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The beautiful and the meaningless

 
 
Reply Mon 8 Mar, 2010 01:37 pm
The Greeks pondered the beautiful, the just, and the good. Back in those days, it was prudent to ask whether one doubted these. The appropriate response was to deny any doubt-- never mind the countless and fruitless investigations.

What is the beautiful? Is it more or less like the just and/or the good? Is it some category or mathematical set in which we might identify something fundamental to beauty-- like symmetry or asymmetry or something singular?

Let us look at the grammar of the word. I could say that 'The Last Supper' by Da Vinci is beautiful and I could also say a sunset is beautiful. In fact, I could say they are beauty, and nothing would be lost or gained by my remark. But it is impossible that I might compare them. It could make no sense for me to say "I would prefer a sunset to a painting on my wall". If I cannot compare beauty against beauty and reveal differences, how then could I find similarities?

In short: To describe something beautiful is no different than to describe something. And comparing and contrasting 2 somethings leaves beauty out of the equation.

.........................................................................................................

One a side note, it seems that comparing classical composers is just that-- comparing personalities.

I say I prefer Beethoven to Wagner and remark how Beethoven overcame deafness to produce pieces much adored, and Wagner succumbed to popularity. Beethoven wrote for God and Wagner wrote to pump you up.

To compare a musical piece against another is as bland as comparing musical instruments against another-- and falls completely into the descriptive realm. To declare the number of strings on the guitar to clarify why the guitar is beautiful is one thing, but to claim that the guitar is better than the piano because of this is an entirely different thing and has nothing to do with beauty.

Just as I cannot say a sunset is more beautiful than The Last Supper because of its colors.
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Fido
 
  1  
Reply Mon 8 Mar, 2010 08:37 pm
@jack phil,
They are all moral judgements... What is more beautiful is what contributes to life...
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jack phil
 
  1  
Reply Wed 10 Mar, 2010 06:27 pm
@jack phil,
My point was to reveal how senseless it is to speak like that: "More beautiful"

To what end can we say that a sunset is 'more beautiful' than a great painting?

We would set up sides and describe each. But no comparison could ever be made because the very nature of the argument would be quite silly. I mean, we could give it a shot if you wanted: you could even pick which side you wished to defend.
HexHammer
 
  1  
Reply Thu 18 Mar, 2010 08:19 am
@jack phil,
jack;138454 wrote:
My point was to reveal how senseless it is to speak like that: "More beautiful"

To what end can we say that a sunset is 'more beautiful' than a great painting?

We would set up sides and describe each. But no comparison could ever be made because the very nature of the argument would be quite silly. I mean, we could give it a shot if you wanted: you could even pick which side you wished to defend.
Beauty is what posetivly stimulate our senses, some find beauty in music, numbers, flesh (sex), paintings, family, war ..etc.

It is subjective, rap music may seem as pure noise to a classically minded music lover, whilst classic music may appear dull to a rap lover.

1 mans trash, may be another's fortune.
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mickalos
 
  1  
Reply Tue 23 Mar, 2010 11:24 am
@jack phil,
jack;138454 wrote:
My point was to reveal how senseless it is to speak like that: "More beautiful"

To what end can we say that a sunset is 'more beautiful' than a great painting?

We would set up sides and describe each. But no comparison could ever be made because the very nature of the argument would be quite silly. I mean, we could give it a shot if you wanted: you could even pick which side you wished to defend.


It seems perfectly natural to me to make comparisons of beauty; nobody complains about Sonnet 18. Exactly how would the argument be 'quite silly'? Any sillier than arguments in ethics?

I think Damien Hirst's The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind Someone Living is beautiful, but not as beautiful as something like an impressionist landscape, perhaps (although that's not to say anything about their respective artistic merit). This seems perfectly coherent to me, and most others with a proper grasp of the English language, I should think.

Heavy industry is uglier than Penelope Cruz.

Compared to other women, Lady Gaga is hardly beautiful.

Henry Moore's sculptures are more beautiful than classical sculptures.

All of these statements seem perfectly sensible to me.
Fido
 
  1  
Reply Tue 23 Mar, 2010 08:26 pm
@mickalos,
mickalos;142655 wrote:
It seems perfectly natural to me to make comparisons of beauty; nobody complains about Sonnet 18. Exactly how would the argument be 'quite silly'? Any sillier than arguments in ethics?

I think Damien Hirst's The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind Someone Living is beautiful, but not as beautiful as something like an impressionist landscape, perhaps (although that's not to say anything about their respective artistic merit). This seems perfectly coherent to me, and most others with a proper grasp of the English language, I should think.

Heavy industry is uglier than Penelope Cruz.

Compared to other women, Lady Gaga is hardly beautiful.

Henry Moore's sculptures are more beautiful than classical sculptures.

All of these statements seem perfectly sensible to me.

