Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Truth & Beauty

Me: Beauty is objective, not merely subjective.
Friend: But when my 4-year old child draws a picture for me, it's beautiful to me.
Me: You can say that the drawing is meaningful or significant, but it isn't objectively beautiful.
Friend: But when a person who is tone-deaf sings a worship song to the Lord with all his heart, it's beautiful.
Me: Well, the intention and heart of that person may be "beautiful" (in a sense), but that doesn't mean I can't say that his singing is awful.

I was flabbergasted. I hadn't intended to teach on the objective nature of aesthetics that day, but it came up nonetheless. I fumbled and clumsily bumbled my way through the topic, making a mess of things, I think. I'm sure many people were more confused after class than before.

I was surprised to run into so much resistance to the notion of objective beauty. The classical concept of truth -- for 2,000 years -- has included the idea of objectivity in aesthetics. For the ancients, truth existed in three categories: moral truth, aesthitic truth and propositional truth. Goodness, beauty and truth. Goodness is a property of persons and their actions, beauty is a property of objects, and truth is a property of propositions. All three converge with perfection in the person of God.

What will happen next week? I hope I can untangle the mess I made and shed light on this subject.


Blogger wiploc said...

Hi, Chris.

I'll bite. Why do you prefer thinking of beauty as a property of the object viewed rather than as a reaction of the viewer?

Can we think of anything that would be beautiful even if everyone thought it was ugly?


11:35 PM  
Blogger chris said...

Charlie -- Well, I can't think of anything that would fit that bill, but it is possible, even if highly unlikely. For that to happen, every person on earth would have to be malfunctioning in their aesthetic perception. It's like asking, "Is it possible that what we see as read really isn't red, even though everyone thinks so?" Yes, it's possible, but quite unlikely.

Objectivity in aesthetics is even touchier and more difficult to argue for than objectivity in morality.

3:41 PM  

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