Why are aesthetics such a muddle?


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Why are aesthetics such a muddle?

Aesthetics are such a muddle because this domain of knowledge, which we call aesthetics, contains a vast kinship of human meanings, attractions, appreciations, needs, qualities, ethics, beauty, art, etc. that can never be resolved into one set of consistent principles; it involves all of the values that humans entertain today and those that we might entertain tomorrow.

Our (American) educational system has indoctrinated us into the belief that all problems are puzzles, i.e. those problems all have a “true” answer if we search diligently enough for it and often the “true” answer is in the ‘back of the book’ or at least on the ‘answer sheet’. Aesthetics is not about puzzle solving but it is about dialogical problem solving.

Another aspect of our aesthetics dilemma is that this domain of knowledge is so intimately intertwined with our mind/body dichotomy, and our mind/body dichotomy is such an integrated aspect of our philosophical and religious heritage.

Our Western philosophical and religious heritage is constructed on a foundation established by our mind/body dichotomy. Our effort to place our self closer to angles and further from animals has led us into a game of “hide the body”. We have contempt for our body because it is too animal like while our spirit sours to heaven. This ‘ugly body complex’ has led us into a “linguistic turn” in philosophy.

Quickie from Wiki:
“The linguistic turn was a major development in Western philosophy during the 20th century, the most important characteristic of which is the focusing of philosophy, and consequently also the other humanities, primarily on the relationship between philosophy and language.”

Is meaning more than words?

The Conceptual-Propositional Theory of Meaning

“Sentences or utterances (and the words we use in making them) alone are what have meaning…Sentences get there meaning by expressing propositions, which are the basic units of meaning and thought…These symbolic representations (usually thought of as concepts) are organized into meaningful propositional structures via formal rules of syntax, and then the propositions are organized into thoughts and arguments via formal rules of logic. According to this objectivist semantics, neither the syntactic rules, nor the logical relations, nor even the propositions themselves have any intrinsic relations to human bodies.”

Why do we slice, dice, and containerize?

We perceive a situation in a gestalt, i.e. our primal perception of our world is as a whole situation containing qualities of various things and people all weaved together like a Persian rug. We begin with an undivided whole, from which our meanings grow. Only after this original act of perception do we slice, dice, and containerize with conscious atomization.

From the original perceptive gestalt we have learned to consciously sort out that which is emotional, practical, and then intellectual. Why did we learn to do this dissection of our experiences? Our eighteenth century Age of Enlightenment developed a culture that made us do it. We had passed through a millennium wherein our Western world was dominated by our Catholic heritage in which all thoughts focused upon the hereafter.

We have created this sterile domain of meaning, which is dependent upon the mind/body dichotomy, without even a nod to Darwin’s theory of natural selection. John Dewey points out in his “Principle of Continuity” the error inherent in this bit of mischief.

Dewey’s Principle of Continuity

“The primary postulate of a naturalistic theory of logic is continuity of the lower (less complex) and the higher (more complex) activities and forms… it precludes reduction of the “higher” to the “lower” just as it precludes complete breaks and gaps…What is excluded by the postulate of continuity is the appearance on the scene of a totally new outside force as a cause of changes that occur.”

SGCS (Second Generation Cognitive Science) has introduced a new theory of cognitive science that sets about providing empirical evidence supporting hypothesis that will help us to resolve this Gordian knot we call aesthetics. SGCS focuses on our misguided comprehension of human meaning as the foundation for our better comprehension of aesthetic problems.

Quotes from The Meaning of the Body by Mark Johnson