The notion of more beauty is silly because beauty is an infinite, and our understanding of beauty will forever be subjective...There will never by a universal measuring tape, nor continuum of beauty, so we should always say: I prefer this scene to that painting, or vice versa...
ughaibu
 
  1  
Reply Tue 23 Mar, 2010 08:35 pm
@Fido,
Fido;142787 wrote:
There will never by a universal measuring tape, nor continuum of beauty, so we should always say: I prefer this scene to that painting, or vice versa...
For heterosexual men, naked women are more beautiful than maggot infested corpses of dogs. Seems like a true statement to me.
mickalos
 
  1  
Reply Tue 23 Mar, 2010 09:03 pm
@Fido,
Fido;142787 wrote:
The notion of more beauty is silly because beauty is an infinite, and our understanding of beauty will forever be subjective...There will never by a universal measuring tape, nor continuum of beauty, so we should always say: I prefer this scene to that painting, or vice versa...


And there you have it! A perfectly sensible way of understanding what is meant when one makes an assertion in the form of "X is more beautiful than Y." I don't think such a statement should be taken as meaning exactly "I prefer X to Y", because then we cannot account for aesthetic disagreements. For example, if I were to say, "X is more beautiful than Y", and you were to reply "Y is more beautiful than X", we would clearly understand ourselves to be in disagreement. Yet, if the two statements were semantically equivalent to "I, Mickalos, prefer X to Y," and "I, Fido, prefer Y to X," which are two statements which are consistent with each other, which is the same reason why simple subjectivity is not a credible position in ethics. An analysis that takes account of the subjective character of sentiment, but still allows for disagreement is required, emotivism, for example. "X is more beautiful than Y" is equivalent to "X: WOW!!! and Y: wow!", or something like that.

Although, I'm not sure what you mean by "beauty is infinite". A set can be infinite, or a series of numbers can be infinite; however, clearly 'infinite' is not a word that can be applied to beauty. I take you to mean that one cannot speak of degrees of beauty, which is obviously false. Indeed, I just have, and so have you with your talk of aesthetic preference relations.
Razzleg
 
  1  
Reply Tue 23 Mar, 2010 10:10 pm
@mickalos,
Wouldn't the way the word was used determine its meaning (or whether it had meaning at all?) Certainly, we often use the term "beautiful" to refer to our subjective enjoyment of an object or situation. But is it possible that there are circumstances where the term's use implies more than subjective content? If so, comparisons are not nonsensical. The question seems to be: what are the circumstances in which such a comparison could meaningfully take place?

In the development of modern Western aesthetics, where debates about relative beauty are relevant, a certain homogeneity of artistic purpose or common aesthetic criteria were accessible to support or dispute a value judgment. Assumed, i might add, both by the people appreciating the works and the artists creating them. For example, when Kant was working on the Critique of Judgment European painting was almost exclusively realist. The value of the painting was determined by the accuracy of the painting's portrayal of it's subject and the effectiveness of the style. (The degree to which the Enlightenment sense of beauty relied upon the distinction of style and subject should probably be taken into account. As style has assumed greater importance than subject matter, or more appropriately as the two concepts are increasingly seen to be indistinguishable, the appeal to common aesthetic principles has become more difficult as styles proliferate.)

It might be difficult to determine, personal preference aside, which would be more beautiful when comparing two very different objects. But if the two things share enough features, or are subject to the same criteria, then a judgment of relative value might be meaningfully made as regards even so ephemeral a quality as beauty. Two paintings might be compared based on the skill of the rendering and similar stylistic technique, even if the two paintings represent different types of subject.

On the other hand, if two people are engaged in debate regarding, say, the beauty of a painting of a sunset vs. an actual sunset, i think things become more complicated. I don't think that this comparison is meaningless, but the principles upon which one would base a judgment are certainly less clear. It could not be based on the accuracy of the representation, obviously. Perhaps it would require the interlocuters to agree upon the beauty of a third object in order to gauge their respective appreciation of the objects in question. In the example above, what if the two people agreed that the sunset two evenings before was the most beautiful both had ever seen? Then they would have something to compare both the painting and the current sunset to. As they enumerated the similarities and dissimilarities of each of the debated objects to the perfect sunset, they could slowly peel away their respective personal reasons for preferring each thing, the painting and the view, and come to an agreement. (of course, in a way I am kind of falling back on the principles I relied upon in the first example, since the actual sunset being evaluated is sort of being critiqued as it resembles or represents it's "perfect" counterpart. Perhaps that invalidates my point.)

These sorts of considerations sometimes open our eyes to aspects of things that our immediate, personal take does not. One's understanding of beauty can be both broadened and deepened. Of course, just as often this is not going to happen, and the word beautiful will remain both contested and a mere stand-in for the word "preferred."

