aesthetics of magic, wonder… rolling notes

I’m going to update this post throughout the next ten weeks with new information about wonder and the aesthetics of magic or illusion. — 1st week of April :: the aesthetic dilemma, what is beauty? —

In his book, Aesthetics: Key Concepts in Philosophy, Daniel Herwitz introduces a real conundrum: what is beauty? Indeed, it’s not a problem of his own invention… it’s a real problem that has been bugging philosophers for centuries.

“Wait”, you say, “I know what beauty is, at least for me – beauty is in the eye of the beholder – show me beauty and I will see it!” – said with a confidence only parental sources can instill. Indeed, you’re not explicitly wrong in what you’ve said – beauty sometimes feels subjective. It’s in you, its yours, but… are you so sure? For what reason then do you argue with a friend over what piece of art is better (more beautiful)? Surely we normally don’t argue about the subjective. We argue about what we think we can prove – we argue over the facts, we try to convince each other of the truth… and how might you do that with, say, a piece of art?

The fact that we can argue at all over what’s more or less beautiful seems to point to some objective conception of beauty. We try to persuade our friend by pointing to the artwork itself… “look here, THIS art is beautiful”. As though the beauty of which we speak is something we can point to, something anyone ought to be able to see (or hear, taste, etc). A part of us might want to say, beauty it “out there” – not just in us.

That’s really the gist of the aesthetic problem – is beauty subjective or objective? Why do we so strongly insist Shakespeare is better than John Grisham?, then recite our deeply held belief about beauty as a subjective experience? Herwitz spends the first part of his work fleshing out this issue, then he turns to Hume and Kant for possible clarification… we’ll go there next week.

[I’m going to rant about this, because I don’t believe it is much of an issue at all.]

— 2nd week of April :: Humian arguments about aesthetics —

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