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  #1    
Old August 23rd, 2013, 06:08 PM
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The other thread about ethical relativism made me wonder about aesthetic relativism as well.

As far as moral values are concerned, I think it's easier to argue that our moral intuitions are objective. However, can the same be said about aesthetic perceptions? Consider these two questions:

- Is the star-decked night sky objectively beautiful?

- Is Shakespeare objectively better than Justin Bieber as an artist?

Let me briefly state what I mean here by objectivity. A belief is said to be objective not simply because everyone believes it, but because even if someone did disbelieve it- it would still be true. Objectivity is a synonym for human mind-independence. So "2+2=4" or "for any proposition p, either p or not p" are objective facts because in every possible world, they would be true. Same goes with ethical maxims like "raping babies for pleasure is wrong", although this is more controversial. If evolution occurred in a different way and produced other rational beings, even they would come to believe in these facts (because they are mind-independent).

So my question is: are aesthetic truths- judgments about beauty- objective in the sense outlined above?

Sure, one could say that these are universal, in that all sane human persons believe it. But my question is a bit more controversial: are they objective, in the sense would hypothetical aliens also find these facts to be true?

I've never seen a discussion on this topic, it would be interesting to see your feedback.
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Old August 23rd, 2013, 06:29 PM
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An aesthetic has to always be seen in its cultural context though - it gains meaning from being at a certain place or time. For this reason I don't think aesthetics can ever be objective, as they're situational. Actually, I'd argue that aesthetics are fundamentally subjective. Maybe it's a bit reductionist. If nobody thought X piece of art was a good work, how much ground would we have to posit that X actually is a masterpiece and everybody's got it wrong?
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Old August 23rd, 2013, 06:44 PM
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You know there's one person out there like "Shakspeere yuzed funny wurds, Biebers waaaay beterr!!!!!!!!"

But I don't think anything can be perceived as "beautiful" or "happy and good" universally. It's simply because everyone has their own opinion and the more people there are, the greater the chance at least one will differ from others. And with the amount of people on earth, there's bound to be at least one "outlier" for everything.

Except sandshrews awesomeness. Because if you deny it of it's utter amazingness you will be hunted down by the SHRA (Sandshrew Hater Removal Agency).
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Old August 23rd, 2013, 06:58 PM
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Originally Posted by Sandshrew4 View Post
You know there's one person out there like "Shakspeere yuzed funny wurds, Biebers waaaay beterr!!!!!!!!"

But I don't think anything can be perceived as "beautiful" or "happy and good" universally. It's simply because everyone has their own opinion and the more people there are, the greater the chance at least one will differ from others. And with the amount of people on earth, there's bound to be at least one "outlier" for everything.

Except sandshrews awesomeness. Because if you deny it of it's utter amazingness you will be hunted down by the SHRA (Sandshrew Hater Removal Agency).
I don't see how differences in opinion about something would mean it's not objectively true. For the person who says Bieber is better than Shakespeare, I would simply say s/he is wrong!

Again, people may differ about a lot of things- age of the universe, shape of the earth, origin of biodiversity on the planet- but do these differences really mean anything? Should we take the difference seriously and say, "oh well there are people who don't agree with us, looks like we have to withhold judgment?" Of course not.

Also, another thing about diverse opinions concerning aesthetics is lack of cognition. At least part of the reason why our hypothetical Shakespeare-hating belieber holds the opinion she does is because she doesn't understand Shakespeare. So her problem is ignorance, lack of cognition- not genuinely understanding both Shakespeare and Bieber (if there is anything to understand in the latter) and then coming to the conclusion she does.

BlahIsuck, you raised an interesting point. I'm now beginning to think the aesthetic perception of human art and natural phenomena are somehow qualitatively different, and maybe they should be discussed separately.

