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Hi, I don't know if you can help me, by here goes anyway.

Hi, I don't know if you can help me, by here goes anyway. What does it mean to be Disturbed by Beauty. Can a philosopher answer this, or would I be better off asking a shrink, priest or mystic? Kind regards Pasquale

An interesting question! The phrase "Disturbed by Beauty" is not a common one in philosophy or aesthetics (that branch of philosophy that addresses beauty and ugliness as well as philosophy of art) and philosophy in the modern era has been somewhat skeptical about beauty. BUT there have been some important positive contributions about beauty in the past 50 years. Iris Murdoch's The Sovereignty of the Good makes a strong case for the role of beauty in challenging our tendencies to egotism and self-interest. In a sense, she argued that the experience of beauty (one of her examples is noticing the beauty of a kestral, a stunning bird) can disturb our self-absorbed daily routines. Elaine Scarry's book On Beauty is a more recent argument for the important role of beauty in our values and the way we live. There is a strong romantic tradition that contends that our experience of beauty in the world can be an important step in our becoming mature lovers of wisdom... This is present in the philosophically minded Coleridge and in Worsdsworth's Preludes --which he understood as a philosophical poem. In the Preludes, the poets experience of beauty (in seeing Mount Blanc) may not be disturbing but it is definitely surprising and perhaps shocking as it calls him (the poet) into an unexpected experience of what might be called the eternal. OK, I now think you, Pasquale, will probably think me no better than a shrink, priest or mystic. But I do have a great deal of respect for psychologists / persons of faith and those who may be thought of as mystics. One of my professors declared that "mysticism" begins with a mist and ends with an "ism." But I think that is monstrously unfair. Many of the so-called mystics, west and east, have insights we non-mystics should take seriously (in my view).

If you are disturbed by beauty, I hope you might be disturbed and perhaps attracted to beauty as one of the three attributes celebrated in Platonic tradition which upholds: Beauty, Truth, and Goodness. For further work on this, you might check out the Cambridge Platonists, some great 17th century British philosophers who prized beauty, truth and goodness amid a very violent civil war....

All good wishes, Charles

An interesting question! The phrase "Disturbed by Beauty" is not a common one in philosophy or aesthetics (that branch of philosophy that addresses beauty and ugliness as well as philosophy of art) and philosophy in the modern era has been somewhat skeptical about beauty. BUT there have been some important positive contributions about beauty in the past 50 years. Iris Murdoch's The Sovereignty of the Good makes a strong case for the role of beauty in challenging our tendencies to egotism and self-interest. In a sense, she argued that the experience of beauty (one of her examples is noticing the beauty of a kestral, a stunning bird) can disturb our self-absorbed daily routines. Elaine Scarry's book On Beauty is a more recent argument for the important role of beauty in our values and the way we live. There is a strong romantic tradition that contends that our experience of beauty in the world can be an important step in our becoming mature lovers of wisdom... This is present in the...

I am very interested in the idea of aesthetics as a spiritual phenomenom.

I am very interested in the idea of aesthetics as a spiritual phenomenom. Spirituality for me is not something limited to one religion. I recently bought the Routledge companion to Aesthetics and I also have a collection of academic essays in aesthetics that is supposed to be comprehensive. But I am very disappointed, the only essays or chapters that relate aesthetics with spirituality are those of 19th century German thinkers but no thinkers that are modern. I would really like to study this subject (probably entirely outside the university) and contribute an article in a journal but I don't know the names of those journals or if any exist. So what journals are there on that subject? (the intersection of spirituality and aesthetics)

There is quite a good literature on aesthetics that gets at spirituality. I co-authored a recent book (out last year) with the American artist Jil Evans: The image in mind (Continuum) that gets at the aesthetic dimension of different ways of viewing the world (principally theism and naturalism) and we have a co-edited book Turning Images with Oxford that deals with aesthetics and religion / spirituality. An older book which has an excellent collection of different thinkers is: Art, Creativity, and the Sacred edited by Diane Apostolos-Cappadona. Gordon Graham has a good book: The Re-enchantment of the Word (OUP 2007), and Oxford has published an amazing series of five books on aesthetics and theology or the sacred by David Brown. It is disappointing that the Routledge volume did not include more on spirituality, as many of those who contributed to aesthetics historically and quite recently have had spiritual concerns. Plato's dialogue on beauty, the Symposium, is partly about the ascent of the soul to the higher beauties, and it deeply impacted subsequent religious thinkers and artists. Three quite diverse thinkers from the 20th century who thought of aesthetics in spiritual terms include Kandinsky, Dewey, and Tolstoy. Good wishes!

