Aesthetic Preferences Reveal One's Moral Nature
Just a tip: I recommend the use of evidence to prove your point.
Teacher: To determine the value of a thing, we must first discern its aim. Just as a doctor is judged by how closely their patient resembles the perfectly healthy human, and just as an archer is judged by how closely their arrow lands to the target, so too an artist is judged by how closely their work comes to the ideal.
Once the end that all artists attempt to reach is specified, determining how well they’ve done will become trivial. Is it not true that “good” means “good in relation to a goal”?
Student: It can be no other way, since asserting the goodness of a thing presupposes that one has a standard by which one can judge such a quality. Something can only be good assuming a certain framework of values, since what a madman believes to be good is obviously different than what a pious man believes to be good.
Teacher: And is it not the case that the aim of an art is unique to that art, meaning that the aim can be understood as the best utilization of the unique traits of the art?
Student: This can be seen in the fact that doctors are unique in that they heal ailments, and their aim is, therefore, to heal ailments to the greatest degree possible.
Teacher: So should we not discover the unique qualities of artists first?
Student: That seems like the best place to start.
Teacher: To discover what sets artists apart from all others, a question must be asked: what restraints must artists recognize when working? What chains keep the pen, brush, or string from freely moving?
Student: Surely an artist must make only that which their audience approves of, else they’d be left without any praise or payment for their work.
Teacher: While it is true that a starving artist will not be an artist for long, this is a merely circumstantial fact. Doing art doesn’t inherently require the artist to gain any benefit from the act; there is nothing logically contradictory in, for instance, a writer who writes to their own detriment.
Student: Even accepting this, the writer must still adhere to the conventions of language. How can it be said that a writer whose works cannot be read is a writer at all? One cannot discard all notions of syntax and grammar as a whole and still be intelligible, so writers are without choice when it comes to following such things.
Teacher: On what grounds can you say that a writer must be able to be understood? Understood by who? Does Proust become something other than a writer to those who are unable to read French? Likewise, is a lunatic incapable of being a writer if their journals are incoherent to all but the person in question? Such a requirement is totally arbitrary.
Student: It seems that it is. What, then, are the defining qualities of art?
Teacher: Artists have but one requirement: they must create. There are no further conditions. Art is, in this way, an expression of freedom. One scene could have been painted, but the fact that another could have easily took its place is unchanging. Nothing in art is a given. It is by conscious choice that the artist follows a certain form, style, or general aesthetic. It is by choice that they portray scum or heroes. It is by choice that they invoke nausea or overwhelming admiration. This is what it means to be a artist: having the power to create and erase at one’s whim.
Never let a artist trick you into believing, even subconsciously, that they could not have written differently and that they deserve to be shielded from judgement for that which they did against their will. The most common form this deception takes is the claim that the art “reflects reality as it is” and that this accounts for whatever array of garbage the writer chose to focus on. Imagine the psychological implications of such an idea: reality is, at its core, nothing more than a procession of terrors, and no moral person can do anything about it, being crushed into the dirt whenever they even so much as try.
Not only is belief in the inherent animosity of the cosmos indicative of philosophical bankruptcy, the idea that, even if such a belief were correct, writing must reflect it is absurd. No such requirement exists. For every scene of misery, a writer could have substituted a scene of virtue, regardless of how things are “in reality.” Followers of the so-called “Realist” school are not just confused about the nature of reality – they prefer and give moral precedence to the hell that is their vision of the world both in everyday life and in the realm of art.
My point can be seen here: every stroke of the artist must carry significance. Every word the writer lays down reflects their deepest convictions. Making art is the act of asserting that one vision is more worthy of existence than another. It is simultaneously creation and destruction. A piece of art is, at its heart, the result of the values the writer holds. Aesthetics, therefore, cannot be separated from systems of value – the artist creates with a full explication of his values as his aim. For this reason, works of art can be judged in the same way that all people can be judged: based on their moral merit.
Bound_Up forfeited this round.
The argument made is in a complicated and dense style, and I expect that most readers will not take the trouble to piece it together into coherence.
