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In Defense of Subjectivity: Sound, Color, Beauty

September 6, 2015

I am aware from the many conversations I’ve had where people have run circles around me that I am not a particularly stellar philosophical thinker, but there is something that I’ve thought for a while that I wanted to try to put onto paper.

Frequently, in conversations, people argue for the objective existence of certain qualities that I perceive/conceive of as subjective — but even more, I perceive and conceive of these things as not really making a lot of sense as being objective. To this extent, while I may be able to conceive of objective models for these things, I don’t see how those models or definitions are particularly helpful, and sometimes, I think they may be harmful to our discussion of these things.

Morality is usually the biggest ticket item for which this applies. People seem to really like the idea of an objective morality in a way that I just don’t get the appeal of. Believers in objective moral values (as well as objective frameworks for other concepts I will discuss as well) seem to also believe that if something does not have an objective basis, then it does not actually exist, or it must be an illusion. I think I want to get to morality in a future post, but since I see parallels in a few other concepts, I want to discuss those first.

I want to put onto paper my thoughts about the subjectivity of the concepts in the title — sound, color, beauty [and eventually morality] — as well as sketch out why, to a subjectivist, objectivity isn’t necessarily the end-all, be-all for “what exists” or “what matters, etc.,

In the title of this post, I’ve arranged three concepts in terms of what I find to be “easy” to “hard” (and in my previous paragraph, I have a fourth concept that is even more “difficult”) in terms of my perception of how likely someone might be persuaded by my explanation. Instead of addressing the “hardest” of these (morality), or even the second “hardest” (beauty, of which the following post from Agellius’s blog has really inspired this blog post as Agellius’s thoughts seem to be a good representation of the “objectivist’s” viewpoint), I want to start from the easier ones.

If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?

fallen tree in forest

As I mentioned above, I don’t consider myself a particularly good philosopher. I am effectively philosophically illiterate; my philosophy knowledge is either from my own thinking (and being bashed about on the interwebs), from overhearing various theories and thinkers from other articles, or from reading summarizing articles at places like Wikipedia or Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. I therefore do not apologize to ripping wholesale from Wikipedia in this post.

The question I’ve highlighted first, that great thought experiment on sound, hinges on a few different things, but the basic idea is: what is sound? For this, I go to Wikipedia on sound first:

In physics, sound is a vibration that propagates as a typically audible mechanical wave of pressure and displacement, through a medium such as air or water. In physiology and psychology, sound is the reception of such waves and their perception by the brain.

This right here captures to me how the objectivist and subjectivist would differ on this thought experiment.

I think that the objectivist thinks about the physical definition. From that definition, one might say that just because this tree’s falling isn’t actually heard in this instance, there is still a vibration wave of pressure and displacement, there is still presumably a medium through which that wave could be heard (if there had been someone to hear it.)

I would note that even in this “objective” definition of sound (that does not depend on any observer actually being present), there is still a reference to the potential of an observer to hear had there been one. So, in contrast, we say that in space “there is no sound” because even if there are vibration waves, there is no medium through which one could hear those waves, so even if there is an observer, the vibration waves would not be audible. Consequently, even an “objective” definition of sound is made in reference to what would have happened if a potential observer had been there.

So, that’s the objectivist. The subjectivist, however, looks at that latter definition…sound is the reception of such waves and their perception by the brain. The subjectivist recognizes that humans generally share similar biology and mechanics on terms of processing waves, and as a result, we may talk about sound being a certain way. We may say, based on our understanding that humans generally share a particular biology, that deviations from that biology are disabilities (e.g., deafness) because we take being able to process certain wavelengths as being normal (in a statistical sense, at the very least.) But the important thing to note is that this “normality” is not objective. It still hinges on subjectivity. It is normality with reference to particular subjective beings evaluating particular criteria.

As I read through the back and forth on the wikipedia article for this thought experiment, I am struck by some other relevant perspectives on this. For example, the article mentions George Berkeley’s subjective idealism. In there is the idea that perhaps, if there are no observers, then one might say that the tree’s very existence is in question. To summarize subjective idealism, “to be is to be perceived” — and Berkeley applied that not just to sound, but to trees. (And I am vaguely aware that he later goes on to say that the tree still exists because even if there aren’t human observers, God saves the day [and the rest of the universe] by observing all things in the universe at all times.)

However, for the purposes of my defense of subjectivity, I am not taking Berkeley’s far-reaching metaphysics. I can see a distinction between the sound that a tree makes and the tree itself in that I think that we colloquially define and use sound in subjective terms (even if we do so inconsistently), while we do not colloquially define the criteria for the existence of trees in subjective terms (as Berkeley’s subjective idealism proposes.) In other words, while the physiological and psychological definition of sound (as subjective as it is) will make sense to a lot of people, Berkeley’s “to be is to be perceived” will not necessarily have the same reception. (And I know that what “a lot of people” think isn’t a slam dunk case for anything…I’m just saying that it can count as a heuristic for reasonableness. I understand reasonable people can also disagree.)

Color

I think that similar principles for sound can be applied to color, although I think people may be more resistant to this at first.

Again, to steal from Wikipedia:

Color…is the visual perceptual property corresponding in humans to the categories called red, blue, yellow, etc. Color derives from the spectrum of light (distribution of light power versus wavelength) interacting in the eye with the spectral sensitivities of the light receptors. Color categories and physical specifications of color are also associated with objects or materials based on their physical properties such as light absorption, reflection, or emission spectra. By defining a color space colors can be identified numerically by their coordinates.

Because perception of color stems from the varying spectral sensitivity of different types of cone cells in the retina to different parts of the spectrum, colors may be defined and quantified by the degree to which they stimulate these cells. These physical or physiological quantifications of color, however, do not fully explain the psychophysical perception of color appearance.

Again, just this snippet provides the tools to fashion objective definitions and then subjective definitions.

I think that the objectivist would be drawn to aspects like the spectrum of light, the wavelengths, and so forth. So, red is wavelength roughly 620–740 nanometers. Sounds pretty objective, right?

The subjectivist response would look, as with sound, toward the perceptual aspects. We recognize that human biology and physiology typically yields similar perceptual responses to certain wavelengths of colors, but that human biology and physiology put the ball into the subjective court. To different observers with different physiologies, there may be different responses to color. We see this with other humans (e.g., those with color-blindness…), but we can also see this by evaluating different species (e.g., dogs on one “side”…bees on another “side”). Different mechanics for different observers yield different perceptions.

Not to withstand that the brain has its own processing foibles with various lighting mechanics, surrounding colors, and so forth.

The Dress - Blue and Black or White and Gold?

As with sound, we may set statistical norms based on our understanding of human biology as being generally similar to one another…so we set deviations from the norm as disabilities (e.g., color-blindness). But these are set within particular parameters with respect to certain observers (so we don’t say that humans are color-blind with respect to the variety of ultraviolet colors that bees can see.)

But with color in particular, the philosophy gets a bit weirder…but more favorable for the subjectivist. Because as we are talking about all these objective aspects of color like wavelength and rods and cones and physiology and whatnot, we are totally avoiding questions of what it feels like to perceive that wavelength, and also how we can be sure that two people are perceiving similarly. Enter the topic of qualia. These topics are generally meant to discussion whether physicalism has deficiencies in its account, but I just want to emphasize that these questions ultimately concern whether subjective experience adds something to the table.

Beauty

As I move from basic elements like color and sound to more abstract concepts like beauty, I recognize that although the explanation might seem a little more amorphous, the basic ideas are the same. As I noted above, this post was inspired greatly by Agellius’s 2009 post arguing about beauty as an objective fact. Agellius’s post was arguing about whether such beauty could occur by chance or whether a better explanation is design, but that is not what I want to focus on. I want to focus on this one aspect from his post:

You write, “But again, your argument hinges on beauty being more than an invented human concept and beauty being objective. Neither of those two premises are substantiated.”

I disagree that it’s not substantiated.

When you say that beauty is subjective only, what you are saying is that objectively, there is no beauty. Which is the same as saying, beauty doesn’t exist. People who believe that beauty exists, are suffering an illusion. But I don’t believe I am suffering an illusion when I contemplate beautiful things, any more than I believe love and trust are illusions when I contemplate my wife. Further, people in every culture and from every period of time have understood and appreciated beauty. I don’t believe the entire human race has been suffering delusions in doing so. Rather, I believe the universality of the concept of beauty reflects its objective existence; just as the universality of the concept of love reflects the objective existence of love.

I quote this selection because this captures what I suspect many “objectivists” feel about subjective frameworks on a variety of issues. If something does not objectively exist, then it doesn’t exist at all. If something only exists subjectively, then that is an illusion or a delusion. Illusions or delusions have a negative connotation (they are not desirable things to have). But since we do not view that beauty, love, morality, etc., are undesirable things to have, they cannot be illusions or delusions. Therefore, we must be motivated to believe in their objective existence.

But I think that “objective” or “illusion” is a false dichotomy, or maybe begging the question from the objectivist’s perspective. In other words, either there is something in between “objective” and “illusion”…or, even if it is illusory, we should recognize that some sorts of illusions can still be desirable, meaningful, etc.,

So, here it goes:

When someone says “beauty is subjective only,” then they are indeed saying that objectively — meaning, without relationship to any subjective minds — there is no beauty. But it does not follow that beauty therefore doesn’t exist, because objective things aren’t necessarily the only things that exist. For subjectivists, there are a class of things that are defined subjectively, and whose existence is defined subjectively. I’ve already discussed this for things like color and sound, but I would say that beauty fits in this category.

Even more importantly, for this class of subjectively-defined things, the meaning or value or importance of these things is not based on whether they objectively exist or not, but precisely on our subjective experiencing of these things. Beauty is meaningful to us not because it may or may not be something “out there” but because when we are alive, when we are conscious, we experience the response and perception that things are beautiful. (This post isn’t going to address love and trust in particular, but since Agellius mentions them, I’ll say: when we love, love is meaningful to us not because it is something “out there” but because it is something “in here”, for ourselves and our beloved. Same with trust.)