What are your views about instances of natural beauty though? Starlit night in the desert, the subtle play of sunlight in the park, cloud-covered mountains? Can we say these things are universally beautiful? If they are, are they objectively beautiful?
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Old August 23rd, 2013, 07:46 PM
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Hanging out with blind people all the time kinda demonstrates to me that about 95% of aesthetic things are cultural. Probably the only thing that they grasp that's usually considered aesthetic are basic facial expressions, and that's because it's hardwired into our brains (a smile means the same thing in every language, after all).

One of my buddies brought up an awesome point - What actually determines what is red and what is pink? I tried to explain it to him but he made me realize that what determines even what we differentiate as individual colours is based on culture. All in all it's mostly cultural.
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Old August 23rd, 2013, 07:59 PM
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Originally Posted by Corvidae View Post
One of my buddies brought up an awesome point - What actually determines what is red and what is pink? I tried to explain it to him but he made me realize that what determines even what we differentiate as individual colours is based on culture. All in all it's mostly cultural.
You brought a really interesting view into the pot, can you explain why your friend thinks colors are subjective?

Sure, we could have different names for properties in different cultures- but the referent of these different names seem like the same. I'm interested to know how your friend would dispute this point.
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Old August 23rd, 2013, 08:19 PM
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This issue is interesting, it brings me back to Plato's Theory of Forms.

Here is an example that will better demonstrate his theory without boring everyone to death.

First off, ask yourself, what is a chair? How would you define a chair? Close your eyes, and try to picture what object best embodies what a chair is.

Does a chair have four legs, 8 rolling legs, no legs? Can it be white, purple, or brown? Cannot be short or tall? Really, we cannot define, that is, define all the possibilities of what a chair looks like in a physical form. We may all agree on the function of the chair, which is for sitting. So, if we look at a stump, is that a chair? Most of us would disagree in part, since we don't associate a stump as being a chair. Or anything for that matter you may use to sit upon, such as a horse, or hell, another person! Almost everyone would agree a person is not a chair. The idea of a chair is grasped by many people, and though we may have different sorts of chairs depending upon our cultures, we are able to have some overlap in what "chairiness" is, as it helps to think of an object as an adjective in this demonstration.

Now, the bizarre part. Does one chair exhibit more "chairiness" than other chair? Does that tree trunk or horse have some sort of chairiness, despite not being a chair? It may be a form of chair, but not equal to that of a dinning room chair for example. Of which, most would associate as a more perfected ideal form of chairiness. The perfected form of Chariness cannot be pictured or conceived in our minds, we may see all sorts of chairs, but not a paragon of what chariness is, it is much like an adjective in that sense. Given, you cannot picture what an adjective is in your mind, it is an abstract idea.

Now, think of physical beauty, what is it? We cannot see a perfected form, but generally we all have an internal/external sense of what physical beauty is as an ideal, in that its function is to be pleasing to the eyes. Like a chair's function is to sit/rest on, we understand the function of beauty, at least on a subconscious level since we understand its function, yet when we try to objectify an ideal of this function into a physical manifestation of beauty we have a vast range of differences in what physical things we perceive to convey this idea of beauty and to differing degrees.

A nice summary of Plato's Theory of Forms as it relates to beauty. It isn't all that great out of context, but I think this is a nice place to start.

"The Theory of Forms maintains that two distinct levels of reality exist: the visible world of sights and sounds that we inhabit and the intelligible world of Forms that stands above the visible world and gives it being. For example, Plato maintains that in addition to being able to identify a beautiful person or a beautiful painting, we also have a general conception of Beauty itself, and we are able to identify the beauty in a person or a painting only because we have this conception of Beauty in the abstract. In other words, the beautiful things we can see are beautiful only because they participate in the more general Form of Beauty. This Form of Beauty is itself invisible, eternal, and unchanging, unlike the things in the visible world that can grow old and lose their beauty. The Theory of Forms envisions an entire world of such Forms, a world that exists outside of time and space, where Beauty, Justice, Courage, Temperance, (these three things are what he describes as making up our three-part souls) and the like exist untarnished by the changes and imperfections of the visible world."