There is quite a good literature on aesthetics that gets at spirituality. I co-authored a recent book (out last year) with the American artist Jil Evans: The image in mind (Continuum) that gets at the aesthetic dimension of different ways of viewing the world (principally theism and naturalism) and we have a co-edited book Turning Images with Oxford that deals with aesthetics and religion / spirituality. An older book which has an excellent collection of different thinkers is: Art, Creativity, and the Sacred edited by Diane Apostolos-Cappadona. Gordon Graham has a good book: The Re-enchantment of the Word (OUP 2007), and Oxford has published an amazing series of five books on aesthetics and theology or the sacred by David Brown. It is disappointing that the Routledge volume did not include more on spirituality, as many of those who contributed to aesthetics historically and quite recently have had spiritual concerns. Plato's dialogue on beauty, the Symposium, is partly about the ascent of the soul to...

Do most aesthetic theorists in philosophy think that things beside art can be

Do most aesthetic theorists in philosophy think that things beside art can be aesthetic (such as everyday life when not presented with art)? Or is that something only a few philosophers advocate (such as Dewey and Wittgenstein)?

Most aestheticians make the distinction between aesthetics and philosophy of art, with "aesthetics" being the wider term and "philosophy of art" the narrower one. "Philosophy of art" is only the philosophy of works of art or art objects as they are unappealingly called these days. In other words, these philosophers accept that it is not only works of art to which the terms of aesthetic appraisal apply, such as "attractive", "unattractive", "lovely", not lovely", "unlovely", "majestic", "grubby", "oily", and on and on, without end. They also apply to the human face and the human form, to nature and parts of nature, including natural landscapes, the sea, etc. There is practically no word, I believe, that cannot one way or another be used as a term of aesthetic appraisal. The aesthetic is everywhere; a happy thought.

HIstorically and today, most who practice aesthetics treat the aesthetic as involving more than works of art. The term "aesthetics" was introduced in the 19th cedntury to stand for sensory experience and only later came to be used in a way that was specific to works of art, but most of the important works in the field of aesthetics (like Kant's Critique of Judgment) think of (for example) treat the natural world in aesthetic terms. The definition of "aesthetic" is not air tight, however, but I suggest its most common usage denotes the emotive features of objects. An excellent book on the aesthetic in general, and works of art in particular, is Gary Iseminger's The Aesthetic Function of Art (Cornell University Press, 2004). While Dewey did a great job in highlighting the aesthetics of life outside the world of art (he was highly critical of some of the museum cultures of his day), some philosophers are swayed by what they see as non-aesthetic features of artwork. On this front, you might want to...

If personal taste is something that emerges somewhat chaotically from personal

If personal taste is something that emerges somewhat chaotically from personal experience and potentially genetics, then how can it belong to oneself and truly be personal? Surely, we don't like to think of our tastes as random; on the contrary, they define us. And yet if our tastes are something rational, then we might indeed be able to dispute them with some level of objectivity - some tastes would just be bad or good, and this could be proven. Clearly this isn't the case - so it seems personal taste is neither a chaotic result of our interaction with our life experience, nor some sort of rational conclusion on the subjects of the taste. What, then, is personal taste?

I think this is a fine question or questions.

Consider first the issue of whether what you are calling taste can be subject to proof or at least rational dispute. It may be that what you mean by "taste" simply means a desire or aversion to (for example) limes or apples, something which lacks standards to settle (assuming neither is a poison, etc). But if "taste" includes any kind of desire (the desire for justice versus the desire for mercy and so on), then many philosophers would claim (on all sorts of grounds) that we can rationally debate such matters. You might check out the work of John Rawls on one promising model of how one might adjudicate competing tastes.

