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Discussion in 'Philosophy and Religion' started by wolly.green, Nov 8, 2019.

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  1. wolly.green

    wolly.green Community Member

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    I recently stumbled upon an excellent Q&A in defense of objective beauty. What are your thoughts? Is he right or is he missing something?

    What is your argument for the existence of objective beauty?

    The argument I like best is about why flowers are beautiful. Flowers evolved to attract insects, and insects evolved to be attracted to flowers. But this explanation leaves a massive gap: it only explains why insects like flowers. So how is it possible that something that evolved to attract insects can be attractive to humans too? I conclude that there must be objective beauty — aspects of beauty exist outside cultural fads or sexual selection. And these aesthetic truths are as objective as the laws of physics or maths.

    If beauty is objective, why is there so much variation in what people consider beautiful?

    Beauty has both a subjective and objective part. Human aesthetic judgment is a complicated mixture of genetic, cultural and objective factors. If you look at paintings from centuries ago, you will find that the women tend to be considerably heavier than what we now consider to be ideal. That can be neither objective nor genetic, so it must be cultural. Our preference for symmetry is probably related to our preference for healthy mates — many diseases and deformities make people less symmetrical. So that one could be genetic.

    Our knowledge of the nature of objective beauty is still primitive. We cannot reliably distinguish between subjective and objective beauty, certainly not by just looking. Things that meet aesthetic preferences built into our brains or instilled by culture look just as beautiful to us as those that are objectively beautiful.

    Why is it important to acknowledge the existence of objective beauty?

    During the twentieth century, some movements denied that there was such a thing as objective truth in science. These movements significantly held back scientific progress. For example, I'm pretty sure quantum computing would have been proposed in the 1950s rather than in the 1980s if it had not been for these beliefs. Because our culture generally denies the existence of objective beauty, research into it is substantially cut down. I'm not aware of any research that looks at the nature of objective beauty.

    How do you counter those who insist that beauty is always subjective?

    It is remarkable how the arguments against objectivity in aesthetics, and in morality, have exact counterparts in classic arguments against objectivity in science. People say we do not have access to the world; we only have access to the interpretations that we put on the world through our senses. The second part is right, but that does not mean we cannot achieve truth. To think that, is to confuse truth itself with some sort of superhuman, certified, reliable access to the truth. For example, the abolition of slavery was an objective moral improvement. It is not just cultural. It is certainly not genetic. It is not a matter of preference. It would still be true that slavery was wrong even if nobody knew that.

    What is the connection between aesthetic beauty and scientific argument?

    Beauty in science is called elegance. Physicists will, as a matter of practice, take elegance as a guide. There is the phrase: many a beautiful theory was slain by an ugly fact. This is very true. But when it happens, we inevitably find an underlying theory that is even more beautiful than the theory that was slain. So beauty cannot be used as a criterion of what is true; but it is at the very least useful as a guide to what to try next.

    What factors do you believe govern human sexual attraction?

    I speculate that human beauty started out just like any other animal beauty — completely biological, and not objective at all. But as humans became intelligent and started making aesthetic judgements, they increasingly tried to improve the aesthetic and other standards by which they chose their mates. And that increasingly led to true standards. So we should find that the common features that have changed in all human populations since our ape ancestors are aspects in which humans have become objectively more beautiful.

    Are you saying that humans have steadily made the world more beautiful in the same way that we have achieved scientific progress?


    Yes. Objective beauty, like objective truth, is subject to open-ended improvement. For example, our knowledge of physics can contain more and more truth, even though no one theory is ever perfectly true. Newton's theory contained more truth than what was there before. But it was superseded by Einstein's theory. And science continues its progress by finding new aspects of reality forever. By contrast, something that is subjective reaches a maximum and then stops.

    We discover aesthetic truths in the same way as we discover scientific truths, even if the methods look different. It is conjecture and improvement according to some standard; then improvement of the very standards; then criticism of existing ideas according to these standards; and so on.

    Aesthetic progress has been a lot slower than scientific progress because people can only express in words a tiny proportion of what they know about beauty. But humans have achieved an enormous amount. Mozart and Beethoven improved artistic standards in music. And films have become more beautiful in the past century.