When we talk about the widespread nature of things like love or beauty (but also color or sound), this does not necessarily mean we have jumped from the subjective to the objective. To the contrary, we are referring to concepts like intersubjectivity — the extent to which one’s subjective experience may align or agree with another. Agreement among subjective beings seems more important for these concepts in particular than an objective existence that makes no reference to what any subjective beings experience at all.

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41 Comments
  1. Agellius permalink

    I don’t have any training in philosophy either. I’m sure a lot of the arguments I make would be better and more efficient if I did. But I have been wrestling with it on my own for several years now, just because the things that I’m most interested tend that way.

    I don’t think I consider myself an “objectivist” across the board. Whether color or sound are objective does not interest me nearly as much as whether beauty and morals are. I realize you are saying that color/sound may be analogous to beauty/morality, and that is an interesting point. I would agree that color/sound is analogous to beauty since in both cases, we are dealing with an interaction between subject and object. Color exists in the object in the form of its molecular or chemical composition, and in the subject in the form of the perception of the object via the senses. By the same token beauty exists in the subject when he perceives or judges beauty to exist in something, and in the object in the sense that beauty is perceived or judged to inhere in the object.

    The difference is that color is apparently a direct perception (by the subject) of something inhering in the object (“light absorption, reflection, or emission spectra”). When you say that a thing is red, you are saying that it possesses something in its molecular/chemical makeup which causes light of a certain wavelength to strike the retina, which is then typically perceived and identified by human beings as the color red.

    Whereas beauty is not the simple perception or apprehension of something inhering in the object, but rather a judgment made by the intellect. Simpy perceiving something as red doesn’t result in the judgment that the thing is beautiful. Beauty looks at not only color or sound, but also at things like arrangement and proportion. A judgment of the presence of beauty in an object is an assessment of an array of attributes, which can’t be reduced to any single one of them (color, size, shape) but considers how they all come together in a unified whole.

    Judgment, of course, is the typical act of an intellect, since it holds two ideas in the mind and compares them; in this case, the intellect considers the idea of the apple on the one hand (it’s this color and has this shape, proportion, texture, etc.), and the idea of beauty in the other, and decides whether the one applies to the other (this apple is beautiful).

    Morality is similar in this respect, in that it is not the simple apprehension of an act (he killed that man), but the judgment of the act according to a standard (it was wrong of him to kill that man).

    In both cases, beauty and morality, we’re not dealing with simple perception but with the additional step of intellectual judgment. This may be why there is more variation among people with regard to whether something is beautiful or moral: Because everyone’s mind doesn’t work the same, at least not to the extent that people’s eyes and ears typically do.

    The fact that people typically perceive red as red may not prove that red exists objectively in the object per se, but it does prove that there is an objective correspondence between things that are red, and something in the makeup of human beings which causes the perception of red. The correspondence between those things is not a simple matter of qualia or subjective experience, but in large part (though I would argue not entirely) has physical causes and explanations.

    Whereas the judgment of beauty and morality can’t be reduced to physical causes and explanations to nearly the same extent, if at all. Which, I suspect, is why more people consider beauty and morality to be subjective, than consider color to be subjective.

    I’m not sure where this leaves us, just musing out loud. : )

  2. Agellius permalink

    Some more thoughts on this, hope you don’t mind me responding piecemeal.

    You write, “If something does not objectively exist, then it doesn’t exist at all. If something only exists subjectively, then that is an illusion or a delusion.”

    The reason I think of it as a delusion is that when someone judges something to be beautiful, he judges the beauty to be an attribute of the thing observed. Thus when I say that my wife is beautiful, I mean that beauty inheres in her. But if beauty is subjective, then my perception of beauty as a thing in my wife is an illusion. I think that the vast majority of the time, when people say that something is beautiful, they attribute the beauty to the thing itself and not to a mere subjective reaction to it in themselves.

    This is why men fall in love with beautiful women: Because they think of the woman as possessing this great treasure which we call beauty; they think of beauty as an attribute of the woman herself, as something that she possesses, and this makes the man think more highly of her. Indeed I suspect that often, men think of outward beauty as a reflection of an inward quality of the woman; that is, that she is beautiful on the outside because she possesses beauty, or goodness, on the inside.

    So again, if beauty is but a subjective impression then this is all an illusion, is it not?

  3. Agellius,

    For whatever it’s worth, the sound and color examples interest me because I think they are vital aspects of the beauty equation. If sound and color are subjective, and they are vital parts of certain aspects of beauty, then it supports that beauty is subjective. (I note that one could argue exceptions…we can find things beautiful even if they don’t have any sensory qualities, etc., but I still think beauty is something experienced on a personal subjective level.)

    But to go with a few of your comments:

    Color exists in the object in the form of its molecular or chemical composition, and in the subject in the form of the perception of the object via the senses.

    I’m saying that while the first part of this sentence makes sense from the objectivist’s perspective, the subjectivist prioritizes the latter as most important. In other words, anything you perceive as red “counts” as red, regardless of what the items is. So, whether we produce red through optical, visual, or physical illusions, it is the perception that matters more. We are so used to perceiving a certain way that we give those qualities to those objects…but it was always our perceptual system that mattered more.

    Without human eyes, it doesn’t make sense to prioritize human color schemas. And yet we do just that, because we do have human eyes.

    But I want to note that it’s not just a matter of direct perception, as you will say later:

    The difference is that color is apparently a direct perception (by the subject) of something inhering in the object (“light absorption, reflection, or emission spectra”). When you say that a thing is red, you are saying that it possesses something in its molecular/chemical makeup which causes light of a certain wavelength to strike the retina, which is then typically perceived and identified by human beings as the color red.

    per my note earlier in the comment…anything perceived as red counts as red. We like to say that because generally, particular wavelengths count as red, etc., But I don’t think that’s the only thing that counts. Optical, visual, or physical illusions, as long as they produce that perception, also count. (Do you dream in color? Are you actually seeing real objects that emit certain wavelengths of light that are red? No. Yet, is the color that you may see in dreams still real? Yes. Because the color is about perception, not about the objects.)

    In other words, you make a distinction between simple perception/apprehension and intellectual judgment. But I think the first part is to problematize color and sound by recognizing that those aren’t necessarily as simple as we note them in our folk beliefs. Color and sound and things like that SEEM really simple, but as we study more, we note that there’s a lot of mental work that must go on…a lot of processing. These kinds of processing, I think, are similar in kind (if not in intensity) as the kind of processing you describe as happening for beauty or morality further on. But as I’ll note below, whether there is processing or not doesn’t really matter…

    Whereas beauty is not the simple perception or apprehension of something inhering in the object, but rather a judgment made by the intellect. Simpy perceiving something as red doesn’t result in the judgment that the thing is beautiful. Beauty looks at not only color or sound, but also at things like arrangement and proportion. A judgment of the presence of beauty in an object is an assessment of an array of attributes, which can’t be reduced to any single one of them (color, size, shape) but considers how they all come together in a unified whole.

    But keep in mind…”judgment made by the intellect” is a subjective thing. If you have no intellects, you have no judgments, and you have no beauty.

    In fact, your first sentence actually makes beauty something even LESS objective than one could argue color or sound might be (because you are getting away from “something inhering in the object” and moving toward “judgment made by the intellect.”)

    In both cases, beauty and morality, we’re not dealing with simple perception but with the additional step of intellectual judgment. This may be why there is more variation among people with regard to whether something is beautiful or moral: Because everyone’s mind doesn’t work the same, at least not to the extent that people’s eyes and ears typically do.

    I think in making these distinctions, you are actually not distinguishing between objective and subjective, but in different subjective activities. YES, because everyone’s *minds* (read: subjective) doesn’t work the same (which relates to subjectivity), their judgments about what they see or hear or etc., (which I am arguing are *also* subjective, because your mind actually does need to process the data it receives from the eyes and ears) are going to differ.

    And yet, that’s the stuff that sound, color, beauty AND morality are made out of. Intellectual judgments that may differ to the extent that people’s minds work differently.

    When we talk about agreement on moral judgments, or agreements on beauty, or agreement on color or sound, we are hoping that human minds work similarly enough that despite the differences, we can come to an accord. Yet, I think with beauty, we recognize that even if there are disagreements, they don’t matter. If I like a band and you don’t, that’s *OK* in a way that we don’t find acceptable if I believe a certain action is moral and you do not.

    The fact that people typically perceive red as red may not prove that red exists objectively in the object per se, but it does prove that there is an objective correspondence between things that are red, and something in the makeup of human beings which causes the perception of red. The correspondence between those things is not a simple matter of qualia or subjective experience, but in large part (though I would argue not entirely) has physical causes and explanations.

    I would agree with this. But again, it goes to “how humans are built.”

    Whereas the judgment of beauty and morality can’t be reduced to physical causes and explanations to nearly the same extent, if at all. Which, I suspect, is why more people consider beauty and morality to be subjective, than consider color to be subjective.

    I would argue that though the explanations are more complex, they are still explanations that relate to physical things. E.g., color, sound, etc., are components, but the proportions of color, shape, line, pattern, etc., are still components that are assessed by minds.

    But as far as “where this leaves us,” it seems you are really arguing that beauty and morality are MORE subjective than color, etc.,

    • Agellius permalink

      I don’t deny that beauty has a subjective aspect in that it is judge/perceived inwardly. But the fact that things are subjectively perceived, logically, doesn’t demonstrate that they are merely subjective. You could use your arguments to contend that other people are not real but are only intersubjective perceptions, since we only perceive them through the filter of our senses and make subjective judgments that they are real or fake or black or white; yet we’re able to discern that other people are actually real.