In the interests of the understanding of the audience, and to allow my opponent to correct any misunderstandings I may have of their argument, I shall first attempt to put into clear terms the essence of the argument.
My notes, to be addressed by my opponent when appropriate, will be placed in parentheses alongside the point to which they apply.
Artists must create. (Do you simply mean that no one can be an artist unless they create?)
They choose what to create.
The act of choice is an act of judgment, as it selects one option from among alternatives, implicitly judging the selection as the best.
(Then, a false dichotomy is presented)
Either you accept that the artist is implicitly proclaiming each aspect of their creation as superior to any other possible substitution or you accept that "reality is, at its core, nothing more than a procession of terrors, and no moral person can do anything about it, being crushed into the dirt whenever they even so much as try."
It is then expounded that:
"Not only is belief in the inherent animosity of the cosmos indicative of philosophical bankruptcy, the idea that, even if such a belief were correct, writing must reflect it is absurd."
(Allow me to point out the fallacy of judging truth by its consequences. It is irrelevant whether or not this belief is "indicative of philosophical bankruptcy." When it comes to judging the truth of the idea, only the truth matters. You can't conclude that the idea is false on the grounds that "only philosophically bankrupt losers believe that, haha." I hardly think the point deserves to be defended, but if you wish to do so, I recommend using evidence to do so.
More importantly, as I said, a false dichotomy has been presented. The writer presents their own idea (bereft of evidence, I may say), and then says "If you don't believe this, you must believe the universe is terrors, being crushed into dirt, (insert visceral and repulsive imagery), etc etc. You wouldn't want to believe THAT, would you? Of course not! So you must believe what I said about artists judging their works to be the greatest possible form of them."
It's silly, and I hope it is transparently so now. You have ignored the possibility of an alternative THIRD explanation. Indeed, there may be thousands of possible other explanations, so that we may, in good conscience, reject the dirt and terrors universe, and then continue to ALSO reject YOUR idea).
The argument continues with the most aesthetically pleasing paragraph of the bunch, which I will reproduce here in its entirety:
"My point can be seen here: every stroke of the artist must carry significance. Every word the writer lays down reflects their deepest convictions. Making art is the act of asserting that one vision is more worthy of existence than another. It is simultaneously creation and destruction. A piece of art is, at its heart, the result of the values the writer holds. Aesthetics, therefore, cannot be separated from systems of value " the artist creates with a full explication of his values as his aim. For this reason, works of art can be judged in the same way that all people can be judged: based on their moral merit."
Beautiful, isn't it? It carries something of the aesthetic appeal of G. K. Chesterton, or Hugh Nibley, or C. S. Lewis, or Christopher Hitchens or Nietzche.
Nonetheless, the idea is silly. And yet, the writing is so lovely, Can these two things be true at the same time?
Of course they can.
The basic problem throughout the entire argument is the idea of thinking aesthetics flow in human brains from the same place as their moral judgments do. Is there any evidence of this idea? It would be quite a revolution in cognitive science if it was true.
Our psychology is the result of dumb evolution. There's absolutely no reason to expect that natural selection favored aesthetic preferences ONLY when they were attached to morality.
Why do we like pleasant landscapes? Because it is to our reproductive benefit to like them, and so choose to live there. That's why we happen to enjoy landscapes that are good for living in, with water and vegetation and animal life, birds singing, bees buzzing about lovely flowers, etc.
It's obvious, no? Our ancestors who liked such environments tended to live better and out-survive their fellows who (theoretically) might have preferred less inhabitable environments.
And so, if an artist reproduces such a scene, they may find it pleasant, and expect other humans to find it pleasant, REGARDLESS OF THEIR MORALS, because of aesthetic preferences encoded into the neural structure of our brains. From infancy, we betray our preference for certain aesthetics; we like sweet things, and pretty music, and pretty faces. Infant toys tend to be bright and colorful because of our natural aesthetic tendencies.
Or did Hitler prefer drab ugly blocks to play with as a child? Perhaps you think he must have preferred music made by smashing dishes against decomposing carcasses?
