Thursday, October 30, 2008

Aesthetics, part 3: Sibley

How is it that we are able to judge art? What concepts, conditions, or properties are necessary for us to make a reliable aesthetic judgement? Perhaps we could use some condition or rule to apply some aesthetic term. However, Sibley argues in his work Aesthetic Concepts that there are "no non-aesthetic features which serve in any circumstances as logically sufficient conditions for applying aesthetic terms [and that] aesthetic or taste concepts are not in this respect condition governed"
WHAT! What does it mean to say that some aesthetic property is not condition governed, or that aesthetic concepts are not? Sibley wants to say that aesthetic concepts are not rule or condition-governed in such a way as to allow us to know that an aesthetic term is correctly applied solely by being able to specify certain non-aesthetic features of that object.  To clarify what Sibley is attempting to say, let us first distinguish amid aesthetic and non-aesthetic properties. 
1) Aesthetic property: Blueness, gracefulness, etc... 
- let us call these aesthetic properties "Alpha (a) properties"
2) Non-aesthetic properties: Curved, blueness, etc...
- let us call these non-aesthetic properties "Beta (b) properties"
So, Sibley is holding that we cannot hold that some work of art is beautiful merely because of some (b), or that because of a set of conditions {(b1), (b2), (b3)}, some art work is beautiful - or it is (a). That some work of art is beautiful in virtue of some (a) or set of (a), is not sufficient for art being, say beautiful. For Sibley, what is important is not the conditions that determine the properties (as per he feels that conditions are not able to govern aesthetic concepts), but rather, the relationships that exist amid the non-aesthetic and aesthetic properties. 
Thus, for any (a) there is no set of (b) sufficient for alpha. 

To further show what Sibley means, let us use an example. Consider what feature/properties might be used to describe (or act as conditions) someone of whom is intelligent; what might some of those conditions be? Perhaps  we could hold that because some person P is good at math, or that (s)he is able to  understand Wittgenstein with ease. However, we might just continue to add to this list almost indefinitely, but as this list may be "indefinite," it can still count in one direction -towards the fact that P is intelligent and not against P being such. Sibley feels that aesthetic concepts are not governed in this way; we cannot apply certain non-aesthetic qualities to something so as to describe or provide sufficient conditions for an aesthetic concept; but Sibley maintains that there are certain non-aesthetic qualities that can point towards the ascription of an aesthetic quality, but not in a decisive manner. Such non aesthetic qualities are only characteristic of the aesthetic quality. 

Sibley's claim can that there are no sufficient conditions for alpha properties (aesthetic properties) can further be supported by  the concept of supervenience:  A set of properties A supervenes upon another set B just in case no two things differ with respect to A properties without also differing with respect to their B-properties. In slogan form, "there cannot be an A-difference without a B-difference." This shows that even if the Beta properties change, the Alpha properties wont be necessarily affected, but if A changes, then B will be. So, if it were the case that Beta acted, in any sense, as a sufficient condition for Alpha, then any alteration in Beta would cause Alpha to also be altered. 

One of the key points in Sibley's essay is how are we able to understand the relations  amid these aesthetic properties. He feels that the only way to ascertain this 'relationship' is by taste; he claimed that the discernment of aesthetic properties requires a special sensitivity, whereas the discernment of non-aesthetic properties could be achieved by anyone with the ability to receive sensory input; however, the ability to posses this 'special sensitivity' was the result of some faculty of taste as a special mental faculty that is possessed by people with a special sensitivity.

The former raise the question: how is it that some people have this special ability? Sibley -indirectly responds to this and similar inquiries. He argues on (page 138-139) that  we are taught the aesthetic concepts at an early age, by parents, teachers, etc... who employ the same methods as the critic.  This causes some concern, however, the first worry is that what about the people who were not taught anything related to the methods of the critic, and what are those methods?

First, for those who can't seem to grasp aesthetic qualities we can -according to Sibley- get them to "see" those aesthetic qualities. The way that we do that is via the critic, and the critic is able to do this by way of 7 methods:
1) Help us to focus on important non-aesthetic qualities that contribute to aesthetic qualities
2) Simply point out the aesthetic quality
3) Linking the non-aesthetic to aesthetic qualities 
4) Using similes 
5) Compare and contrast
6) Repetition and reiteration 
7) Accompany all of this with appropriate body language and tone. 

So, basically we need to get out an experience the art at hand. It should also be noted that there are some worries about how the properties are presented to us, and how art is able to be negatively affected by conditions but not the other way. However, at your relief -AND MINE- I will not attempt to enter such ground! 


Additional web sites and articles
1) SE

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