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Can being constantly surrounded by ugly things and people ruin own's sense of

Can being constantly surrounded by ugly things and people ruin own's sense of the aesthetic? Conversely, can constantly being surrounded by beautiful things and people ruin own's sense of the aesthetic?

Let's start with the phrase "ruin one's own sense of the aesthetic." There might be different ways to interpret that, but the reading that first occurred to me was something like "undermine one's ability to appreciate things aesthetically" or perhaps "undermine one's ability to make sound aesthetic judgements."

In either case, the question isn't just philosophical. It's partly a matter of what the actual psychological effects of being surrounded by beautiful—or ugly—things actually is. And although we might have guesses about the answers, our guesses might not be good ones.

With due regard for the fact that philosophers can't really answer the question, however, we can still ask some rather more conceptual questions. What about aesthetic value might suggest that being surrounded by ugly things could ruin our aesthetic sensibilities? One possible reason is that if we're surrounded by ugliness, we may have trouble noticing things that are beautiful or in some other way aesthetically rewarding. However, it's at least possible that if we only rarely encounter beauty, we might be more attuned to it. Which, if either, of these is true isn't something we can answer by guessing.

A related possibility: it can take time, effort and attention to appreciate the aesthetic value of some things. It could be that if our spirits are beaten down by ugliness, our capacity for certain kinds of subtle perception might be damaged. But again: all we've done is identify a possibility; whether things really work this way is another matter.

At first your second question might seem odd: we might wonder how being surrounded by beauty could ruin our aesthetic sensibility. But it's not too hard to imagine some ways this could work. Perhaps if we're constantly surrounded by beauty we become insensitive to it—we stop noticing. Another possibility: not everything that's aesthetically valuable is beautiful. For example: there's music that I value highly, but that doesn't seem beautiful. It's too fierce for that. It could be that an overdose of beauty makes it hard to appreciate other kinds of aesthetic value.

Though I'll now sound like a broken record, a philosopher can't tell us which of these speculations is correct. But it does seem to me that there's some potentially interesting and fruitful research that might come out of combining methods in experimental psychology with the insights of artists, appreciators of art, and aestheticians. I'd be very curious to see what we'd actually uncover if we pursued this sort of multi-disciplinary investigation.

As long as you mean something straightforward by "sense of the aesthetic," like "sense of taste" or "discernment regarding beauty," I think most people would consider the answer to your first question obvious: Yes. That doesn't mean the answer "Yes" is true, only that it is a common assumption about beauty and one's ability to discern it. The common assumption lies behind arts-education programs for children. The thinking is that if children don’t get exposed to good music, visual art, film, and literature early enough in life, they will not come to take genuine pleasure in it. And where they do not take genuine pleasure in music or poetry, they will have more difficulty telling the fine examples of each from what is crude or catchy or otherwise vulgar. The process probably makes more sense in connection with such complex and difficult cultural productions as Beethoven’s late quartets and Ozu’s films than with natural phenomena. The person completely unexposed to such cultural productions might...

If an environment, or just a very secluded 'biome' was artificially produced

If an environment, or just a very secluded 'biome' was artificially produced would it still be considered 'beautiful'? Even considering that this particular secluded artificial environment had a perfectly in sync ecosystem, was self-sustaining, and never tired of resources for human use, would it still be beautiful and fantastical even though it was subject to human manipulation of Earth natural way of nature?

This feels like a question informed by Kant’s understanding of beauty. Whether it is or not, it’s certainly a question in tune with Kant; because, for Kant, natural beauty dominates his examples of beautiful objects and sets the tone for his analysis of beauty in general. There seems to be a constant suspicion in Kant that art we find beautiful is somehow a contrivance, something put together in a way that the artist knows will appear beautiful to human beings, or at least pleasant in appearance. And because the artist aims at pleasing the human senses, so-called beautiful art threatens to collapse into a species of the merely pleasant.

A beautiful flower, on the other hand, has not been contrived. Kant seems to understand nature mechanistically – or rather, he thinks it is always open to a mechanistic interpretation. And given that it is, the spontaneous appearance of something in nature like a beautiful flower or a magnificent sunset gives one the sense of having discovered beauty, not just been prodded into finding beauty where it had been put.