      You write, “I’m saying that while the first part of this sentence makes sense from the objectivist’s perspective, the subjectivist prioritizes the latter as most important. In other words, anything you perceive as red “counts” as red, regardless of what the items is. So, whether we produce red through optical, visual, or physical illusions, it is the perception that matters more. We are so used to perceiving a certain way that we give those qualities to those objects…but it was always our perceptual system that mattered more.”

      I’m not clear what you mean by “matters” and “important”.

      You write, “Do you dream in color? Are you actually seeing real objects that emit certain wavelengths of light that are red? No. Yet, is the color that you may see in dreams still real? Yes. Because the color is about perception, not about the objects.”

      I don’t agree that the color you see in your dreams is real or perceived. We need to distinguish between two different things: Red as an object of perception and red as a concept. In your dream, your mind is recalling the concept of red as a memory, or as an attribute of a thing that you’re remembering or imagining. I don’t think this qualifies as a perception, any more than dreaming about your dead grandmother would qualify as perceiving your dead grandmother. Perceiving is experiencing through the senses, and therefore implies that the thing is really present to you. Dreams and hallucinations are called by those names precisely to distinguish them from things that we perceive in reality.

      You write, “These kinds of processing, I think, are similar in kind (if not in intensity) as the kind of processing you describe as happening for beauty or morality further on. But as I’ll note below, whether there is processing or not doesn’t really matter…”

      I don’t agree that it’s the same kind of processing since the processing of perception isn’t done by the mind but automatically by the body, whereas the processing of judgment is done by the intellect.

      You write, “But keep in mind…”judgment made by the intellect” is a subjective thing. If you have no intellects, you have no judgments, and you have no beauty.”

      Begging the question. Part of the problem, of course, is defining “beauty”, which we haven’t done. It’s understandable that we haven’t done it, since such an exercise is likely to bog down the discussion. Sometimes it’s better to just assume that we both know what we mean and get as far as we can on that basis. But I suspect that it will need to be done in order to make much further progress.

      You write, “In fact, your first sentence actually makes beauty something even LESS objective than one could argue color or sound might be (because you are getting away from “something inhering in the object” and moving toward “judgment made by the intellect.”)”

      In the context, the phrase “judgment made by the intellect” means “judgment made by the intellect that a thing is beautiful i.e. is present in the object”. Logically, this doesn’t make beauty subjective any more than a judgment that you are an actual human being (not an AI machine) makes your humanity subjective. (Or do you contend that it does?)

      You write, “If I like a band and you don’t, that’s *OK* in a way that we don’t find acceptable if I believe a certain action is moral and you do not.”

      But there are times when it’s not OK, for example if you build a building which I think is aesthetically a nightmare, I may have to put up with driving past that building every day, or having to utilize it for some purpose if it’s a public building. I think that true beauty enriches people’s lives, and ugliness has the opposite effect.

      You write, “I would argue that though the explanations are more complex, they are still explanations that relate to physical things. E.g., color, sound, etc., are components, but the proportions of color, shape, line, pattern, etc., are still components that are assessed by minds.”

      Yes, of course they relate to physical things, but a mental judgment, I would argue, is not a physical thing. The judgment of the presence of beauty in an object, is the comparison of a physical thing with a standard, and the standard itself is not a physical thing, any more than a moral standard is a physical thing.

      You write, “But as far as “where this leaves us,” it seems you are really arguing that beauty and morality are MORE subjective than color, etc.,”

      Yeah, I know; that is, if you define “objective” as “reducible to a physical cause or explanation”. : )

      Yet, for Christians the thing that is most objective, more so than the physical universe itself — that is, God — is not reducible to a physical cause or explanation. So, not being reducible to physical causes doesn’t equate to being less objective, from my standpoint.

      • I think the difference is that we do not typically define the existence of other people, trees, etc., as intersubjective perceptions…part of my argument is that the way we talk about beauty belies the attempts to make it into something objective — there’s a lot more subjectivity even in how we speak about it. This way that we talk about beauty does not occur when we are talking about people.

        I’m not clear what you mean by “matters” and “important”.

        I think it’s about putting certain things in an order. For example, when you say,

        I don’t deny that beauty has a subjective aspect in that it is judge/perceived inwardly. But the fact that things are subjectively perceived, logically, doesn’t demonstrate that they are merely subjective.

        I think in the case that there are subjective aspects and objective aspects, then the ordering of these things is what is meant by things “mattering” or being “important.” For example, even I will agree that humans are built a certain way, with certain mechanics, certain brain functioning, etc., These are “objective,” yes. But when I say that the perceptions matter or are more important, I am saying that the fact that humans are built a certain way (the objective component) is ordered lower than the perceptions that humans have based on our physiology/neurology. I am staking further that intersubjectively, others would order the perceptions above the physiology/neurology too.

        For the objectivist, it’s not about showing necessarily that there is not subjective aspect. But you are showing that there is an aspect within the object viewed, and that that aspect is ordered higher than one’s perception. That’s the disagreement.

        I don’t agree that the color you see in your dreams is real or perceived. We need to distinguish between two different things: Red as an object of perception and red as a concept. In your dream, your mind is recalling the concept of red as a memory, or as an attribute of a thing that you’re remembering or imagining. I don’t think this qualifies as a perception, any more than dreaming about your dead grandmother would qualify as perceiving your dead grandmother. Perceiving is experiencing through the senses, and therefore implies that the thing is really present to you. Dreams and hallucinations are called by those names precisely to distinguish them from things that we perceive in reality.

        Upon further reading on various philosophical ideas on dreams, I can definitely see how there are different views on the subject. I can also see this could put us basically at an impasse here. In my earlier part of this comment (about how we use language that belies objectivity in some cases, I was going to use the analogy that we would describe people in dreams vs in waking life differently. In other words, the reason we would say the appearance of our dead grandmother is not the same as our actual grandmother is because we conceptualize of people as being a different kind of thing (the kind of thing that can be objective, and that therefore could be illusory in dreams)…but I would think that we would not make this distinction for red. We would not say that red in a dream is any less red, or just a memory, or whatever. This is where my earlier comment about “mattering” or “importance” comes into play…for the subjectivist, the wavelength is ordered lower than the qualia. The qualia are real.

        In the context, the phrase “judgment made by the intellect” means “judgment made by the intellect that a thing is beautiful i.e. is present in the object”. Logically, this doesn’t make beauty subjective any more than a judgment that you are an actual human being (not an AI machine) makes your humanity subjective. (Or do you contend that it does?)

        Beauty isn’t made by subjective by the judgment per se. But I would say that one’s humanity is established regardless of perception or judgment thereof, but beauty is not established outside of perception or judgment. I note that that is, however, the big debate. Whether beauty is the same kind of thing as one’s humanity…

        But there are times when it’s not OK, for example if you build a building which I think is aesthetically a nightmare, I may have to put up with driving past that building every day, or having to utilize it for some purpose if it’s a public building. I think that true beauty enriches people’s lives, and ugliness has the opposite effect.

        What if there was a true beauty that someone — maybe even most people, or all people — couldn’t perceive? From an objective perspective, couldn’t this scenario be possible? Would that beauty, though it were not perceptible by some or maybe all people (or rather, that no one would judge to be beautiful), nevertheless enrich people’s lives?

        Yes, of course they relate to physical things, but a mental judgment, I would argue, is not a physical thing. The judgment of the presence of beauty in an object, is the comparison of a physical thing with a standard, and the standard itself is not a physical thing, any more than a moral standard is a physical thing.

        Yeah, I know; that is, if you define “objective” as “reducible to a physical cause or explanation”. : )

        Yet, for Christians the thing that is most objective, more so than the physical universe itself — that is, God — is not reducible to a physical cause or explanation. So, not being reducible to physical causes doesn’t equate to being less objective, from my standpoint.

        I don’t want to give the impression that I’m reducing “objective” to a physical cause or explanation. To be clear, I think that “objective” is “independent of individual perception/feelings/experiences/(my terminology may be imprecise here.)” It strikes me that physical things are a good measurement of types of things that are independent of those things, but they need not be the only thing. My argument on beauty is not that its standards are not physical, and therefore they are not objective. It’s that the standards for beauty are really tied to individual perception/feeling/experiences, and that, moreover, we define them to be tied to individual perception/feeling/experiences in the way that we do not do so for other things (e.g., who is human, is that human real, etc.,). I feel that my question earlier on regarding true beauty that people might not be able to perceive kinda gets at this: an objective model of beauty would not have any problem with a type of beauty that theoretically no one could perceive or judge as such, but this seems to undercut the ways we talk about beauty. Or maybe that’s just me. 😉

        • Agellius permalink

          I’m not sure we’re clear on our terms here. For me “perceive”, strictly defined, means to experience through the senses. I’ve argued previously that perceiving refers to the barebones detecting of things through the senses, for example seeing shapes and colors, hearing sounds, feeling textures, etc. Whereas beauty is not perceived directly but is a judgment of a thing that is perceived, as to whether it possesses a certain quality apart from the bare perceptibility of it.

          So when you speak of a beauty that can’t be perceived, I’m not sure if you’re referring to something that lacks size, shape, color, sound, etc.; or if you mean a thing which can be perceived through the senses, but which no one can recognize or identify as being beautiful. Or something different from either.

          Further, as I said before, people might have different ideas of what beauty is. I don’t mean they might have differing opinions about whether a thing is beautiful; but rather, they might understand the whole concept of beauty differently, and for that reason not realize that things is are beautiful. I would say that such people could still be enriched by the presence of true beauty. Just as I would say that people who don’t recognize Mozart’s music as beautiful, could still be enriched by it if exposed to it under the right circumstances. It seems to follow therefore that if something existed which no one recognized as beautiful, but which possessed true beauty nonetheless, people could still be enriched by it.

          “I feel that my question earlier on regarding true beauty that people might not be able to perceive kinda gets at this: an objective model of beauty would not have any problem with a type of beauty that theoretically no one could perceive or judge as such, but this seems to undercut the ways we talk about beauty.”