Hitler liked pretty flowers and birds singing as much as anyone, no doubt. He was even something of an artist. Morally bankrupt people don't suddenly stop liking pretty music or beautiful figures of the human body, or exquisite cooking or sweet perfumes, etc, etc.
In other words, if someone wants to be king of the world, I don't think it would work to judge their morality by how pretty they sculpt or write.
There's no evidence for the idea. And an understanding of evolutionary psychology suggests it's extremely unlikely to be true.
Additionally, as obvious and relevant points, the writer seems to suppose that EVERY touch of the brush, every word in the manuscript is selected because of the morality of the writer, or painter. Take a pretty painting, with blues and purples "Starry Night," perhaps. Put one purple line where there was a blue one, and show the two paintings to a thousand people. Do you really think they'll be judging the one line as superior in one painting than in the other?
Even if you can imagine a case where it COULD happen that way, your argument seems to suggest it will ALWAYS happen that way. If you want to stick to your guns, I'd bet money that we could alter paintings in such a minor way and find people none the less appreciative of them.
Look, people don't always know which of many possibilities is really the best one. They couldn't tell you if the meal would have been better with .05 grams of salt less or not, or if the music would have been better if a low G note was inserted seven and a half minutes into the symphony, or if the manuscript would be better if it said "Of course" instead of "Indeed."
Furthermore, you seem to be assuming that the artist has considered every possibility, so that their selection carries the implicit suggestion that it was the best of all possible selections.
What if they just didn't think of things? Do we really think that they considered every possible shade of color for every possible spot on their painting?
The basic problem, I might say, is an attempt to make humans rather neater than they are. No, we don't always make sense. We're probably not coherent all the time. We don't know every possibility. We don't know what we'll like down to perfect detail. We don't know why we like what we like.
And it is in the attempt to make this idea work that you are forced to bite the bullet and you end up having to assert that morally repugnant people must not like pretty music and flowers.
When your reasoning is leading you to conclusions like that, it's probably time to recognize that your premises or reasoning are flawed somewhere.
Case closed, no?
(note, I may have misunderstood the argument made. My language has been somewhat harsh against the idea as I have understood it. If what I think is your idea, and what your idea actually is are not the same thing, then naturally, my language aplies toward one and not the other)
Question: Is it not the case that you have not provided any evidence?
Answer: A priori truths stand by their own glory, beautifully eternal, sanctimonious.
Question: “Do you simply mean that no one can be an artist unless they create”
Answer: Yes; it is the essential nature of an artist to create. Something must be brought into being by an artist.
Question: Are you not judging a thing’s truth by its consequences? In other words, does not your theory lead to rejecting truths just due to their unpleasantness, even if they are truths?
Answer: I have made no claim that truth is dependent on anything but what is the case. The moral status of valuing a thing, though, is independent of its truth value; a truth may still be repugnant, and, if so, glorifying it through art is still a mark of degeneracy.
Question: Why have you presented a false dichotomy between accepting responsibility and cowering in fear at reality?
Answer: The dichotomy is not false. There are no other alternatives. If one rejects free will, the principle that they are in control of their lives, their characters, their art, they have opted to accept a world in which they are impotent; the abnegator seeks refuge in hell, even if he does not intend to. You, oh Questioner, have yet to explain why you say what you say; I beseech you to.
Question: Can not an idea expressed by a work be silly, but the form be grand?
Answer: The mistake, dear Questioner, is in the attempt to extricate the content from the form; form without content is nonsense. I challenge you, Sir, to show how such a thing is possible, for it is intuitively certain that it is not.
NO CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENTS
Question: Are not aesthetic judgements of different constitution from moral judgements? For is it not so that aesthetics are biologically, not morally, based?
Answer: Wrong again, friend. All of this ignores that one does not have to create that which is pleasant; one has equal opportunity to create the disgusting (and many exploit this opportunity). Therefore, even if all this holds true, a moral choice must still be involved in determining whether or not one’s preconceptions guide one’s brush.
TO THAT DEGREE
Question: Your theory is dented by the fact that despicable men can like virtuous art, yes?