And really, he is striving to understand subjectivity. If you are interested in diving into some Plato, you should read more of his theories, such as the composition of the human soul. It's fascinating to see a more intellectual breakdown of abstract ideas such as spirituality.

I hope my post was written in a way that is not too confusing.
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Old August 23rd, 2013, 08:50 PM
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Originally Posted by Shamol View Post
You brought a really interesting view into the pot, can you explain why your friend thinks colors are subjective?

Sure, we could have different names for properties in different cultures- but the referent of these different names seem like the same. I'm interested to know how your friend would dispute this point.
He's blind and was asking me the difference between pink and red. He can't see colours, only general light. So to someone who can't see colour, the differences don't mean anything. In other cultures, different colours have different meanings, too, and other languages use unique words for colours. Even the difference between red and yellow could be subjective (there's certainly nobody saying the exact wavelength where the colours end). It goes for more succinct forms too, like "feminine/masculine design" or things like that. Our culture molds essentially almost everything that we see, and if you can't see, then those have no effect. That's what I learned from him, anyhow. Really insightful stuff.

This ends all "IS IT GREEN OR IS IT BLUE" debates. (haha just kidding)
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Old August 23rd, 2013, 09:46 PM
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A nice summary of Plato's Theory of Forms as it relates to beauty. It isn't all that great out of context, but I think this is a nice place to start.

"The Theory of Forms maintains that two distinct levels of reality exist: the visible world of sights and sounds that we inhabit and the intelligible world of Forms that stands above the visible world and gives it being. For example, Plato maintains that in addition to being able to identify a beautiful person or a beautiful painting, we also have a general conception of Beauty itself, and we are able to identify the beauty in a person or a painting only because we have this conception of Beauty in the abstract. In other words, the beautiful things we can see are beautiful only because they participate in the more general Form of Beauty. This Form of Beauty is itself invisible, eternal, and unchanging, unlike the things in the visible world that can grow old and lose their beauty. The Theory of Forms envisions an entire world of such Forms, a world that exists outside of time and space, where Beauty, Justice, Courage, Temperance, (these three things are what he describes as making up our three-part souls) and the like exist untarnished by the changes and imperfections of the visible world."

And really, he is striving to understand subjectivity. If you are interested in diving into some Plato, you should read more of his theories, such as the composition of the human soul. It's fascinating to see a more intellectual breakdown of abstract ideas such as spirituality.

I hope my post was written in a way that is not too confusing.
Whoa, a pokemon fandom that appreciates philosophy? Where was PC all my life??

Platonism is one of most powerful and fascinating concept philosophy has ever produced, but I don't subscribe to it. Especially because it always struck me as counter-intuitive, what does it mean to say, for example, that numbers, properties (redness), propositions, geometric shapes and other entities exist independently? How can painfulness exist outside of a consciousness experiencing pain?

Secondly, platonism seems to not sit well with the (unguided) evolutionary account of origin of consciousness. Evolution has no goals in mind, and the idea that our concepts of beauty developed in an evolutionary process which "matches" with platonic entities entail either:

1. It's a huge coincidence,
2. The platonic entities are causally effacious and they somehow affected evolutionary development on earth.

(1) is a coincidence too huge to warrant consideration, and Plato wouldn't agree with (2). I don't know if there have been counterarguments to these, but these two are the key reasons why I don't agree with Platonism.