    Only humans can improve on beauty. When nature achieves beauty it is an accidental by-product of something else. Nature can only get so beautiful, but humans can paint something that is more beautiful than any scene.
     
  2. Ren

    Ren Pin's android and co-founder of Stoic Café

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    Flowers again!
     
  3. Milktoast Bandit

    Milktoast Bandit Welcome to the 2019 Chicken Sandwich War

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    On most days, I am not an insect. I am not attracted to flowers. Flowers are ugly and foul. I am beauty.
     
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  4. Ren

    Ren Pin's android and co-founder of Stoic Café

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    [​IMG]
     
  5. John K

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    I'm just not convinced that beauty is an intrinsic feature of the world rather than in the eye of a beholder. It could be argued that the force of gravity is equally a construct of consciousness, but that only applies to the theories, which themselves are approximations. The components of the universe danced to the tune of the forces acting on them long before any life existed, or we would not be here now to tell the tale. I'm not at all clear that beauty came into existence with the big bang in the same way - but that is skepticism not rejection.
     
  6. Ren

    Ren Pin's android and co-founder of Stoic Café

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    What kind of construct would it be? Like a concept in the mind?

    What kind of entity would it 'reduce' to ontologically?

    Not putting you on the spot here — I'm thinking of a possible reaction to your point but I'm just curious to hear more first. Hopefully it will be relevant to beauty as well.
     
  7. John K

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    Well I can't put philosophical rigour into this but I'll try and amplify by rambling around a bit. I'm taking it as a given that the world has objective reality here btw. When we examine it, we see that it behaves in particular ways that are systematic and predictable. We seek to explain this by modelling aspects of it with sufficient accuracy that we can both confirm our understanding of its behaviour and can actually predict it to a high degree of accuracy within a given scope of validity. It's vital though that we don't confuse these predictive models with the actual processes that take place in nature or they bind us to them even in domains where they are wrong. Perhaps an analogy would be to confuse the word 'rose' with the class of objects that it labels, and then go on to use it as a label for other types of plant as well.

    So - roses exist even if there were no people to name them and enjoy them. Similarly, the universe is there, doing it's thing, regardless of whether we are about or not, and was for billions of years before us. The processes we model with our description of gravity and its associated laws did not need this human conceptualisation in order to operate. Even the way I'm expressing it here is anthropomorphic, using terms such as process and operate. Nontheless, we can see from observation that the universe organised itself very happily from just after the big bang till now in ways that are consistent with our scientific models.

    Now I'm not at all clear that we can think of beauty in an analogous way. We certainly experience it, but it seems to me that we can't demonstrate that the universe expresses it without a perceiver in the same way that its substance is seen to behave even when there is no observer. Now it could be argued that this is misleading, because we are confirming the way the world worked long before life existed by looking back in time through astronomy. To use this as an argument would bring new challenges with it though because it would imply that the processes we describe with physics only operated bllions of years ago once we observed them in their distant future.
     
  8. OP
    wolly.green

    wolly.green Community Member

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    The human mind is not an intrinsic feature of the world either, nor was it around during the big bang, yet you would not argue that it doesn't exist. Further, our conception of the human mind is only an abstract representation, yet again, you would not use that as a reason to deny its existence.
     
    #8 wolly.green, Nov 8, 2019
    Last edited: Nov 8, 2019
  9. John K

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    That's very true but, unless we reject the idea of an objective world, there didn't need to be a human mind already in existence for one to emerge. It isn't clear to me that beauty can exist without a mind to perceive it. But I hasten to add that I'm agnostic, not atheist on this - I would be delighted if beauty were found to be an independent, objective feature of our world. I just don't see any evidence for that. I could certainly make a spiritual case for the independence of beauty - for example arguing that it is a quality that God has put into the world he has created, or from a pantheistic perspective that it's intrinsic to the universal spirit of the world. This sort of approach would only satisfy people who share these world views though.
     
  10. OP
    wolly.green

    wolly.green Community Member

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    Yes, but you can make the same argument for beauty. Beauty didn't need to exist already in order to emerge from it... This argument doesn't really work. What exactly is your objection to the idea that beauty is objective? Beauty has some elements of subjectivity, but that is no argument that non of it is objective.
     