On the second issue about when a taste or desire is one's own.... Perhaps the answer lies in terms of volunatary choice or consent or identification with the tastes or desires that you have. Consider the following possibility: each of us develops different tastes or desires, whether these are through nature or nurture, design or chaos, brain washing or accident, rational dispute or irrational impulse. But when a taste or desire becomes one's own or (as you put it) personal, this seems to be a case of when a person has (in some way) voluntarily chosen or consented to or identified with the taste or desire as one's own. So, imagine I have a desire to worship God. But imagine this is something I have never questioned or consented to; I was simply brought up that way. We might in that case think that my desire is not so much personal or voluntary as much as it is the desire of my community. And the same would be true if I had a desire to deny the existence of God; my atheism would not be reflection of MY particular, voluntary thought, but something I inherited or picked up from my community. I suggest that making a desire one's own involves consenting to it or identifying with it as when someone as an adult identifies themselves as (for example) a theist or atheist or whatever.... On this point, you might check out the work of Harry Frankfurt (Princeton University).

So, when you ask "What, then, is personal taste?" I suggest that some tastes or desires can be rationally debated and chosen and which tastes are authentic and personal to you depends on which tastes or desires you identify with or choose. If someone has a taste or desire that they do not choose and they find opposed to their deepest values, then those tastes or desires are still theirs, but those in such a state are (I suggest) in a fragmented, divided condition that will be difficult to sustain.

I think this is a fine question or questions. Consider first the issue of whether what you are calling taste can be subject to proof or at least rational dispute. It may be that what you mean by "taste" simply means a desire or aversion to (for example) limes or apples, something which lacks standards to settle (assuming neither is a poison, etc). But if "taste" includes any kind of desire (the desire for justice versus the desire for mercy and so on), then many philosophers would claim (on all sorts of grounds) that we can rationally debate such matters. You might check out the work of John Rawls on one promising model of how one might adjudicate competing tastes. On the second issue about when a taste or desire is one's own.... Perhaps the answer lies in terms of volunatary choice or consent or identification with the tastes or desires that you have. Consider the following possibility: each of us develops different tastes or desires, whether these are through nature or nurture, design or...

While on holiday in Crete, myself and my friends Michael and Daniel began to

While on holiday in Crete, myself and my friends Michael and Daniel began to admire the sparse mountainous landscape. We all agreed that it was aesthetically pleasing, but we all had different opinions concerning the degree of its aesthetic beauty. Michael suggested that the landscape was inferior to a forested mountain-range covered in thick pine forests. Daniel argued that Michael was incorrect because the Cretan landscape had a sparse beauty which was very appealing. He compared the heavily forested landscape of Michael's comparison to a ring with an enormous gaudy diamond, while the Cretan landscape had the minimalist, simplistic beauty of a ring with a smaller but more precious gem. I argued that Michael was mistaken in making this comparison to begin with. The Cretan landscape should not be compared to a landscape from a more temperate region of the world, because they were fundamentally different types of landscape. It is possible to compare the work of a oil-paints artist with those of another oil...

Great case! I think that some of the best current thinking by a philosopher on these matters is being done by Allen Carlson and I believe he would side with you. Carlson identifies different models for natural aesthetics --one can, for example, single out a rock or tree of small formation of objects for appreciation. But he thinks the more important natural aesthetic should be grounded in ecology--it is perhaps more important both because it is truer to seeing the objects themselves (they are, after all, in artistic terms naturally in situ) and more dangerous if you get things wrong. So, Carlson and some other philosophers think that our environmentally destructive behavior is sometimes based on bad aesthetics or a failure to appreciate the beauty of the natural world as when one (for example) destroys a rich wetland to build a golf course that is (let us imagine) not really needed. So, he (and I) would say it would be unfair (as well as perhaps completely absurd) to criticise a forested mountain range for being a bad desert. One should, instead, see the forested area qua forested area and then judge accordingly (what is the condition of biodiversity? is it an old growth forest? what is the condition of the wildlife? is it an overall healthy ecosystem?) One of Carson's better known essays is wildly anthologized and is called "Appreciation and the Natural Environment."

There is an amusing sub-title of a recent environmental ethics book that captures the current awareness or thesis that aesthetics can be important to our environmental practices: From Beauty To Duty.

Great case! I think that some of the best current thinking by a philosopher on these matters is being done by Allen Carlson and I believe he would side with you. Carlson identifies different models for natural aesthetics --one can, for example, single out a rock or tree of small formation of objects for appreciation. But he thinks the more important natural aesthetic should be grounded in ecology--it is perhaps more important both because it is truer to seeing the objects themselves (they are, after all, in artistic terms naturally in situ) and more dangerous if you get things wrong. So, Carlson and some other philosophers think that our environmentally destructive behavior is sometimes based on bad aesthetics or a failure to appreciate the beauty of the natural world as when one (for example) destroys a rich wetland to build a golf course that is (let us imagine) not really needed. So, he (and I) would say it would be unfair (as well as perhaps completely absurd) to criticise a forested mountain...