Corvidae:

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He's blind and was asking me the difference between pink and red. He can't see colours, only general light. So to someone who can't see colour, the differences don't mean anything. In other cultures, different colours have different meanings, too, and other languages use unique words for colours. Even the difference between red and yellow could be subjective (there's certainly nobody saying the exact wavelength where the colours end). It goes for more succinct forms too, like "feminine/masculine design" or things like that. Our culture molds essentially almost everything that we see, and if you can't see, then those have no effect. That's what I learned from him, anyhow. Really insightful stuff.
Oh, that only means "we have difficulty defining properties", not that our perceptions of properties are subjective. We may not have a rigorous definition of what "redness" is, but someone can know that a ball or an apple is red, even though she might use different terminology. Let's consider two persons: X is really good with fashion designing, and so she can tell apart different shades of colors by assigning them different labels. On the other hand, Y is a computer junky and he doesn't know that these different shades of color have different labels. Now Y may not be able to say why pink is pink and red is red very articulately, but he would indeed understand they look different, and if his descriptions of their difference can be translated into fashion terminology, it will end up pretty similar to Y's account of Redness vs. Pinkness.

Also, this is a theory of beauty I found on a philosophy blog against the context-dependence argument against aesthetic objectivity: beauty of an object should not be considered in isolation, but in the context in which it finds itself. As an example, in some cultures long necked women are considered beautiful, but in others they are not. But the reason some cultures find them beautiful is embedded in a cultural context that is endemic to that culture. Once one is able to appreciate that context, he would agree that long-necked women are beautiful.

This is another example: a rose looks beautiful in visible light, but it doesn't look as beautiful (or ugly) in X-ray. Does this entail that the beauty of a rose is subjective? Of course not, the beauty of a rose is understood in its proper context, that of being seen in visible light. So once we include contextuality in our theory of beauty, context-dependence doesn't seem like a good argument for aesthetic relativism.
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Old August 28th, 2013, 11:22 AM
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I think that ideas are relative. Going with the Plato-chair example, I have a definition of a chair that I picked up from my surroundings, from the people who raised me, etc. That idea is something like a flat surface with legs that I sit on. When I look at a horse I think "horse" because, although it has legs and somewhere to sit, it has other qualities that more strongly read as "horse" to me. What I mean is, we have ideas of what things are in the absence of things they are not. If I see a flat surface with 8 legs and wheels I may not initially think "chair" but I'm not going to think "horse" and eventually I'll either come up with a new idea for it (like "octo-wheel" or something) or I'll adapt my idea of a chair to include this new thing with wheels on it. I'll expand and change my idea of what "chair" is. I think the same goes for "beauty".

With the colors idea, you might actually have someone who looks at pink and red and says "They're both red." Look at this for me:



I would say that both of those circles are blue. Of course, if you asked me to say more I'd say that they aren't the exact shade of blue, but that they both still look blue to me. But that's what I'm brought up to see. In certain east Asian cultures you have colors that, to me and lots of people like me, look like green and blue that they would say are the same color, or at least use the same name for them. Basically, what I'm saying is that you can break things down, you can eventually find differences in anything.

I forgot where I was going with all this.
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Old August 30th, 2013, 07:12 AM
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With the colors idea, you might actually have someone who looks at pink and red and says "They're both red." Look at this for me:



I would say that both of those circles are blue. Of course, if you asked me to say more I'd say that they aren't the exact shade of blue, but that they both still look blue to me. But that's what I'm brought up to see. In certain east Asian cultures you have colors that, to me and lots of people like me, look like green and blue that they would say are the same color, or at least use the same name for them. Basically, what I'm saying is that you can break things down, you can eventually find differences in anything.

I forgot where I was going with all this.
You would also have the artist enthusiast that says, the left is royal blue and the right is aquarium blue. Two distinctly different colours on his palette.

Aesthetics I believe have to be functionally subjective for them to even exist.
If something aesthetic was objective it would be unanimous in its appreciation by people. Anything specifically designed to be aesthetically pleasing always has at least one person who dislikes the design.

That's not to say that things can't be objectively aesthetic, everyone could agree that something is pretty, but to varying levels of beauty. Which brings us back to the subjectivity of the object.


