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Thursday, June 21, 2018

Beauty Restored

In her book Beauty Restored, Mary Mothersill examines the recent trends in aesthetic philosophy. She has an entire chapter on Hume's essay on taste, which she finds muddled. On Immanuel Kant's The Critique of Judgement, she has a chapter and a number of other passages. She supports Kant’s ideas, but disagrees with him on a few points—for instance, she holds that Kant was mistaken in making sublime a separate category from the beautiful.

Her framework of beauty consists of three theses: There are no principles of taste; as the aesthetic judgment is communicable, it must be subject to examination of validity; aesthetic judgment is singular.

Paul Guyer has written an interesting essay (Values of Beauty; Chapter 13: “Mary Mothersill’s Beauty Restored”) on Mothersill’s book. Here's an excerpt from Guyer's essay:
Mothersill undermines three philosophical objections to the otherwise natural assumption that beauty is a property in an object which causes feelings of pleasure in those who observe it. First, it has been held that the causal relationship requires an effect which is an event of change from an antecedent state of affairs, but our pleasure in a beautiful object is not any sort of event; pleasure is not an inner episode like pain but some sort of attitude or even a way of conducting an activity. Second, it is held that causality is a contingent connection between two discrete states of affairs, and so requires that the otherwise appropriate characterizations of the cause and the effect reflect their logical independence; yet beauty and pleasure are no more logically independent, than, say, pleasure and fulfillment of desire. If the fulfillment of desire logically entails pleasure, it cannot cause it, and likewise beauty is actually too closely connected with pleasure to cause it. Finally, it is insisted that cause and effect must each be instances of repeatable kinds, states of affairs between which there can be law-like regularities; but then any assumption of a connection between the beauty of an object and its uniqueness will be precluded.  
Philosophers as profound as Kant have felt the force of these objections, and Mothersill’s refutation of them is masterly. She rejects the arguments, especially the Rylean arguments, against the supposition that pleasure really is any sort of inner episode at all on a number of grounds: pleasure is in fact sufficiently distinct from the rest of our experience of an object to be abstracted from it and sometimes even to interfere with it; pleasure need not be synchronous with the activity that produces it-it may linger on after our encounter with the object is over, or even come to our notice only then; and our several pleasures are not merely ways of talking or otherwise behaving, but inner states which may at least sometimes be hidden and have to be inferred (pp. 282-83). Second, although the “answer to the question, ‘What is the cause of your current pleasure?' is often obvious and unmistakeable"(p. 301), this does not mean that the connection between cause and effect is other than contingent; there is no logical necessity that a beautiful object invariably and obviously please, any more than there is in fact a logical necessity that the fulfillment of desire actually produce the pleasure expected from it. Beauty and the fulfillment of desire almost always please, and it is almost always evident that they are the causes of the pleasures they produce, so the inference from cause to effect is almost always routine. But the exceptional is not the logically impossible, and the connection between beauty and pleasure, like that between fulfillment of desire and pleasure, is in fact a contingent causal connection even if it hardly ever fails or even fails to be obvious.
Guyer also shows that Kant’s explanation of our pleasures in the beautiful and sublime can lead to more meaningful conception of the pleasure in beautiful than Mothersill allows. 

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