          I would argue that if we’re going by the ways that people talk about beauty, then we would have to say that beauty inheres in objects, since that’s the way human language describes beautiful things. Merriam-Webster defines “beauty” this way:

          1 : the quality or aggregate of qualities in a person or thing that gives pleasure to the senses or pleasurably exalts the mind or spirit : loveliness
          2 : a beautiful person or thing; especially : a beautiful woman
          3 : a particularly graceful, ornamental, or excellent quality

          All of which describe qualities of the thing observed as thouugh inhereing therein. (I checked several different onine dictionaries and found that they all took this same approach.) I’m not saying a dictionary defintion proves my point, but modern dictionaries do tend to define words as they are actually used, rather than as they “should” be used.

          By the way I think definition no. 1 is pretty good, encompassing both the objective and subjective aspects of beauty, as a something inhering in an object which causes an effect in the subject. Would the qualities of the object do anyone any good if they were never experienced by a subject? Maybe not, but they’re still there.

          • I admit I am likely using an idiosyncratic use of “perceive”. In the example you note, I am going for the second (a thing which can be perceived through the senses, but which no one can recognize as being beautiful.) I don’t think that materially changes my challenge.

            When you say people might understand the whole concept of beauty differently, I agree. But to me, someone cannot be wrong on their concept of beauty. They can be different, but not wrong.

            I am not sure how someone could be enriched by beauty they do not recognize. I could see if your argument were that they could be appealed to in different ways to try to get them to recognize beauty, but you don’t need a model of ” true ” beauty for that. Then again, maybe the difficulty is in your word “enriched”…What do you mean by “enriched”?

            Re: 1st definition of beauty… That seems subjective. “Gives pleasure to the senses” or “pleasurably exalts the mind or spirit” relies on a subject’s senses, and their pleasure, their mind or spirit.

            Again, we differ at which part of the definition should be given priority. You don’t doubt that subjective recognition plays a part and I don’t doubt that someone could give reasons why they find something beautiful by referring to various qualities or aggregate of qualities inhering in an object.

            But still, what makes beauty is the fact that those quality give someone’s senses pleasure. You can’t say, “regardless of the fact that Mozart doesnt give your senses pleasure, it still is beautiful
            ” No, your argument has to be an appeal to intersubjectivity. “I bet if you studied this and learned the history and did X and Y and Z, maybe Mozart would please your senses.” But if someone never “gets” Mozart, that is fine.

            So that depends on the subject. No subjects = no beauty. The underlying traits are still there, yes. But beauty is not, beauty requires that senses are pleasured.

  4. Agellius,

    responding to your second comment.

    The reason I think of it as a delusion is that when someone judges something to be beautiful, he judges the beauty to be an attribute of the thing observed. Thus when I say that my wife is beautiful, I mean that beauty inheres in her. But if beauty is subjective, then my perception of beauty as a thing in my wife is an illusion. I think that the vast majority of the time, when people say that something is beautiful, they attribute the beauty to the thing itself and not to a mere subjective reaction to it in themselves.

    Maybe what is delusional (if at all) is your attribution, but not the perception. In other words, no one disputes (or wishes to dispute) that you find your wife beautiful…This is not a lie you have told to yourself, and no one is trying to say that. But maybe what is inaccurate to say is the attribution that beauty inheres in the thing observed. I mean, can I switch to something not as personal as spouses? Let’s take works of art like paintings or music.

    I can think that a certain band’s music is really beautiful, but you may think that that same band is horrible noise. Must one of us be incorrect here? Like, is there an objective fact over whether a piece of music is beautiful or not, and our ability to appreciate (or fail to appreciate) the beauty or ugly is a personal failing or ability? Like, can my personal taste be *wrong* there (in either direction)?

    No, to me, it seems more reasonable to say that if you don’t like my band, fine. All that matters is that *I* do like my band. I would certainly agree (per above) that there are probably certain traits in music, art, that more people would find appealing than other (and modern pop music is basically the process of using the best acoustic science to make stuff that is scientifically shown to stick in people’s heads), but at the same time, it is still subjective, right?

    To move this back to personal things as spouses…you find your wife beautiful to be sure. But if someone else doesn’t find your wife as beautiful as you do, isn’t that OK? And isn’t it OK if you don’t find someone else’s wife (or husband, or girlfriend, boyfriend, etc.,) all that beautiful? Or is that a failure of them to recognize what is objectively there? Should we all find your wife utterly irresistible, and all be struggling to hold back our undying infatuation, and if we aren’t, that is a personal failure to see what is actually there? That’s what it seems objective beauty would lead us to.

    But I just don’t think we look at it like that. We note that people may find all sorts of traits attractive, that these aren’t necessarily better or worse than one another. Even when we think we have “objective” standards for beauty in people, you can always find someone who will be attracted to the “conventionally” unattractive or who will not be attracted to the “conventionally attractive”.

    But what matters is that you find your wife beautiful. Nothing else matters.

    This is why men fall in love with beautiful women: Because they think of the woman as possessing this great treasure which we call beauty; they think of beauty as an attribute of the woman herself, as something that she possesses, and this makes the man think more highly of her. Indeed I suspect that often, men think of outward beauty as a reflection of an inward quality of the woman; that is, that she is beautiful on the outside because she possesses beauty, or goodness, on the inside.

    So again, if beauty is but a subjective impression then this is all an illusion, is it not?

    Again, I think that all that would need to be changed is the narrative told about the perception. We should focus on the “they think” aspect — it’s that men (and women) think, men (and women) feel, men (and women) perceive. That’s the important part. Now, I am not disputing that men and women have all sorts of traits. One person may be taller than another. One person may be kinder than another. One person may have a more cutting wit than another. A person may have blond hair, red hair, brunette hair, black hair, or something else.

    But finding one trait or another beautiful is dependent on the person, whether a person likes taller individuals, kinder individuals, individuals with a cutting wit, etc., A person can prefer red hair to brown hair, but that doesn’t mean that either is better than the other.

    And we don’t expect to find everyone to be attracted to the same sorts of people, or necessarily to find the same things beautiful in a person.

    I think I agree that many people would colloquially narrativize the beauty to the other person…but really, is this any different then when people say that a particular food is delicious or that a particular band sounds good? Different people can absolutely have different tastes in food and music, without one or the other person being “wrong,” and the same is true for beauty in people. There is nothing illusory about saying “this food is delicious *to me*” and should not be anything illusory about saying “this woman is beautiful *to me*”. Even more, there is nothing illusory about giving your reasons, “This woman is beautiful to me because she is kind, charitable, has a great smile, etc., etc., etc., and I find those traits appealing.”

    I’m just saying that people can disagree on the reasons, and disagree on the perceptions, and unlike things like, say, whether Austin is the capital of Texas, it doesn’t seem right to say that one person can be wrong on these disagreements.

    • Agellius permalink

      I don’t have a problem granting that beauty has a subjective component, I just can’t swallow that it’s entirely subjective. If it is, then the process of falling in love becomes all about me.

      There is no great art; great art can’t mean anything more than “art that tons of people like”; Michelangelo is no better than Thomas Kinkade; Mozart no better than Miley Cyrus. I can’t swallow that.

      In my post I argued that if beauty is subjective then it’s an illusion. I should have said that if it’s *entirely* subjective than it’s an illusion, because no one thinks that beauty is entirely internal to themselves. Virtually everyone attributes beauty to the thing in which they behold it.

      Granted that people don’t always attribute beauty to the same things. This can have a variety of causes and doesn’t necessarily point to beauty having no objective component. It could be that people don’t define “beauty” in the same way. It could be that some styles of art or nature have bad associations in people’s minds, for various reasons. By way of illustration, Protestants might find Catholic religious art offensive for doctrinal reasons, in that it often glorifies saints, for example. I knew kids in high school who hated a certain style of music because it was associated with a certain social clique; that is, the surfers hated cholo music and the cholos hated heavy metal, etc., largely because they hated each other.

      In short, people don’t always understand their own motivations and may profess to find something ugly for reasons other than its actual aesthetic attributes.

      People may find something aesthetically displeasing because they don’t understand it, e.g. people who don’t appreciate Shakespeare because of the difficulty of the language to modern ears. Others scoff at classical music because it seems stuffy or snooty. Some don’t appreciate rhythm & blues because they hate black people. Others hate country music because they associate it with ignorant, racist hicks.

      By the same token, people sometimes profess to like certain forms of art because of positive things that they associate with it. Thus, some Christians like these awful pop-style spiritual ballads, mainly because they stir up pleasant religious sentiments.

      Often people come to appreciate a form of art once they gain a greater understanding of it, or somehow manage to open their minds to it and “give it a chance”; thus, many people find that they appreciate Shakespeare once they have been forced to exercise a little patience and gotten used to the language.

      The point is that beauty can be present in things notwithstanding that people don’t perceive it; and people can attribute beauty to things when in reality, their enjoyment of them stems from causes and associations other than their actual aesthetic value.

      None of this proves that beauty exists in things objectively, or that it doesn’t. It does show that variations in people’s tastes for this or that style of art or natural beauty do not necessarily point to beauty being entirely subjective.

      • I don’t have a problem granting that beauty has a subjective component, I just can’t swallow that it’s entirely subjective. If it is, then the process of falling in love becomes all about me.

        There is no great art; great art can’t mean anything more than “art that tons of people like”; Michelangelo is no better than Thomas Kinkade; Mozart no better than Miley Cyrus. I can’t swallow that.

        That the process of falling in love is *particular to an individual* is what makes it liberating and special, IMO.

        So, your first paragraph I’ve quoted here doesn’t really go with your next. Great art doesn’t have to be “art that tons of people like.” It is art that YOU like. Whatever things you like are most important to you — you don’t have to just go with the flow of whatever everyone likes. Because what matters to you is what *you* like.

