Sunday, March 20, 2016

On Aesthetics

Aesthetics is the study of beauty; to take an aesthetic attitude to something is to see it in its relation to the capacity to arouse the feeling of beauty in people – the “Platonic form” of beauty as it were.  Aesthetic appreciation of the world is one of the few saving graces of humanity.  It is one of the few forms of pleasure not attached to biological or psychological yearning, which by the nature of it creates more pain than pleasure.  Beauty instead, when disconnected from human sexuality that is, is concerned with admiration of the thing in itself, as Schopenhauer points it, it is appreciation of things as they are rather than how they pertain to us.  If this is true, it is a sentiment in stark opposition to the teleological argument for the existence of God.  For such an argument holds that all things were made with a purpose, and we are in-effect the purpose of all other things in Nature; it is a stupid, selfish and solipsistic view that a cursory glance will suffice in discrediting.
The teleological argument for the existence of God completely obliterates the very conception of Aesthetics as “disinterested appreciation.”  It holds that all of reality was made for one specific utility or another, and we are the end for which a thing is to be measured in its utility.  Aesthetics then, if anything, reinforces the calm achieved through Existential Nihilism.  While Existential Nihilism is Man’s way of coming to terms with the fact that nothing matters (personally, not ethically) and accepting the fact that he is mortal and will die (which is irrelevant) in explicit and intellectual terms, it is art and aesthetics which help Man achieve the solace and even appreciation of the same wisdom through more meaningful and implicit terms. 
For what objective meaning or purpose is there in art?  Is not Man’s creativity and passion towards so much nothing (e.g. paintings, sculptures, poems) a representation of the “so-much-nothingness” that he puts himself into in his daily life – the distinct difference being that he is self-concerned in his daily life while he frees himself in disinterestedness in art.  The amount of time and effort people put into art, and the very fact that people appreciate art though it has no “utilitarian” benefit using the unphilosophical definition of the word should remind people of the innate and fundamental silliness of the human condition, and encourage people to enjoy life more by appreciating its sheer being as a form of cosmic error more and the particular things in it less.  It is by focusing on the things in life, rather than life itself, that we make ourselves miserable.
The more we focus on the particulars of our lives, what we have and what we don’t have, what we want, who we want and whether they want us in return, the more unhappy, petty and small we become.  All of philosophy is dedicated to obliterating this smallness, whether it is aware of it or not (in some sense it cannot be while it is busy processing what it is processing) but is incapable of doing so the same way intellectually as art can aesthetically.  Philosophy strictly speaking, that is, intellectual pursuit of wisdom and clarity, has its own form of solace and grandness but distinct from aesthetics.  Aesthetics – as phenomenon not philosophic study of aesthetics – is related to philosophy in experience but not in concept.  That is to say, we can experience life aesthetically through philosophic contemplation, and can be brought to contemplation through aesthetic experience, but this has to do with the inter-relatedness of human experience, not the concepts themselves. 
Conceptually aesthetics is related with a non-intellectual appreciation or feeling of something; while philosophy is the attempt to understand the world.  There is a goal or claim implicit in philosophy that does not exist in aesthetics.  To do philosophy is to make the normative claim that one should know.  One wishes to know what is, right and wrong, and how to justify and ground all claims.  Aesthetics deals strictly with descriptive claims however.  There is no “ought” in beauty and to the extent that there is it can never be rationally justified.  If one say that in regards to aesthetics that there ought to be more blue or red in a painting, and one asks why, all one can say is it will look better that way.  There is no rational or causal reason or understanding why someone will find such a thing preferable as to the current painting, just as there is no logical reason why people generally find beautiful what they do.  It is an enigma of humanity that is as miraculous as it is mysterious. 
Aesthetics however mirrors our essential disposition towards existence; as to why there is anything at-all and why the things that are are as they are as opposed to pi being a completely different number and the speed of light being the speed limit of a road in rural Kentucky.  The teleological explanation does not do, just as aesthetics existing to serve us will not do either.  Not only would saying that having a “disinterested outlook” exists for our own interests be seemingly a contradiction, but it no way explains the functioning of the mechanism in its particular state.  Why does red look attractive here as opposed to over there?  If aesthetics existed for our own enjoyment, like existence in theory, then why not just take aesthetic appreciation in all things all the time?  Aesthetics it seems is a state of appreciating existence “as it is” that otherwise would be impossible.  It is one of the few things we have that makes our lot in life enviable as opposed to that of lower animals.  It is an evolutionary fluke much like our own existence and very likely the existence of anything at-all – though this is pure speculation.
Aesthetics then is the ultimate blessing.  For while we are all born into this world without giving consent, and must cope with being alive in our own ways, ultimately aesthetic appreciation is the most absolute appreciation and enjoyment of existence; it is enjoying things as they are and not wishing them to be anything else or appeal to us in any way.  We are born in a type of cosmic game of dice, and we will die in the same random and meaningless fashion.  Ultimately, if we are to try to gain anything from this intellectually we are left at a stalemate.  There is nothing to lament but nothing to rejoice over either.
All we can rejoice over is that there is not a meaning to life that we fail at, not a normative claim other than ending and preventing suffering that we are subject to and that our suffering is not eternal.  We came into the world through error, we suffer for a time and then the error of existence is corrected.  Aesthetics however is the human mind’s only sincere and reasonable (though non-rational) way of seeing existence as something good.  It is without justification but since it is devoid from the realm of rational claims in some sense it is without need of justification.  It is our existence without the burden of suffering and yearning, before the figurative Fall of Man, before Man become a carnal or sensual being.  The Aesthetic mode is life as it should be (personally, not ethically) and can be momentarily.


  1. Nice posts. What do you think of objective aesthetics(i.e to say existence of beauty without anyone to perceive it)? I like that your philosophical ideas are right in the true meaning of the word of philosophy, which is consolation. But here I object when consolation causes satisfaction where do you find motive? Motive then is reduced only for poetry and reflection. True art would reduced only to exact description. How do you solve this?

  2. This stood out to me: "... We can experience life aesthetically through philosophic contemplation, and can be brought to contemplation through aesthetic experience ...". Very nice.