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Old September 15th, 2013, 09:03 PM
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One on hand, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. I think it can be wildly subjective, but conversely, I think once you dig around enough, you can find an empirical truth. I think most people who behold a starry night sky would complement its beauty, but I can't say that would be the case for everyone. There's always a few exceptions and outliers.
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Old September 17th, 2013, 04:10 AM
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Aesthetics I believe have to be functionally subjective for them to even exist. If something aesthetic was objective it would be unanimous in its appreciation by people. Anything specifically designed to be aesthetically pleasing always has at least one person who dislikes the design.
I have two responses to this.

First, for something to be non-subjective, it doesn't have to be have unanimous agreement. When you think about it, there is frustratingly little humanity as a whole would agree on. Nazis would say ethnic cleansing is morally good, philosopher David Hume would say science is non-rational, religious fundamentalists may say the earth is 6000 years old. This doesn't mean these are subjective truths, just that the people who held those views are wrong. Maybe something analogous can be said in the case of aesthetic "relativism" as well.

Second, I think someone's like or dislike for something can be reducible to certain other things. The Padung believe women with long necks are beautiful, but we don't. This doesn't necessarily mean our concept of beauty (or just as much as is specific to women's necks) is subjective, it means their "appreciation" of long necks have a story to tell, it comes with a context. If we shared that sociological context, maybe we would find long-necked women beautiful as well (not looking forward to it though). See the analogy I gave earlier about looking at a painting under X-ray.

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@Shamol: Welcome friend, I hope you're the debating type as well. You'll fit in just fine here.
Seriously mate, this forum is just awesome. Just what I was looking for!

Although I am fond of debating, I always hope to walk out of every debate having learnt something. Some people mistake my moderate vigor in defending my views to be a bit offensive, but I only do so because crunching other people's arguments is the best way to have them come up with rebuttals.
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Old September 18th, 2013, 09:40 AM
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Hmm, if we want to look at the why there seems to exist aesthetic "truths", we should look at the intersection between social, cultural and cognitive psychology.

Quote:
I'm now beginning to think the aesthetic perception of human art and natural phenomena are somehow qualitatively different, and maybe they should be discussed separately.
And now that you bring this up, I think I'll fall back. Maybe it's too much to call them qualitiatively different - after all, wouldn't they rely on the same mental processes perceive and, uh, process visual stimuli and turn it into meaning?

For example, I remember in art class we learned about the elements of design: line, shape, colour, balance, space etc. Perhaps that's too simplistic and rigid a model to think of how humans perceive aesthetics. We should consider the interplay between visual perception and design, as well as evolutionary explanations. Now that begs the question: to what extent does biology influence the way we perceive aesthetics (ie to what extent is there a universal constant among humans)? And another question: to what extent are aesthetics innate (genetic) or acquired through development (growing up, environmental)?

Spoiler:
There has been a famous psychological experiment done on cats (which name escapes me atm) that implies that the ability to see lines is affected by development. Two groups of baby kittens were raised with opaque googles strapped onto their heads - one group had only vertical lines, and another group had only horizontal lines. When the goggles are removed, the kittens were only sensitive to the lines they saw on their goggles (horizontal-line cats would bump into table legs, and vertical-line cats would walk into short stools). There was a similar experiment in which kittens' heads were immobilized, and as a result they did not respond to motion.

Now, I didn't read the paper so I don't know if they came up with a mechanism to explain their results. I would imagine neural pruning - during the early stages of life, your brain reduces some of the neuronal connections that are not used to leave the rest of the connections more efficient, and so the kittens which didn't see vertical/horizontal lines had the connections responsible for their processing removed due to disuse - to be a factor, but does that mean we are all equipped at birth with the visual processing mechanisms we have? Could there be a parallel process going the opposite direction that builds up neural connections from use?

From these observations, is it realistic to talk about aesthetic truths (treating them as monolithic and set in stone)? I think not - the "truths" or what I'd like to describe as recurring patterns that we observe in our species can be fluid, and seem to be dependent on the response to the stimuli itself, whether it be in the short term through development or the long term through the evolution of the neural pathways we seem to be equipped with.


Same goes for all sensory stimuli.
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