        Granted that people don’t always attribute beauty to the same things. This can have a variety of causes and doesn’t necessarily point to beauty having no objective component. It could be that people don’t define “beauty” in the same way. It could be that some styles of art or nature have bad associations in people’s minds, for various reasons. By way of illustration, Protestants might find Catholic religious art offensive for doctrinal reasons, in that it often glorifies saints, for example. I knew kids in high school who hated a certain style of music because it was associated with a certain social clique; that is, the surfers hated cholo music and the cholos hated heavy metal, etc., largely because they hated each other.

        In short, people don’t always understand their own motivations and may profess to find something ugly for reasons other than its actual aesthetic attributes.

        No, ALL of these things *are* aesthetic attributes that people subjectively process. If you say, “You would find this beautiful but for all of these other considerations (doctrinal disagreements, ideological disagreements, differences in your cliques, etc., etc., etc.,)” you are actually stripping away all of the stuff that is integral to the judgment at the personal level.

        People may find something aesthetically displeasing because they don’t understand it, e.g. people who don’t appreciate Shakespeare because of the difficulty of the language to modern ears. Others scoff at classical music because it seems stuffy or snooty. Some don’t appreciate rhythm & blues because they hate black people. Others hate country music because they associate it with ignorant, racist hicks.

        Often people come to appreciate a form of art once they gain a greater understanding of it, or somehow manage to open their minds to it and “give it a chance”; thus, many people find that they appreciate Shakespeare once they have been forced to exercise a little patience and gotten used to the language.

        I am not disputing any of this. But this is all a vital part of the analysis. A person’s *understanding* is critical to the beauty. A person’s *subjective judgement* is critical.

        So when you talk about high art vs pop art, I am not disputing that sometimes art may require work and study to “get” or to understand…but the fact that it absolutely matters what a person thinks (and how a person has prepared, how a person has studied) in the evaluation is a critical part of the subjective aspect. We don’t say “Shakespeare is beautiful regardless of what you think, feel or experience.” Shakespeare is beautiful *when you have done the prerequisite work.* Your argument should be that more people should be forced to exercise that patience to see something that they didn’t originally see…

        The point is that beauty can be present in things notwithstanding that people don’t perceive it; and people can attribute beauty to things when in reality, their enjoyment of them stems from causes and associations other than their actual aesthetic value.

        I think this is an interesting shift. Since at least *some people* can find pretty much *anything* beautiful, you argue that they are attributing to beauty something that they enjoy for non-aesthetic purposes. But to me, aesthetics concerns any process, reasoning, or judgment as something as beautiful or not. We can’t say some things are “real aesthetics” and other things are “causes and associations other than their actual aesthetic value.”

        So, to me, it seems like with the diversity of things people find beautiful, you basically have to argue that 1) almost EVERYTHING is beautiful (because even if you don’t like something, someone somewhere probably does find it beautiful…so the fact that people can see it means it is there) OR 2) some people are just wrong in their assessments in beauty (instead attributing beauty to things that are “objectively” not beautiful.)

        In the same way you can’t swallow complete subjectivity, I cannot swallow that framework for beauty that underlies the objective viewpoint, and I can’t see any way around (1) and (2) as I have just noted in an objective viewpoint.

        It just boggles my mind to think that one could say someone could be wrong in assessing something as beautiful. I just don’t think that is not something that a person can be “wrong” about. That is not something that we can say someone is deluded outside of reality about. For a person to judge something as beautiful *is* the reality around beauty. There is nothing else to oppose that, even if every other person in the world does not share that judgement.

        • Agellius permalink

          You write, “Great art doesn’t have to be ‘art that tons of people like.’ It is art that YOU like. Whatever things you like are most important to you — you don’t have to just go with the flow of whatever everyone likes. Because what matters to you is what *you* like.”

          I understand. And that’s why Mozart is objectively no better than Miley Cyrus. Which I find absurd.

          You write, “No, ALL of these things *are* aesthetic attributes that people subjectively process. If you say, “You would find this beautiful but for all of these other considerations (doctrinal disagreements, ideological disagreements, differences in your cliques, etc., etc., etc.,)” you are actually stripping away all of the stuff that is integral to the judgment at the personal level.”

          Clearly, then, we’re defining “beauty” differently. I suspected as much.

          You write, “Shakespeare is beautiful *when you have done the prerequisite work.* Your argument should be that more people should be forced to exercise that patience to see something that they didn’t originally see…”

          But why *should* they be forced to do so, if there is nothing inherently beautiful about Shakespeare’s works? If all that matters is that people experience subjective enjoyment, and if the object of enjoyment has no particular excellence inhering in it, then it can’t matter whether people get their enjoyment from Shakespeare or from Fast & Furious. Therefore the only reason I could have for forcing people to endure Shakespeare (in the schools, for example) is the desire to impose my subjective tastes on them.

  5. Agellius,

    And that’s why Mozart is objectively no better than Miley Cyrus. Which I find absurd.

    I don’t think you can make a case for Mozart being *objectively* better than Miley Cyrus. I think you can make a case for Mozart being *subjectively* better, and try to convince people to see the same things you see — that’s intersubjectivity, once again. I think that you would agree that it the extent to which people agree would depend on a lot of education and awareness that it’ll be unlikely for many people to ever have, whereas Miley Cyrus is certainly more accessible. But yes, that is the task. You can’t just say, “Regardless of what you or anyone else thinks, Mozart is better!”

    It really is about convincing and persuasion.

    But why *should* they be forced to do so, if there is nothing inherently beautiful about Shakespeare’s works? If all that matters is that people experience subjective enjoyment, and if the object of enjoyment has no particular excellence inhering in it, then it can’t matter whether people get their enjoyment from Shakespeare or from Fast & Furious. Therefore the only reason I could have for forcing people to endure Shakespeare (in the schools, for example) is the desire to impose my subjective tastes on them.

    I have two thoughts on this.

    1) Isn’t this basically the debate over acquired tastes? Would you say that a difficult-to-acquire acquired taste is “objectively better” than an easy-to-acquire taste?

    As a Mormon, I have had to work hard to “acquire the taste” for alcohol, coffee, tea. I still mostly haven’t done it in many cases. I have argued similarly: “why should I have to do this?” “What’s the big deal?” I prefer straightforward tastes…sweet tastes, savory, tastes.

    What is the value of acquiring the taste for bitter foods? Is it something objective? No, it’s that a lot of people find subjective value in being able to appreciate a diversity of foods and drinks. It’s OK to not drink alcohol, coffee, and tea, but there’s such a diversity of these things that there’s a lot one is missing out by not acquiring those tastes. It’s that, in this society, having a familiarity with those tastes opens up doors and can be a point of bonding.

    Is it a big loss if one doesn’t acquire these tastes? No. But there’s still something to gain in learning — if one does so — to appreciate a wide variety of tastes.

    2) “Imposing my subjective tastes on them”….that’s pretty much what cultural enculturation *is*, at a societal or community level. It is elements of society agreeing to impose subjective tastes on its young.

    And YES, there’s a lot of controversy over what sorts of things are taught as canonical or not — dead white guys vs a more diverse set.

    And YES, there’s a lot of controversy when it comes to this process with people who already have *their own* cultures.

    That being said, i think the typical claimed value of doing this process is that so much of “Western civilization” depends on this culture. Even if I look at it neutrally (e.g., we aren’t talking about objective), I can say that as a culture distinct from other cultures, Shakespeare is part of our heritage. To the extent we wish to remain in conversation with our heritage, we study Shakespeare. (I’d say that it’s important because we have all of these sayings, phrasings, idioms, metaphors, etc., based on Shakespeare.) I would argue that there’s more to western civilization than just dead white men, but that would be the argument I would make for the liberal arts canon.

  6. Agellius permalink

    You write, “I am not sure how someone could be enriched by beauty they do not recognize.”

    Again this probably boils down to our differing conceptions of what beauty is. We’re arguing over the extent to which beauty is objective or subjective, but I think you are virtually defining beauty as subjective, to the point where it must be consciously recognized as beauty in order for it to exist at all (indeed, that the conscious experience of beauty is all that beauty consists of); and further, that everyone gets to define it for himself in any way he chooses (implied by your saying that no one can be wrong in what he calls beautiful).

    My conception of beauty is that it ultimately comes from God and is of his essence, in the same way that goodness and truth come from God and are of his essence. When God is present, goodness, beauty and truth are present. I think God imbues creation with beauty, as well as truth and goodness, in his very act of creating and constantly holding all things in existence from moment to moment. Just as truth and goodness are good for people, so is beauty. And beauty can be good for people even if they don’t recognize it as such, in the same way that truth and goodness are good for people, whether or not they recognize them as such.

    They are good for people because we are made to be good, to know truth and to experience beauty. These are the things that make for our ultimate happiness, because our ultimate happiness is in God, who is the source of these things (indeed, is these things).

    If beauty comes from God and is built into creation, then it has to be objective. That being said, beauty comes in infinite forms, and so do people, so it’s not surprising that some forms of beauty are more immediately appealing to some than to others. So I would agree that the recognition and experience of beauty is certainly subjective, and people have differing opinions about what is and is not beautiful due to the infinite degrees of capacity and experience in different people.

    But there is more beauty around than anyone knows what to do with (same with goodness and truth). No one can experience it all, nor appreciate or recognize all that he does experience. Some take certain kinds of beauty for granted, which others appreciate, while some appreciate beauty that others take for granted. I grew up in California and could not wait to move to another place with different weather and landscapes. I couldn’t understand it when people from other places had a longing to move to California, and didn’t appreciate their own native state. The fact is that beauty is in both places, but we both had grown blind to the beauty of our native place and appreciated the beauty of another place. That’s where the subjectivity of it comes in.

    I’m borrowing this from edwardfeser.com [http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2015/09/the-absolute-truth-about-relativism.html]:

    “Suppose that because of a heat mirage, Fred believes that there is water on the road ahead of him, whereas Bob, who is standing at the spot on the road Fred is looking at, believes that there is no water there. Fred and Bob thus differ in their beliefs about whether there is water on the road. The reason, though, is not because there is no absolute truth about whether there is water on the road. There is, absolutely, no water on the road, and Fred is just wrong. The reason for their difference of opinion is rather that Fred is making a mistake because of the illusion generated by the heat. So, a difference of beliefs doesn’t by itself entail relativism, …”. I would say by the same token, that a difference in the things that people appreciate as beautiful, doesn’t by itself entail subjectivism.

