Collected Thoughts on Philosophy

I wanted to jot down a few ideas that came up in my last aesthetics class for future reference. Hopefully you’ll find them interesting.

The first is something from Kant, who was trying to deduce what could objectively make art aesthetically pleasing when beauty seems to be so subjective. He gave this as a possible solution (borrowed not from Kant but from the editor’s commentary – see below):

Kant’s model of the experience that leads me to judge an object beautiful is (roughly) that I experience that same kind of unity as occurs in objective judgments, but without any determinant concept or judgment issuing from it. So I feel simply a kind of purposiveness or rightness in the experience itself, and to feel this is fulfilling, without any determinant objective judgment having to be made.

Janaway, Reading Aesthetics and
Philosophy of Art

Just before this he had laid out his theory that human thinking opperated by imagination (perception) supplying sensory information to the understanding, where it was pieced into a coherent picture of the world that makes sense. In short, he’s saying that something about good art leads it to just make sense without any thinking necessary. It feels right.

I think he’s on to something good. I would probably say it something like this: Art’s quality is determined two ways.

  • Composition: This is what Kant referred to: A structure to the piece which makes sense. It varies over time and between cultures, but within a culture is pretty universal. For example, we in the west are so accustomed to reading left to right and top to bottom that we typically read images this way too. A picture which doesn’t read well this way is visually frustrating and unappealing. Judgments about composition can general hold true for all viewers and can be taught.
  • Meaning: This is the wild card that leads you and I to disagree completely about a piece. It can be shaped by the culture, history, the present, personal life, and a million other factors. For example, a piece hung in the art building for a long time that was compositionally moderate; not bad, but not amazing either. However, the piece knocked me over and held me down, because it expressed a feeling I had been missing in my life. I loved the painting, but this judgment could not be universalized. Meaning probably can’t be taught, really, except perhaps for giving a piece context.

Well, if you’re still reading, that is impressive. Onwards to smaller bites!

We started talking about relativism: the idea that there is no universal right or wrong, only the ethics of the day. The example of a small boy torturing a puppy was brought up as something that is hard to imagine being accepted.

There seems to be something natural about avoiding causing unnecessary pain. Of course, a cheetah killing a gazelle causes pain, but it is natural for the cheetah to feed itself. For a person to torture a puppy for fun seems wasteful, but to kill a cow for food is rational and justified.


Later, we got around to the set of danish cartoons depicting Mohammad which led to massive riots and bombings in the Middle East. The question was, were these in bad taste, considering the damage they caused?

I don’t even think it is a matter of taste. If they had any idea that people would die, it’s not right to draw a silly comic anyway. It isn’t worth it. That just seems wrong.

-Another Classmate
(Sorry, forgot the name)

I’d have to disagree. I mean, I understand that it’s a Muslim tenet that a Muslim cannot depict Muhammad. Great. But if everyone had to follow everyone else’s religious restrictions, we would all die of inactivity. So you can say it was wrong for these cartoonist to “offend” someone, especially just over some “silly cartoons”. Really, though, if you’re looking for who is more rational, it isn’t going to be the people killing tons of innocent people over those silly cartoons. As for the cartoonists, of course they shouldn’t draw these cartoons just to incite violence, but if they have a legitimate end in drawing them, it isn’t their fault that someone else drastically overreacts.


Those are all the big points that spring to mind! Hope you enjoyed it!


One Response to “Collected Thoughts on Philosophy”

  1. doug Says:

    “The example of a small boy torturing a puppy ???

    what if it is a large boy???????

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