Answer: No. One can be immoral on the whole but moral insofar as they choose one piece over another; aesthetics is only a window.
Question: If great works can be composed without all its components being deliberated over morally, how does your argument stand?
Answer: Poor Questioner, whether one chooses to appreciate the impact of choosing one colour over another reflects their moral character. The philosopher Neil Peart once wrote that “If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice.” Even in these miniscule ways, one’s morality is implied.
ACCEPTANCE OF THE GOOD BY THE PITIFUL
Question: Is there any hope for me? Woe!
Answer: Only if you are a good enough man to accept the aesthetic power of my case into your heart.
If aesthetic preferences reveal morality, then we would expect to be able to judge morality from aesthetic preferences. The morally just would like some things and the morally repugnant like others.
This is obviously wrong. Just LOOK at the world; it doesn't look this way. Theory falsified.
If you think something makes sense philosophically, but the world just doesn't look that way, well, what else is there to say? Just admit that you're describing something other than the world, something other than reality, something NOT REAL!
Note: The above is sufficient for the terms of the debate. The following is just for educational purposes. Again, the preceding has already established with high certainty that the claim in question is false.
If you want to understand WHY reality doesn't look like your philosophical schema, even though it just makes SO much sense, then it might interest you to know a little about the actual causal history behind human aesthetics.
A study of evolution, of cognition, etc...might interest you.
But it's not actually necessary to understand why you're wrong to know THAT you're wrong. For that, it is sufficient to look at the world, and notice that it doesn't look like the theory says it should.
If you want to know about free will insofar as it actually exists in a deterministic universe, I might recommend Escher's "Good and Real."
Again, I remind you that you cannot go from "this belief (no free will) is held only by the philosophically 'bankrupt'" to "this belief is false." The two are not logically connected.
It's like you're taking any sort of "Boo, we don't like you" statement about the belief, and then deciding to interpret it as evidence that the belief is false. You cannot prove falsity by proving meanness or scariness, or dirtiness, etc. All you can do is look at reality, and report what you find. That's how you find truth. Not by finding lots of reasons to say "boo, we don't like you" at an idea.
I remind the reader that only the beginning portion of this argument is necessary to determine the truth of the claim in question. What we've just looked at is more for the sake of understanding HOW certain mistakes are made, rather than for the sake of determining IF they are mistakes or not.
The same applies to the following.
I just want to note the beautiful example of a thinking error revealed in the following excerpts:
"Question: Are not aesthetic judgements of different constitution from moral judgements? For is it not so that aesthetics are biologically, not morally, based?
Answer: Wrong again, friend. All of this ignores that one does not have to create that which is pleasant; one has equal opportunity to create the disgusting (and many exploit this opportunity). Therefore, even if all this holds true, a moral choice must still be involved in determining whether or not one"s preconceptions guide one"s brush.
TO THAT DEGREE
Question: Your theory is dented by the fact that despicable men can like virtuous art, yes?
Answer: No. One can be immoral on the whole but moral insofar as they choose one piece over another; aesthetics is only a window."
Okay...it sounds like they mean that you could make something you didn't like, so if you don't, that was a moral choice.
If you chose to make something nice, then your moral choice was to make something nice. Something aesthetically pleasing.
And that's the moral choice.
So, is it okay for Hitler to like pretty music? They say that you can be "immoral on the whole" but still be moral in the lesser sense of choosing nice aesthetic things.
So, if I understand, Hitler would be bad on the whole, but could be moral in a limited sense in that he makes moral choices as far as aesthetics go.
So, if someone makes good aesthetic choices, it doesn't tell you about their morality as a whole, but only about their morality in choosing good aesthetic choices.
I think I have this right. Have I?
So, then, there are lots of kinds of morality.
There's probably social morality (being nice to people).
And aesthetic morality (making nice aesthetic choices).
And maybe others, but these suffice.
When it is said that "aesthetic preferences reveal morality," presumably it means a specific kind of morality: aesthetic morality.
