February 27, 2013

An Argument for Aesthetics I: Certainty

Aristotelian Logic Square

Reason leaves me cold.

This fact terrifies me. I want to be able to reason from first principles, but when I look at a set- any set- of first principles my mind  goes blank. The words slide over my thoughts like water on oil- finding no foothold in my mind much less in my gut. Rattle off ten different first principles and I couldn't say which I believed and whether those were true or not.

It is only when those first principles are built upon into real world examples that they evoke some reaction. When I can see how human's interactions and characters change because of these held first principles, then I understand why these first principles matter.

But this judgement of action doesn't rely on reason. If I see a heroic man, I know he is heroic without knowing that one of his first principles is 'life is worth living." This knowledge has very little to do with reason and very much to do with the principle of Aesthetics as I understand it.

Listening to a piece of music, your gut tells you right away not only if it is good or bad, but how strongly you value it. Looking at a painting, do you need to measure out the composition and compare the colors to see if you like it?  No. These things are known intuitively and without reason leading towards them. We may indulge our narrative fallacy and fill in logical reasons for why we feel this way, but this feeling comes first. This feeling is what I call our aesthetic: what we find to be beautiful and good.

Like our reasoning, our aesthetic may be swayed by others opinions. Try coming out of a movie with friends and not having your judgement swayed by a friend who thought differently about the film than you. It may become diluted with too much influence- else why are our closets so eclectic. Finally, our aesthetic may evolve- as people moving away from subcultures prove.

What aesthetics offers is a certainty reason fails. Logic is only a tool as good and useful as the first principles it builds upon. If those first principles can not be judged to be correct or incorrect, all the logic in the world doesn't help. But I know whether I find a piece of music beautiful or grating, a dress inspired or ridiculous. I am far more certain of my aesthetic judgement than my philosophical. And that certainty is very reassuring.

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