Is it true that all people are beautiful? Or is that just a white lie we tell to

Is it true that all people are beautiful? Or is that just a white lie we tell to make non-beautiful people feel better?

My colleagues raise a number of points, some rather puzzling, which deserve more that there is space for here. But some quick reflections:

1. Love of the good, to take Charles's example, may be a fine and noble thing. But something surely can be fine and noble without being beautiful. In fact, by my reckoning, both Charles and Richard seem to be prepared to stretch "beauty" and "beautiful" in ways I don't find at all natural or helpful (I'm wickedly reminded of the old hippie all-purpose "beautiful, man!" when Richard talks of Ghandi). They both seem to think being "worthy of our deep aesthetic delight" is ipso facto sufficient for being beautiful.

Well, in so far as I understand the phrase, I would have thought that the Grosse Fuge, Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment, Titian's The Flaying of Marsyas, and King Lear are, if anything is, worthy of our deepest aesthetic delight. But it would seem a quite inept response to describe any of those as beautiful. The list could be greatly extended. Much that is worthy of great aesthetic delight is not particularly beautiful. Beauty is one (albeit it major) aesthetic virtue among many.

So even if there are indeed qualities of people other than perceptible ones (like looks, gracefulness, voice) that can be "worthy of aesthetic delight" it doesn't follow that they are qualities that make for beauty properly so called.

I suppose Charles and Richard could say that e.g. a great performance of King Lear which drains the audience doesn't engender 'delight', and want to anchor the notion of delight in ideas of aesthetic enjoyment. And making that link might indeed help them in tying the notion of the beautiful back to what is worthy of aesthetic 'delight'. But at the same time, this wouldn't seem to chime at all with their talk of e.g. finding moral character beautiful -- as contemplating someone's morals doesn't seem to give rise to aesthetic delighted enjoyment. At least, not in me.

2. Richard is right that "beautiful" is context-sensitive. But that is consistent with there being a default context in play when (like the original questioner) we ask, straight out, without special indications, whether someone is beautiful. There is a difference between asking, in a default context, whether everyone is beautiful, and asking whether for everyone there is some respect/some context in which they count as beautiful. I don't believe the latter is true either, but even if it were, it wouldn't affect one's response to the former.

3. I'm a bit baffled by Richard's "one might think that every person carries a spark of the divine … and it is hard to imagine what might be more beautiful than that". For I find it difficult to understand what it could mean to say that having such a spark makes a person beautiful. For in so far as I can understand "carries a spark of the divine" it is a claim about potentialities, about what (given the fortune of circumstance, at any rate) we are capable of becoming. But can a potentiality be beautiful? What is beautiful, or otherwise, is surely what is actual. Having a potentiality to be beautiful in God's image is not itself a way of being beautiful, any more than having a potentiality to be wise is itself a way of being wise. (Even if you want to say -- not that I would -- that the fact that a person has a divine spark is beautiful, man, that wouldn't make the person beautiful.)

I could not agree more with Peter's point about the down side of being preoccupied with who looks beautiful or more beautiful than others. But I might add that I think the topic of beauty or even the reality of beauty is important. Though a neglected topic for much of the 20th century, the topic made a re-bound in the latter part of that century (Iris Murdoch, Guy Sircello, Mary Mothersill) and today (see On Beauty by Elaine Scary). And it is becoming more appreciated as an important factor in ethics, especially environmental ethics. See the anthology From Beauty to Duty which includes attention to the ethical implications of our aesthetic appreciation of nature (e.g. if we find a wilderness area beautiful, chances are we will see its destruction for short term economic gains as ugly and morally objectionable). So, are all people beautiful? I agree (quite reluctantly) with Peter. But consider a different question: Would the flourishing and well being of all people be beautiful? Of course we would...

Are there any extensive philosophical examinations of a link between aesthetics

Are there any extensive philosophical examinations of a link between aesthetics and ethics? I had heard that Nietzsche and Rousseau, for example, argued that the two were fundamentally linked. Specifically, I am curious as to whether any philosophers have advanced the position that ethics and morality are sub-fields of aesthetics (an "Aesthetics of Human Behavior", if you will).