So, it could be rewritten to be more precise as "aesthetic preferences reveal aesthetic morality (making nice aesthetic choices)."
What is aesthetic morality? It's the degree to which you make nice aesthetic choices.
Umm...soo...WHAT do "aesthetic preferences reveal" again?
Why, aesthetic morality, of course!
So, in other words, you're just saying that "aesthetic preferences reveal to what degree someone makes nice aesthetic choices."
Yeah. So, that makes sense. It's practically a tautology.
I really might recommend Escher's "Good and Real." Just the introduction on how to use words in a clear way when philosophising.
So, since it's obviously true that aesthetic preferences reveal aesthetic choices...
You mark (in your mind) that statement as true.
Then, since aesthetic choices can be called "aesthetic morality," you substitute OUT "aesthetic choices" and replace it with "aesthetic morality." And you mark that statement as true, too, since it's substituting synonymous terms.
Then, and here comes the big mistake, you abbreviate "aesthetic morality" to just "morality."
And then you mark that as true.
If you don't see the problem here, let me recommend VERY much that you take five minutes and read...
Actually, I'll just post it here; I've got a few thousand characters left. I recommend it.
The entire work is available free at http://people.mokk.bme.hu...
"There need not be any deliberate deception or dishonesty involved in
the sleight-of-hand conflation of an unspoken, implicit definition with an
explicitly proposed definition. On the contrary, in the absence of careful
effort to avoid it, the mistake is easily made without even noticing the
back-and-forth substitution. And nowhere does that happen more readily
than in discussing matters of right and wrong.
Many definitions of right and wrong have been proposed. For example,
right has been defined as that which causes the greatest overall pleasure, or
as that which respects the fundamental interests of all people (or all beings), or
as that which complies with scriptural claims about God"s commands, and so
on. Or, as discussed above, right can be defined relativistically as that which
society promotes or the like.
Thus, we tend to think that whatever action meets the proposed explicit
definition of right is not a mistaken action to take"there is no reason not
to do it if we want to (and inversely, to do what is not right is somehow
mistaken). But that equivocation is illusory. We cannot make two concepts
equivalent (here, the explicit and implicit definitions of right) just by defining
the same word to represent the two, any more than we can make leaves
be the same color as coal just by defining the same word both as the color
of leaves and as the color of coal.
Suppose, though, that we made a further effort to establish the equivalence
of the implicit not-mistaken-to-do sense of right with, say, the utilitarian
greatest-pleasure sense (once again selecting that particular sense at
random for the sake of illustration):
To pursue that effort, suppose we were to define right as that which is not
mistaken to do and which brings about the greatest pleasure. Would that
do the trick? It would not; given that conjunctive definition, we"d need to
establish (somehow) that an act is not mistaken to do and that it promotes
the greatest pleasure in order to show that it"s right. Merely establishing the
latter would not suffice.
Well then, suppose instead we were to define right as that which is not
mistaken to do or which promotes the greatest pleasure (using or inclusively,
to denote either or both). In that case, we could indeed establish that
an act is right merely by showing that the act promotes the greatest pleasure.
But given that disjunctive definition, just establishing that something
is right no longer establishes that it"s not mistaken to do (it merely establishes
that it is not mistaken or that it promotes the greatest pleasure).
The imperviousness of truth to these tricks of definition is reassuring. If
concepts yielded to our attempts to equate them just by our proclaiming
definitions in that manner, then definitions would be like magic spells, capable
by their mere incantation of somehow rearranging the substantive
facts of the world. Obviously, definitions have no such power. As long as
we take care not to allow sleight-of-hand substitutions to go unnoticed,
definitions are (at least in principle) inconsequential and need not be
argued about.6 In particular, for instance, defining right in the above utilitarian
manner is inconsequential, if we"re careful enough: if we fastidiously
use just the stated definition, avoiding the smuggled-in implicit definition,
then the stated definition tells us nothing about what behavior is or is not
mistaken, nothing about what we should or should not do."
This excerpt is not as clear as it is in context, and I recommend reading section 1.2 starting on page 12 to fully understand the concept which is hinted at here.