    Let me ask you this: Is there any kind of proof that you would accept of the objective existence of beauty? It’s my suspicion that you would insist on beauty being purely subjective no matter what, on the ground that it can’t be directly perceived by the senses, or measured with instruments. Since it can’t be touched or weighed, it can only be within the beholder.

    You addressed this briefly when you said, “My argument on beauty is not that its standards are not physical, and therefore they are not objective. It’s that the standards for beauty are really tied to individual perception/feeling/experiences, and that, moreover, we define them to be tied to individual perception/feeling/experiences in the way that we do not do so for other things (e.g., who is human, is that human real, etc.,).” But all this basically means is that for other things (who is human, is that human real, etc.), we have means of perceiving them through our physical senses. The experience of beauty is tied to individual perception/feeling/experiences simply because that’s the kind of thing beauty is: Something that is tied to (but not necessarily entirely consisting of) individual perception/feeling/experiences.

    Perhaps something similar could be said of faith: Faith is an individual act of will that is at least partly based on feelings and experiences. Some of the things of faith — arguably the most important things, such as God’s nature and attributes — are not accessible to the senses or instruments of measurement. But it’s clearly illogical to conclude from this that the objects of faith don’t exist outside the minds of those who have the subjective experience of faith.

    Beauty seems analogous to faith in this: In both cases the mind looks at things which are accessible to it through the senses, and concludes on this basis the existence of things which are not directly accessible to the senses: In the one case, God and his attributes such as trustworthiness and omniscience, and in the other case, beauty. Both faith and the experience of beauty are not like perception, in that the object of neither is directly perceptible by the senses. They are also alike in that countless numbers of people agree on the objective existence of the objects of faith, as on the objective existence of the objects of beauty.

    Now people of varying religions believe in the objective existence of things which contradict each other, as illustrated by the fact that the Mormon God with his physical body, and the traditional Christian God having no physical makeup, cannot both exist (or if they do, they’re two different gods), since they contradict each other. This points to the fact that the widespread existence of religious beliefs doesn’t constitute logical or scientific proof of the existence of the objects of belief, or of their nature; and neither does the widespread experience of beauty prove its objective existence. But the disagreement between religions as to God’s nature, doesn’t prove that God objectively has no nature; it only proves that all religions can’t be right about his nature. And it doesn’t preclude some of them (or maybe only one) being right about his nature. By the same token, the fact that people disagree about what is beautiful, doesn’t preclude some people being right about what is truly beautiful.

    In summary, the fact that the experience of beauty (for human beings) is tied to individual perceptions/feelings/experiences, does not prove that beauty is nothing but individual perceptions/feelings/experiences.

    Obviously I haven’t strictly proven that beauty is objective either. The argument in the post on my blog was not put forward as a proof, but more of a presentation of what I considered the evidence for my belief that beauty is objective. In other words, what I thought I was showing was that the objective existence of beauty is a reasonable thing to believe in (and, of course, that its prevalence in nature is evidence, though not proof, of God’s existence). I still don’t claim to be able to do much more than that. : )

  7. Agellius,

    Again this probably boils down to our differing conceptions of what beauty is. We’re arguing over the extent to which beauty is objective or subjective, but I think you are virtually defining beauty as subjective, to the point where it must be consciously recognized as beauty in order for it to exist at all (indeed, that the conscious experience of beauty is all that beauty consists of); and further, that everyone gets to define it for himself in any way he chooses (implied by your saying that no one can be wrong in what he calls beautiful).

    Well, if I compare to other things that would be called objective, I’m still not seeing how an objective model of beauty would work similarly to those things.

    Like, with something like gravity, you don’t have to consciously recognize gravity to be affected by it. You don’t have to give a name to it. You don’t have to recognize it as such — it just affects you.

    But even if you didn’t give a name to it, even if you didn’t have a formal aesthetic theory or whatever, beauty *must* be recognized. It doesn’t make sense to me to speak of beauty as something like gravity where, even if you don’t recognize it, you can be affected by it. The effect is in the recognition. Like, if your senses are pleased, then that’s beauty.

    I guess I will challenge one thing (so to the extent my comments imply that, I will modify whatever comment. I don’t think that “no one can be wrong in what he calls beautiful” means “everyone gets to define for himself in any way he chooses” though. I mean, what someone feels is beautiful is what they feel. That is a truth claim about their experience. If I find something ugly, I can’t just say, “OK, I’m going to choose to find this beautiful.”

    So maybe I would have to modify to “the only way someone can be wrong in what he calls beautiful is if he doesn’t accurately self-report his own experience of the beautiful”.

    But still, that’s probably not what you’re going for with “objective” and this modification still totally fits subjective territory for me.

    My conception of beauty is that it ultimately comes from God and is of his essence, in the same way that goodness and truth come from God and are of his essence. When God is present, goodness, beauty and truth are present. I think God imbues creation with beauty, as well as truth and goodness, in his very act of creating and constantly holding all things in existence from moment to moment. Just as truth and goodness are good for people, so is beauty. And beauty can be good for people even if they don’t recognize it as such, in the same way that truth and goodness are good for people, whether or not they recognize them as such.

    Yeah, this is certainly a different conception of what beauty is, though. And it opens up the possibility that I could say, “That’s beautiful,” and you would say, “No, that doesn’t come from God/is not of his essence, and therefore isn’t beautiful.” I mean, sure, fine, you can say that. But how am I to know what is beautiful? I cannot then therefore evaluate what is pleasing to my senses, because those things might not be “objectively beautiful” (or, in your definition, they might not be of God’s essence.)

    With your discussion about the mirage, I agree that a difference of belief about the presence of water does not entail relativism…because water does seem to be in the category of things that exist or does not exist regardless of what anyone feels, perceives, recognizes, judges (whatever verb you want to use) etc., about it. The disagreement is whether beauty is one of those things, or whether beauty precisely describes what one feels and recognizes.

    Let me ask you this: Is there any kind of proof that you would accept of the objective existence of beauty? It’s my suspicion that you would insist on beauty being purely subjective no matter what, on the ground that it can’t be directly perceived by the senses, or measured with instruments. Since it can’t be touched or weighed, it can only be within the beholder.

    You addressed this briefly when you said, “My argument on beauty is not that its standards are not physical, and therefore they are not objective. It’s that the standards for beauty are really tied to individual perception/feeling/experiences, and that, moreover, we define them to be tied to individual perception/feeling/experiences in the way that we do not do so for other things (e.g., who is human, is that human real, etc.,).” But all this basically means is that for other things (who is human, is that human real, etc.), we have means of perceiving them through our physical senses. The experience of beauty is tied to individual perception/feeling/experiences simply because that’s the kind of thing beauty is: Something that is tied to (but not necessarily entirely consisting of) individual perception/feeling/experiences.

    Perhaps something similar could be said of faith: Faith is an individual act of will that is at least partly based on feelings and experiences. Some of the things of faith — arguably the most important things, such as God’s nature and attributes — are not accessible to the senses or instruments of measurement. But it’s clearly illogical to conclude from this that the objects of faith don’t exist outside the minds of those who have the subjective experience of faith.

    It’s not the indirectness, intangibility or immateriality that give me the subjective slant. It’s more about the focusing on an individual. I’ll use the comment you wrote on faith: in your last sentence here, you very clearly delineate the “objects of faith” FROM the “subjective experience of faith”. In this case, I would absolutely identify that faith *is* subjective. It requires beings subjectively experiencing it. It requires INDIVIDUALS acting. It requires INDIVIDUALS experiencing those feelings and experience. Faith is not something that inheres in God. Faith is something that inheres in *us*. So people can have faith in a wide variety of things because they can interact and react differently based on their experiences, feelings, etc.,

    That’s what I’m saying about beauty. Yes, I agree that when you find something beautiful, you will have an object of beauty, in the same way that when you have faith in something, you have an object of faith. But beauty and faith say something about YOU and YOUR thinking, feeling, processing, judgment…not its objects.

    I think that a proof would have to be a good example of how we can conceptualize beauty as the type of thing that could exist without regard to what anyone thinks, feels, or recognizes about it — and still have the concept retain its meaning.

    Now people of varying religions believe in the objective existence of things which contradict each other, as illustrated by the fact that the Mormon God with his physical body, and the traditional Christian God having no physical makeup, cannot both exist (or if they do, they’re two different gods), since they contradict each other. This points to the fact that the widespread existence of religious beliefs doesn’t constitute logical or scientific proof of the existence of the objects of belief, or of their nature; and neither does the widespread experience of beauty prove its objective existence. But the disagreement between religions as to God’s nature, doesn’t prove that God objectively has no nature; it only proves that all religions can’t be right about his nature. And it doesn’t preclude some of them (or maybe only one) being right about his nature. By the same token, the fact that people disagree about what is beautiful, doesn’t preclude some people being right about what is truly beautiful.

    Let me put it this way: I agree with your statement that the disagreement between religions as to God’s nature doesn’t prove that God objectively has no nature; it only proves that all religions can’t be right about his nature.

    But that statement says nothing about faith. My question to you would be: for all the religious adherents who have faith in their form of God that you believe to be incorrect, do they therefore not have faith?

    I would say that even if someone is WRONG about God’s nature (as many probably/necessarily/logically are), that doesn’t mean they don’t have faith.

    I would say that faith concerns something internal to the individual, even if they have objects of faith that they believe (whether accurately or inaccurately) to be objectively true.

    To me, the fact that faith can have as its object something that doesn’t exist (e.g., that some religions and some religious adherents logically must have faith in incorrect, nonexistent formulations of God) highlights that the important thing about faith is internal to the individual.

