments. Some authors are more appropriate. When I read Edgar Allen Poe's The Raven, it is helpful to find a virtual friend in shared experience. Nietzsche, as I understand him, was a guide to those who recognize the more frustrating aspects of modern life. His "man going under" is the man who is only able to rise above man, to becoming the "superman." Well, if one is going to be exhausted or depressed as times, one may as well rise above it stronger for the experience. I think there is a great body of works in our times that channel the introspective individual downward, but not necessarily guide him back to focus on any constructive purpose. I'm too old to appreciate Goth culture, but I understand the appeal. I only hope for the sake of such individuals who stare into the abyss that they find the strength to rise again. That's why I read Ayn Rand.

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On 1/17/2021 at 3:56 AM, Jonathan Weissberg said:

 

Stronger in what sense? more certain of what?

What do you mean when you say this? Do you mean conceptualize better the different kinds of literature and identifying their elements elsewhere? Or do you mean to say literally reading a good author helps one in better forming all kinds of concepts?

 

Most certainly, the second. "...forming all kinds of concepts". The reason we find art, all art, valuable is that it yields to one's mind the meeting between reality and man's consciousness--as typified by a specific artist. We catch an insight into his re-created world, a particular view of existence which is supremely significant to he/she. Whether one is in metaphysical accord or not with their depiction, one gains and takes away from their creation for one's own purposes (by conceptualization). Here is a corrupt or bleak or impotent or petty view of life and man's mind - there is the antithesis: I.E. existence is knowable and valuable, and man is able to know it and appreciate it. But the bad/ugly/trivial/etc. do exist in others' minds and actions and it's a denial to not conceptualize those as well. Strength of mind depends on the confidence to stay true to rational convictions, not be subjugated to any random input from any other, artists' works in particular.

A "good author"- especially the good Romantic Realist, while not exclusively - doesn't try to make it easy for the reader, imo. His plot and characterization needs to be authentically realist if we are to believe his narrative. He puts across the competing, dark forces against e.g. reason and individualism, freedom and success and so on, which readers can relate to from their experience, creating that necessary "tension" which his protagonist, whose acts we identify with, eventually overcomes through conviction, independence and rationality. (Or succumbs to by futility and weakness, in other depictions). For myself I look for that "tension" in art. I think like in all things real, one needs a challenge from artworks to have to conceptually grapple with, or the art may become prosaic or sentimentalist or ornamental. That personal effort put in by reader/viewer is what gives a work its 'sticking power' in a mind. The darkness, of imagery and writing (and music) can 'fit' my moods on occasion, all the while resting in the knowledge that shadows don't exist without light. Penetrating questions, Jonathan.

Edited by whYNOT
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Look around your home.  Is there anything there that gives you energy?  Validates your consciousness?  Reminds you of the unique manifestations of your identity?  Any song, book, film, tactile object that resonates with the possibility of a goal worth aiming toward?  Is there something you could put on your wall that will add a spring to your step, or release the tense confusion of a recent argument because it resonates with a problem solving mindset? 

As one works toward building a solid foundation in reality, aesthetics is where humanity has a chance to evolve creatively through the contribution of each individual.  It takes a great deal of personal resilience to create something that is true, to the epic depths of your mind, regardless of whether another person might recognize some universal appeal.  

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On 1/18/2021 at 2:54 PM, whYNOT said:

Most certainly, the second. "...forming all kinds of concepts". The reason we find art, all art, valuable is that it yields to one's mind the meeting between reality and man's consciousness--as typified by a specific artist. We catch an insight into his re-created world, a particular view of existence which is supremely significant to he/she. Whether one is in metaphysical accord or not with their depiction, one gains and takes away from their creation for one's own purposes (by conceptualization). Here is a corrupt or bleak or impotent or petty view of life and man's mind - there is the antithesis: I.E. existence is knowable and valuable, and man is able to know it and appreciate it. But the bad/ugly/trivial/etc. do exist in others' minds and actions and it's a denial to not conceptualize those as well. Strength of mind depends on the confidence to stay true to rational convictions, not be subjugated to any random input from any other, artists' works in particular.

A "good author"- especially the good Romantic Realist, while not exclusively - doesn't try to make it easy for the reader, imo. His plot and characterization needs to be authentically realist if we are to believe his narrative. He puts across the competing, dark forces against e.g. reason and individualism, freedom and success and so on, which readers can relate to from their experience, creating that necessary "tension" which his protagonist, whose acts we identify with, eventually overcomes through conviction, independence and rationality. (Or succumbs to by futility and weakness, in other depictions). For myself I look for that "tension" in art. I think like in all things real, one needs a challenge from artworks to have to conceptually grapple with, or the art may become prosaic or sentimentalist or ornamental. That personal effort put in by reader/viewer is what gives a work its 'sticking power' in a mind. The darkness, of imagery and writing (and music) can 'fit' my moods on occasion, all the while resting in the knowledge that shadows don't exist without light. Penetrating questions, Jonathan.

I enjoyed reading this a lot & look forward to having some of these experiences while viewing art.

So the gain, in this concept-formation sense, is only a gain to the extent that you manage to form a concept on the basis of the fictional work? Is this something you do from having reflected on fictional events and integrated them as you might do from events in daily life? Or would you describe this process of forming concepts from fiction as more like a redirection of focus in reality that you then use to collect future material or observations which you previously didn't notice but now do and use it to form a concept you otherwise wouldn't have?

Semi-related:
Does a work that resonates (or that one is in metaphysical accord with) always strike one as realistic? and a work that one is not in 'metaphysical accord' with strike one as unrealistic? Rand's books are a great example. Some say they're completely unrealistic fictions both in terms of characters and events, others do not and are inspired. So the former (those that think Rand's characters are unrealistic) would definitely not form any concepts on the basis of the fictional events, the latter might? And so with other works, a similar pattern follows, regardless of whether the fictional events are or are not metaphysically possible?

When we're reading or viewing art how would you know that what is being represented is useful material for forming a concept? An example is on the nature of evil: is evil maniacal, potent all the while being sharply conscious, focused and brilliantly intelligent (like a Bond villain) or is it a sweaty forehead, droopy eyes and a smear whose default mental state is blur (Jim Taggart)? Since fiction is not reality, how would you know when to take fictional material and use it for the material of a concept and when not to?

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