Mind you, these views do not necessarily have to follow from the basic Kantian principles of beauty and taste. Many readers have drawn quite different conclusions from the Critique of Judgment about what to say about art. But this is Kant’s own application of his basic principles.

The Critique of Judgment entertains the possibility (in section 42) that someone might fake a natural environment, as your example proposes. He grants what the example assumes, that if you didn’t know it had been artificially manipulated you would enjoy the scene exactly as you would enjoy a natural scene. (As I say, the example assumes this much. It wouldn’t be a duplicate landscape unless it looked exactly the same.) But then Kant asks what would happen once the deception was revealed. The nature-lover’s admiration for what had seemed to be the beauty of natural life would disappear, although it might be replaced (Kant adds) with an admiration that follows from the person’s vanity, e.g. the wish to decorate one’s home with these artificial flowers and bushes. (In this connection also see the “General Remark on the First Section of the Analytic.”)

All this is by-the-book Kant. If you are not a Kantian, however, I would think the problems don’t arise. If art can be beautiful, then why shouldn’t artificial nature also be beautiful?

This feels like a question informed by Kant’s understanding of beauty. Whether it is or not, it’s certainly a question in tune with Kant; because, for Kant, natural beauty dominates his examples of beautiful objects and sets the tone for his analysis of beauty in general. There seems to be a constant suspicion in Kant that art we find beautiful is somehow a contrivance, something put together in a way that the artist knows will appear beautiful to human beings, or at least pleasant in appearance. And because the artist aims at pleasing the human senses, so-called beautiful art threatens to collapse into a species of the merely pleasant. A beautiful flower, on the other hand, has not been contrived. Kant seems to understand nature mechanistically – or rather, he thinks it is always open to a mechanistic interpretation. And given that it is, the spontaneous appearance of something in nature like a beautiful flower or a magnificent sunset gives one the sense of having discovered beauty, not just...

what is the reason or purpose for us differentiating between beautiful and ugly.

what is the reason or purpose for us differentiating between beautiful and ugly.

Many answers have been given to this question. Before we try out such answers, consider one broad way to categorize them. Is experiencing beauty about getting us to do something, or is it about our thinking or feeling a certain way? In other words, if there’s a purpose or function to finding things beautiful, do you think that should be a pragmatic function issuing in action? Or can it be a contemplative function issuing in a kind of thinking (or feeling, etc.)?

This might even come down to Yes or No regarding the first question. Sometimes people say something like “The instinct to find people and things beautiful originates in sexual desire. It begins with our wish to propagate.” An answer like that connects the judgment of beauty with action. All the way back to Aristotle, philosophers have objected that beauty can be understood without reference to sexual desire; and in fact it can get complicated to try to trace every sense of beauty to such desire. Consider landscapes, sunsets, etc. More broadly, you could connect those judgments of beauty with a sense of safety. You find open grassy landscapes beautiful because your primitive ancestors connected such sights with safety from predators, etc. Again there is a pragmatic origin to the sense of beauty.

It can be difficult to connect every experience of beauty with such a pragmatic evolutionary argument. But this is the foundation of the discussion. If you want a function for beauty-experiences in the pragmatic, action-oriented sense of the word, that would be a place to start. Otherwise, a contemplative function suggests itself. And here you have greater latitude in explaining what the function of beauty might be.

Many answers have been given to this question. Before we try out such answers, consider one broad way to categorize them. Is experiencing beauty about getting us to do something, or is it about our thinking or feeling a certain way? In other words, if there’s a purpose or function to finding things beautiful, do you think that should be a pragmatic function issuing in action? Or can it be a contemplative function issuing in a kind of thinking (or feeling, etc.)? This might even come down to Yes or No regarding the first question. Sometimes people say something like “The instinct to find people and things beautiful originates in sexual desire. It begins with our wish to propagate.” An answer like that connects the judgment of beauty with action. All the way back to Aristotle, philosophers have objected that beauty can be understood without reference to sexual desire; and in fact it can get complicated to try to trace every sense of beauty to such desire. Consider landscapes, sunsets, etc. More...