    But then again…I’m not sure if I’m tracking your analogy appropriately. It seems that at the beginning you wanted to analogy beauty to faith (I’m down with that), and then you wanted to analogize beauty to God (OK if you want to do that, but I’m not sure if beauty should be in that category.)

    Like, this is one place I have problem with the analogy

    And it doesn’t preclude some of them (or maybe only one) being right about his nature. By the same token, the fact that people disagree about what is beautiful, doesn’t preclude some people being right about what is truly beautiful.

    If beauty analogizes with faith, this should be: “the fact that people have faith in different objects doesn’t preclude some people from *truly* having faith”, and yet, that seems like an absurd statement, or a condescending statement maybe. No, all of those people have faith. And that says something. It says that even if faith may concern objects, faith is about the subjects.

  8. Agellius permalink

    I seem to have bungled the explanation of my analogy. In a nutshell, what I was trying to say was this: Objective beauty is to the subjective experience of beauty, as God is to the subjective experience of faith.

    You write, “Like, with something like gravity, you don’t have to consciously recognize gravity to be affected by it. You don’t have to give a name to it. You don’t have to recognize it as such — it just affects you.”

    Well… beauty affects you too. : )

    “But even if you didn’t give a name to it, even if you didn’t have a formal aesthetic theory or whatever, beauty *must* be recognized. It doesn’t make sense to me to speak of beauty as something like gravity where, even if you don’t recognize it, you can be affected by it. The effect is in the recognition. Like, if your senses are pleased, then that’s beauty.”

    Again this begs the question: You are defining “beauty” as the experience of your senses being pleased. This automatically makes you right.

    You write, “Yeah, this is certainly a different conception of what beauty is, though. And it opens up the possibility that I could say, “That’s beautiful,” and you would say, “No, that doesn’t come from God/is not of his essence, and therefore isn’t beautiful.” I mean, sure, fine, you can say that. But how am I to know what is beautiful? I cannot then therefore evaluate what is pleasing to my senses, because those things might not be “objectively beautiful” (or, in your definition, they might not be of God’s essence.)”

    I would go so far as to say that everything that people think is beautiful, more than likely contains beauty in some way and to some degree — because everything comes from God. As I said before, beauty is superabundant in the world, and I’m pretty liberal in admitting that beauty can be found even in things that I personally don’t care for. What I’m not liberal about is admitting that anything is as beautiful as anything else (e.g. Mozart and Miley). So, I wouldn’t say that you’re wrong in finding something beautiful, even if I might say you’re wrong in finding this particular thing more beautiful than that particular thing. Yet while I may make an argument in favor of one thing’s beauty over another’s, I won’t claim to have proven it.

  9. Agellius permalink

    Sorry, that last comment I posted was a draft. I meant to post only the last 7 paragraphs (starting below the dash) but accidentally copied and pasted the whole thing. Could you please delete the extraneous part? Thanks.

  10. done, lol.

    I seem to have bungled the explanation of my analogy. In a nutshell, what I was trying to say was this: Objective beauty is to the subjective experience of beauty, as God is to the subjective experience of faith.

    I see that this is what you’re saying. But I wanted to point out how the analogy can be used to highlight our basic disagreement. For example, here, notice how in the beauty part, you’re saying, “Objective x is to the subjective experience of x”

    But in the faith part, you say “As y is to the subjective experience of z.”

    What’s important here is that the object of faith is not faith itself. It’s something else (e.g., God). That something else may not even exist (but as you note, it may), but faith can nevertheless exist because faith is the subjective experience. I’m saying that’s notable, and that makes faith subjective.

    I mean, if your basic point is to argue that beauty is not like the faith part about the analogy, but more like the God part, then you’re back at the point that you’ve noted that you haven’t really proven that either thing objectively exists. It’s just that, in the same way you’d like to believe your faith is not mistakenly placed (even though you have faith regardless of whether God exists or not, or whether he exists in the way your faith supposed), you would like to believe that the things you find beautiful aren’t mistakenly regarded as such.

    But that’s still says more about *you*.

    Well… beauty affects you too. : )

    We didn’t get to how beauty could affect someone (e.g., enrich them) without them recognizing it. If I listen to Mozart and have no aesthetic response whatsoever, in what way has Mozart affected me?

    If you can give an answer that seems reasonable to me, then I would concede. But it seems that beauty is defined by that “pleasing of the senses”. (and I know you have a criticism here)

    Again this begs the question: You are defining “beauty” as the experience of your senses being pleased. This automatically makes you right.

    I don’t think this is fair. I am using the definition that you picked (and, as you said in an earlier comment, you verified with multiple dictionaries) as a good definition that describes how the term would actually be used (and not just how I or you or anyone else thinks it “should” be used). You picked this definition because you thought it would serve you well to show both the objective and subjective components of beauty…I am just pointing out that actually, this definition highlights the centrality of subjectivity.

    Like, if you say Mozart is beautiful, I get that you think beauty is inherent to Mozart’s music. But in the very definition you have picked, whatever inherent qualities you pick are considered beauty because they give pleasure to the sense. So, if those qualities did not give pleasure to the senses, they would not fit that definition. Those qualities aren’t beautiful regardless of whether they give pleasure to the senses. They are described as beautiful because they give pleasure to the senses.

    They don’t have to be my senses. They don’t have to be your senses. But they are described with respect to someone’s senses. That’s counter to objectivity, which disregards individual experience, feeling, etc.,

    I am open to being challenged on the definition (as I have come to realize my use of “perception” is idiosyncratic and not philosophically very rigorous), and of course, I’m open to the possibility that “how terms are actually used” may often not be philosophically or scientifically rigorous. But I don’t think this is just *me begging the question.* It’s not just *me* defining away the problem — I’m trying to refer to agreed upon definitions and uses for the term.

    I would go so far as to say that everything that people think is beautiful, more than likely contains beauty in some way and to some degree — because everything comes from God. As I said before, beauty is superabundant in the world, and I’m pretty liberal in admitting that beauty can be found even in things that I personally don’t care for.

    Fair. Reasonable. But how would beauty “in things that [you] personally don’t care for” enrich your life?

    What I’m not liberal about is admitting that anything is as beautiful as anything else (e.g. Mozart and Miley). So, I wouldn’t say that you’re wrong in finding something beautiful, even if I might say you’re wrong in finding this particular thing more beautiful than that particular thing.

    One question: how often do you find yourself saying that you yourself are wrong in finding one particular thing more beautiful than another particular thing? Can you give some examples of this, and explain that thought process?

    P.s., something just struck me on immaterial things that I could still recognize as objective. Math: I recognize that I may not understand math (despite my profession, I am really horrible at mathematical thinking. I may have mentioned to you that this is not so bad since accounting is not really about math at all, even though people think it is). It is not intuitive to me. (A lot of mathematical concepts are not intuitive to a lot of people though, so I don’t feel too bad.) But I recognize, even though many mathematical concepts are not tangible, physical, measurable, that it’s still objective. (I understand that’s a whole philosophical debate though.) I can be flat wrong at a math question, even though at the time I think I understood it and got it right. And I know that: I know I can’t just trust my feelings or my gut because that’s not how math works. Would that count, or would you say that I can still “measure” and “weigh” those sorts of things?

  11. Agellius permalink

    You write, “What’s important here is that the object of faith is not faith itself. It’s something else (e.g., God). That something else may not even exist (but as you note, it may), but faith can nevertheless exist because faith is the subjective experience. I’m saying that’s notable, and that makes faith subjective.”

    In the analogy I referred to the “subjective experience of faith”. Of course that is subjective.

    You write, “in the same way you’d like to believe your faith is not mistakenly placed (even though you have faith regardless of whether God exists or not, or whether he exists in the way your faith supposed), you would like to believe that the things you find beautiful aren’t mistakenly regarded as such. But that’s still says more about *you*.”

    Yes, I would like to believe that the things I put my faith in, and the things I find beautiful aren’t mistakenly regarded as such. And yes, this says something about me. But the point of the analogy is that differences in subjective experiences of things don’t necessarily entail that the things themselves are subjective. Another analogy is truth – in fact this is what both analogies boil down to: There is certainly a subjective element of truth, in that people understand true things differently, and indeed have different ideas regarding truth itself. But as the heat mirage illustration shows, subjective disagreements about truth don’t entail logically that truth itself is subjective.

    You write, “We didn’t get to how beauty could affect someone (e.g., enrich them) without them recognizing it. If I listen to Mozart and have no aesthetic response whatsoever, in what way has Mozart affected me? If you can give an answer that seems reasonable to me, then I would concede. But it seems that beauty is defined by that “pleasing of the senses”. (and I know you have a criticism here)”

    This would be a deep metaphysical discussion of its own. Let me ask you this: Would you agree that goodness is good for people, whether or not they recognize it as good? Would exposing people to evil be bad for them, even if they didn’t recognize it as evil? For me it’s a truism that goodness is good for people, and their subjective recognition of it is beside the point.

    Thomas Aquinas says that “Beauty and goodness in a thing are identical fundamentally”. This mirrors something I said earlier, that “My conception of beauty is that it ultimately comes from God and is of his essence, in the same way that goodness and truth come from God and are of his essence”; and that “beauty can be good for people even if they don’t recognize it as such, in the same way that truth and goodness are good for people, whether or not they recognize them as such. They are good for people because we are made to be good, to know truth and to experience beauty. These are the things that make for our ultimate happiness, because our ultimate happiness is in God, who is the source of these things (indeed, is these things).”

    I might say (though I reserve the right to revise or refine this statement) that beauty is the physical manifestation of goodness in a thing. You can’t see goodness per se, but it manifests itself in the form of beauty. This, I suggest, is why God’s creation is so unspeakably and abundantly beautiful.

    You write, “It’s not just *me* defining away the problem — I’m trying to refer to agreed upon definitions and uses for the term.”