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  11. John K

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    Well it's not an objection as such - more a lack of a way I can get a handle on it to make it objective. It sounds a bit like trying to make a case that a colour such as green has a existence independent of its experience by an observer - we certainly see green (well most of us) but it isn't a true property of an object but a feature of the way our eyes and brains interpret light of a particular set of wavelengths reflected or generated by the object.
     
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  12. Hostarius

    Hostarius Magniloquent Malapert

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    Who is this? This is a position statement rather than an argument. The only vague attempt at argument here is the example of flowers, but that is just a category-mistake.

    Of course human beings don't find flowers beautiful because of the evolutionary codependence between flowers and insects, that's ridiculous. Human beings find flowers beautiful because a blooming flower indicates an environment suitable for habitation. The fine balance of moisture, light (but not too much), soil nutrients and insect life it takes to make a flower bloom is a strong sign that a place will be fecund in geberal. In fact, following the flowers is a good way for a nomadic species to evade extremes of temperature (because plants stop growing below 0 and above 30degC) and find new places to settle.

    Flowers, therefore, are an evolutionarily programmed symbol that means 'stop walking - you're at your new home. Relax. Breathe'. It has nothing to do whatever with their relationship with insects except indirectly.

    This is the fundamental problem - 'beauty', as a concept, cannot preexist mind (perceivers).

    In the same way, mathematics cannot preexist mind, though the natural rules mathematics approximates to describe them can.

    There seems to me no reason why this isn't true of beauty also - beauty cannot preexist mind, but the natural rules it describes can. The thing is, there seems to be a kind of spiritual aversion to the 'natural rules' we take to be informing our concept of beauty - the evolutionary, the psychological.

    These are the objective foundations of 'beauty', but for some reason they are unsatisfactory to you wolly - why is this?

    Personally, I would agree with John that it would be wonderful if 'beauty' were indeed encoded deeply into nature independent of mind, but that only appears to be the case in terms of evolution and psychology.
     
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  13. OP
    wolly.green

    wolly.green Community Member

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    This can't be true. Most flowers that exist on earth are not native to the Savannah, yet we can still find them attractive. Further, we inhabit and make a living in environments where flowers do not bloom. We have been doing it for thousands of years. Whats more, this does not explain why we should find certain animals beautiful, even animals that evolved on completely different continents and in completely different environments.
     
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  14. OP
    wolly.green

    wolly.green Community Member

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    These kinds of arguments were once used to deny the existence of objective truth. They almost put an end to science. So why should they be persuasive here, but not in when rejecting science?
     
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  15. Hostarius

    Hostarius Magniloquent Malapert

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    And yet they are still flowers - there is morphological similarity that we recognise.

    'You say human beings evolved to digest cooked meat, and yet there are humans who don't eat meat. They've been doing it for thousands of years.'

    What is this argument really? The existence of a behavioural adaptation is not disproved by that behaviour not being exhibited in certain environments - in those cases, other drives take precedence.

    'Men live in the Arctic, therefore we didn't evolve in the savannah.' Come on, Wolly, it's just silly.

    Of course it does. Those novel species have morphological or behavioural similarities to species we've been adapted to respond to in certain ways after hundreds of millions of years of evolution (don't just focus on the transition to anatomically modern humans in E Africa).

    A 'snake thing' is a snake for as much as our instincts care.
     
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  16. Hostarius

    Hostarius Magniloquent Malapert

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    That's a slippery slope argument, and furthmore it isn't true.

    'These kind of arguments' never threatened to put an end to science, what are you talking about? :tearsofjoy:
     
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  17. Hostarius

    Hostarius Magniloquent Malapert

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    What the actual fuck, wolly?

    These arguments are just weak sauce, what are you doing? Are you trolling us or something? I don't get it.
     
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  18. OP
    wolly.green

    wolly.green Community Member

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    Yes they did. Instrumentalism and logical positivism are the best examples.Their basic premise is that truth is not an inherent property of physical reality, it is a property of conscious observers. Therefore truth does not exist. Also im not kidding, logical positivism was a terrible movement that really did almost destroy science.
     
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  19. Milktoast Bandit

    Milktoast Bandit Welcome to the 2019 Chicken Sandwich War

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    Fake ass bitch
     
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  20. Pin

    Pin "Magnificent Bastard" / Ren's Counterpart

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    Minor asymmetry, at least with respect to human faces.
     
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