Edit: I reread this post a few hours after I wrote it. I found some of the phrasing a bit clunky and roundabout, so I've edited it for clarity's sake. Hopefully, I've managed to make it a little less clumsy. I've also pointed out a potential weakness in my argument that I noticed during my revision.
0 Replies
 
prothero
 
  1  
Reply Tue 23 Mar, 2010 10:59 pm
@jack phil,
Now we are not saying that "beauty" itself is meaningless, are we?
We are only saying that trying to compare different "forms" or "types" of beauty is meaningless?
Largely because beauty does not lend itself to the type of objective, rational, mathematical or scientific analysis of material objects?
I am guessing this type of assertion has no sympathy for such views as
"Beauty is the splendor of truth"
or
"Beauty is a direct appeal to the truth of subjective experience"
or the Platonic notion that things are beautiful in so far as they correspond to their divine ideal eternal perfect forms. The forgetten memories of the soul.
kennethamy
 
  1  
Reply Wed 24 Mar, 2010 12:38 am
@mickalos,
mickalos;142655 wrote:
It seems perfectly natural to me to make comparisons of beauty; nobody complains about Sonnet 18. Exactly how would the argument be 'quite silly'? Any sillier than arguments in ethics?

I think Damien Hirst's The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind Someone Living is beautiful, but not as beautiful as something like an impressionist landscape, perhaps (although that's not to say anything about their respective artistic merit). This seems perfectly coherent to me, and most others with a proper grasp of the English language, I should think.

Heavy industry is uglier than Penelope Cruz.

Compared to other women, Lady Gaga is hardly beautiful.

Henry Moore's sculptures are more beautiful than classical sculptures.

All of these statements seem perfectly sensible to me.


Somehow, it does not seem to me that Miss Cruz would take that comparison as a compliment. It would sound better as, "Penelope Cruz is more beautiful than heavy industry" but even then, you should not expect Miss Cruz to be overwhelmed by your charm. If you are trying to date Miss Cruz, I advise you to hire Cyrano de Bergerac. You don't seem to be adept at this kind of thing.

There might even be a philosophical point lurking here. To call something (or someone) beautiful is not only to describe, but to praise (or in this case, to compliment). Maybe that is why your remark might sound a little (shall we say) gauche to Miss Cruz. It is not compliment to tell a young woman that heavy industry is uglier than she is. I hope I need not tell you that.
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Razzleg
 
  1  
Reply Wed 24 Mar, 2010 04:16 am
@prothero,
It also might be relevant in this context to question how objects are beautiful. Obviously, when one says that an object is beautiful, it is not the same as saying that the object is red or blue or fast or slow.

If the beauty of an object exists only as it relates to a perceiver, then perhaps beauty is only subjective.

If the beauty of an object resides in its relationship with other objects, either as a manifestation of an ideal or as the extant example of a type, then presumably beauty is objective and relative. Of course, in this case I'm assuming that the relationships between said objects exist independently of any perceiver.

Or perhaps the beauty of the object exists in the relationship of the object to itself, as an internal relationship of its various components or qualities to each other. For example, proportion and rhythm.

Since all of these relationships exist, it is not unlikely that all of them are regarded as beautiful at some time or other, regardless of whether the relationship is perceiver-dependent or not. Perhaps the relative value of the term depends upon which relationship one is regarding at the time.
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Khethil
 
  1  
Reply Thu 1 Apr, 2010 03:20 pm
@jack phil,
jack;137602 wrote:
In short: To describe something beautiful is no different than to describe something. And comparing and contrasting 2 somethings leaves beauty out of the equation.


This quantitative aspect which you are questioning (more beautiful, etc), I see as simply an expression of intensity by that particular perceiver. I wouldn't try to cast such expressions as absolute-quantitative conclusions that might be tallied; its simply a by-product of someone wanting to express the effect one - as opposed to another, perhaps - had on them. And yes, it's quite subjective.

Let's forgive them their mathematical innacuracies, such expressions are our way of blundering through the dark halls of language to communicate that which cannot be passed with mere words.

... or so methinks.
0 Replies
 
Fido
 
  1  
Reply Thu 1 Apr, 2010 06:02 pm
@ughaibu,
ughaibu;142788 wrote:
For heterosexual men, naked women are more beautiful than maggot infested corpses of dogs. Seems like a true statement to me.

Read Baudelaire comparing his love to a dead animal...Une Chargon I think it is...
0 Replies
 
sometime sun
 
  1  
Reply Thu 1 Apr, 2010 06:24 pm
@prothero,
Beauty could be the incomparative, nothing else like it, for the object or the objectifyer.
Once in a lifetime.
Which could in fact be termed illogical because it can never be proved.
Once in a lifetime.
Over before its has ended.
0 Replies
 
Fido
 
  1  
Reply Thu 1 Apr, 2010 09:22 pm
@jack phil,
Beauty is death... Did you ever see one of those cephalopods do a light show before a fascinated fish... Surely it is beautiful... I would watch myself, even with the certain knowledge that it was an invitation to death... Well that is what it is...I have suffered great beauty, and said: now I can die...

How many hang on to beauty while the world goes about taking the money out of it until to have beauty, people starve to death..


The beauty of nature is a wonder to behold, from side to side, and top to bottom, large and small; and yet the world belongs to all those who have learned to turn beauty to profit... Seems rather vulgar that grown men should set such great store in the pictures of dead presidents...It should remind us that death there equals death all over, and the greater the payout the sooner all of nature will be bound and handed over, dead or alive...
0 Replies
 
 

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