Great question. In a sense, the claim (or assumption) that there is a link between a major aesthetic category beauty and ethics / morality goes back to Plato. From a Platonic point of view, is some act is wicked, it is evil, and if some act is ethical it is beautiful (or, in difficult matters), the least ugly act possible. The close link between beauty and moral goods and virtues continues on up through the Renaissance. Today, there is disagreement about the extent to which ethics and aesthetics conflict; some argue that the two realms are altogether different (a standard claim by those who believe in the separation of ethics and aesthetics is that Leni Riefenstahl's film Triumph of the Will is an excellent film aesthetically but morally horrifying) whereas some of us still seek to bring them together. You can get a good overview of the state of play in this debate in the collection Aesthetics and Ethics edited by Jerrold Levinson (Cambridge University Press). In terms of systematic defenses of the link between aesthetics and ethics, you might check out the enigmatic but highly stimulating work of Guy Sircello.

Great question. In a sense, the claim (or assumption) that there is a link between a major aesthetic category beauty and ethics / morality goes back to Plato. From a Platonic point of view, is some act is wicked, it is evil, and if some act is ethical it is beautiful (or, in difficult matters), the least ugly act possible. The close link between beauty and moral goods and virtues continues on up through the Renaissance. Today, there is disagreement about the extent to which ethics and aesthetics conflict; some argue that the two realms are altogether different (a standard claim by those who believe in the separation of ethics and aesthetics is that Leni Riefenstahl's film Triumph of the Will is an excellent film aesthetically but morally horrifying) whereas some of us still seek to bring them together. You can get a good overview of the state of play in this debate in the collection Aesthetics and Ethics edited by Jerrold Levinson (Cambridge University Press). In terms of systematic defenses of the...

I was just looking out my window to admire the loveliness of the mountains and

I was just looking out my window to admire the loveliness of the mountains and trees. It makes me think does the natural world conform to any known aesthetic principles of color, balance, texture, harmony, etc? Or is nature lovely for more mysterious reasons? And supposing it did conform to aesthetic principles are those principles actually derived from nature?...For instance the colors white and blue often go together well and I wonder if this is a good combination because it reminds one of the sky or if the sky just happens to use a good color scheme of blue and white. I am thinking right now, how before a storm, the clouds turn an ominous black, and that does seem awfully symbolic (and aesthetically logical) to my primitive and pre-philosophical mind. It makes me wander if there are other less obvious things like this that I haven't noticed or I don't have the artistic sophistication to see. Have any 19th century romantic philosophers (or any other philosphers for that matter) had anything...

Yes. In the 19th century there were debates over beauty and nature, specifically there was a dispute between Darwin and Wallace about whether evolution could account for natural beauty. Wallace (the co-discoverer of evolution) thought natural beauty signaled something more vital and valuable than can be seen as a by-product of natural selection and adaption. The 19th century also held (or Kant and Hegel did) that natural objects (unlike works of art) lacked an "aboutness"; Constable's painting of a storm might be about the transience of life, whereas the storm itself does not bear out such meaning. Lots of other debates on aesthetics and nature were initiated that are still with us (the difference between beauty and the sublime). Probably the most lively current exchange among philosophers that bears on your experience concerns the extent to which one needs to know ecology (or the relevant natural sciences) to deeply (or more deeply) appreciate the natural world. Would your experience of a valley or lake or mountain range be enhanced if you know the evolutionary history behind such formations? Some believe that such ecology is unnecessary (you can have as deep an awe in the Grand Canyon without background knowledge), but it is tempting to think you can't really delight in what you don't know (though you may delight in mystery).

Yes. In the 19th century there were debates over beauty and nature, specifically there was a dispute between Darwin and Wallace about whether evolution could account for natural beauty. Wallace (the co-discoverer of evolution) thought natural beauty signaled something more vital and valuable than can be seen as a by-product of natural selection and adaption. The 19th century also held (or Kant and Hegel did) that natural objects (unlike works of art) lacked an "aboutness"; Constable's painting of a storm might be about the transience of life, whereas the storm itself does not bear out such meaning. Lots of other debates on aesthetics and nature were initiated that are still with us (the difference between beauty and the sublime). Probably the most lively current exchange among philosophers that bears on your experience concerns the extent to which one needs to know ecology (or the relevant natural sciences) to deeply (or more deeply) appreciate the natural world. Would your experience of a valley...