    It may have been an agreed upon definition, but it was never agreed upon that the definition “highlights the centrality of subjectivity”. I think that if anything, it highlights the centrality of objectivity, as I said at the time. Again the first definition was: “the quality or aggregate of qualities in a person or thing that gives pleasure to the senses or pleasurably exalts the mind or spirit.” Note that beauty is called a quality or aggregate of qualities in a person or thing. The definition then proceeds to describe what kind of qualities these are by saying what effect they have on people, i.e. they “give pleasure to the senses”. But “giving pleasure to the senses” is not the definition of beauty. If it were, then sex would be beauty, and sugar, and massage, and perfume. The thing that beauty is, according to the definition, is “a quality or aggregate of qualities in a person or thing”; “gives pleasure to the senses” is a modifier describing what types of qualities they are.

    As an analogy, consider the definition of “tiger”: “a very large solitary cat with a yellow-brown coat striped with black, native to the forests of Asia but becoming increasingly rare”. The thing that a tiger is, is a cat; “large”, “solitary” and “with a yellow-brown coat striped with black” specifies what kind of “cat” we’re talking about by giving it a description. But the thing itself is a cat.

    To me, saying that “giving pleasure to the senses” is the central part of the definition of “beauty”, is like saying that “having a yellow-brown coat striped with black” is the central part of the definition of “tiger”. According to these definitions, “tiger” is a cat and “beauty” is a quality in a person or thing; the rest of the definitions merely specify what kind of cat or quality we’re talking about.

    You write, “how would beauty ‘in things that [you] personally don’t care for’ enrich your life?”

    Well, I would rather have a life with Miley Cyrus music exclusively, than one with no music at all.

    You write, “One question: how often do you find yourself saying that you yourself are wrong in finding one particular thing more beautiful than another particular thing? Can you give some examples of this, and explain that thought process?”

    About as often as I find myself wrong about politics or religion. I have found myself wrong on politics on two major occasions: When I came to realize that abortion was evil, which started me on the way to becoming a Republican; and when I realized that democracy has no ultimate principles, which has seriously challeged my belief in democracy as the best possible political system. In other words, I think it’s not something that would occur regularly, but is the kind of thing that comes along with a major new insight or reassessment of reality. It’s hard for me to think of specific examples, but speaking generally, in my life I have changed from thinking that pop/rock/R&B music were better than swing or country, to now thinking the opposite (although obviously, individual pop/rock/R&B songs can be better than individual swing or country tunes). (I realized from a relatively young age that classical was superior to all of the above, even if I didn’t yet enjoy much classical music myself.) I also used to think that mountain or alpine landscapes were more beautiful than desert landscapes, which I considered ugly, but now realize that deserts have beauty inhering in them as well, but just of a different type.

    You write, “I know I can’t just trust my feelings or my gut because that’s not how math works. Would that count, or would you say that I can still ‘measure’ and ‘weigh’ those sorts of things?”

    Not that you can measure or weigh math, but math itself is the very system which is used in measuring and weighing. In other words, it’s a science in the sense in which I have been using the term in this discussion, something which comes naturally to human beings as they interact with the physical world and have the need to count and measure things. I don’t think math is the same kind of thing as justice or love or goodness or beauty, which are, in a sense, standards by which we assess things with our intellects: Is it just? Is it good? Is it loving? We understand what these concepts mean but are hard-pressed to say exactly what they consist of, and for this reason are tempted to say they are only concepts having no existence outside our minds. Yet we (as a species) are also hard-pressed to concede that they are merely personal likes and dislikes.

    By the way, you sometimes denigrate your philosophical skills, but I think you’re a fine philosopher. Like anything it requires time and practice, and learning the lingo doesn’t hurt either, if only for the sake of efficient mutual understanding. But philosophy at root is thinking about reality, and that’s something you’re darned good at.

  12. Yes, I would like to believe that the things I put my faith in, and the things I find beautiful aren’t mistakenly regarded as such. And yes, this says something about me. But the point of the analogy is that differences in subjective experiences of things don’t necessarily entail that the things themselves are subjective. Another analogy is truth – in fact this is what both analogies boil down to: There is certainly a subjective element of truth, in that people understand true things differently, and indeed have different ideas regarding truth itself. But as the heat mirage illustration shows, subjective disagreements about truth don’t entail logically that truth itself is subjective.

    I agree that subjective disagreements about truth don’t entail logically that truth itself is subjective, but it also doesn’t contribute to showing that it’s objective. Rather, it seems you’re using these analogies like this: “We already agree that this concerns something objective that can nevertheless have subjective disagreement. So let’s apply it to this other area to show that that other area is also an objective concern.” But that’s the question — whether beauty is in the same category, whether the analogies work similarly for beauty, etc., I’m saying that in the way we (not just I) define beauty, it seems different.

    re: Mozart recognition vs enrichment

    This would be a deep metaphysical discussion of its own. Let me ask you this: Would you agree that goodness is good for people, whether or not they recognize it as good? Would exposing people to evil be bad for them, even if they didn’t recognize it as evil? For me it’s a truism that goodness is good for people, and their subjective recognition of it is beside the point.

    We’re going to jump into a whole other can of worms here. I was meaning to use this discussion to bounce into a discussion of what subjective morality would mean. But since we can’t gotten off even this point, I haven’t gone into that other realm.

    I think it depends on the particular definition or the particular application of good.

    I will give one example in your favor (e.g., “goodness is good for people, whether they recognize it as good”) and one example not in your favor.

    So, for the example in your favor…I can see how if a parent says to a child, “Eat your broccoli; it’s good for you,” the child may say, “Blech, no broccoli is disgusting.” The child may not recognize the nutritious aspects of broccoli, but those nutritious aspects would still be there, so to the extent good is defined with respect to healthiness for the body, broccoli can be good without someone recognizing it.

    Now, for a different example (that is not in favor): obviously, a lot of Christians are really invested in the idea that homosexual relationships are evil (or at the very least “disordered”). But I think that this is defining evil outside of what it does for people — especially, for gay and lesbian people. In this sense, I think that there is a sense of subjectivity that has to be taken into consideration.

    I understand that we are not necessarily going to agree with this, because you will likely say that goodness and morality are tied to God, so it’s about what God wants and feels, not about what we want and feel. God presumably knows more than we do on it anyway. This gets back to your part quoting Aquinas (“beauty and goodness in a thing are identical fundamentally”) and your commentary about beauty coming from God. Like, my main comment on this part would have to relate to this:

    They are good for people because we are made to be good, to know truth and to experience beauty. These are the things that make for our ultimate happiness, because our ultimate happiness is in God, who is the source of these things (indeed, is these things).

    This part relies on the idea that these things *will* in fact make for our ultimate happiness. It is still defined in relationship to our subjective experience, but you’re just saying that “in fact, these things will make for our ultimate happiness, because our ultimate happiness is in God…”

    But what if someone’s ultimate happiness is not in God. What if God for them is Hell (isn’t this how some formulations of hell basically work? Hell is not the absence of God but not being able to withstand the brilliant presence of God?) At a fundamental level, that’s subjective.

    It may have been an agreed upon definition, but it was never agreed upon that the definition “highlights the centrality of subjectivity”. (and next few paragraphs)

    Do you think my part from my previous comment does not preemptively address what you’re saying.

    “Like, if you say Mozart is beautiful, I get that you think beauty is inherent to Mozart’s music. But in the very definition you have picked, whatever inherent qualities you pick are considered beauty because they give pleasure to the sense. So, if those qualities did not give pleasure to the senses, they would not fit that definition. Those qualities aren’t beautiful regardless of whether they give pleasure to the senses. They are described as beautiful because they give pleasure to the senses.

    They don’t have to be my senses. They don’t have to be your senses. But they are described with respect to someone’s senses. That’s counter to objectivity, which disregards individual experience, feeling, etc.,”

    I will say though on two fronts:

    i.e. they “give pleasure to the senses”. But “giving pleasure to the senses” is not the definition of beauty. If it were, then sex would be beauty, and sugar, and massage, and perfume.

    Could perhaps the distinction here between between “beauty” and “beautiful” (beauty-full)? Because I would say sex, sugar, massage, and perfume all can be beautiful. (I think with things like “sugar”, we might say “delicious”, but is that not a part of beauty? I am reminded of other languages…like Chinese, where if you want to say something is delicious, you might say it is “good to eat” (hao chi), but if you want to say something is visually beautiful, you might say it is “good to look at” or “good looking” (hao kan), but the mechanic is basically the same. “Good” + verb.)

    When you say beauty is objective, is that just a way of saying that “beautiful things” are full of or representative of something objective called “beauty”?

    Are delicious things full of something objective called “deliciousness”?

    I’d say no. That we wouldn’t say “sex is beauty” but “sex is beautiful” can certainly still imply that the qualities cause *us* to be full in terms of our pleased senses. That “beauty-full” or “beautiful” still represents our reaction — though yes, I grant, it is triggered by qualities in other things.

    To me, saying that “giving pleasure to the senses” is the central part of the definition of “beauty”, is like saying that “having a yellow-brown coat striped with black” is the central part of the definition of “tiger”. According to these definitions, “tiger” is a cat and “beauty” is a quality in a person or thing; the rest of the definitions merely specify what kind of cat or quality we’re talking about.

    Yes, “having a yellow-brown coat striped with black” is the central part. That’s how you know you’re not talking about a leopard or a jaguar or just a regular old house cat, even. If you show me a leopard and say, “Well, this is a cat too…” and I say, “But this cat doesn’t have a yellow-brown coat striped with black, so it’s not a tiger” that is a fair retort.

    Similarly, if you say, “Well, look at this quality,” and I say, “But it doesn’t give pleasure to the senses,” that is a fair retort. The rest of the definition doesn’t “merely” specify…it is fundamental, the sine qua non.

    Like, YES, I agree that there are qualities. YES, I agree there are cats. But you don’t have a tiger unless you have a cat with certain features. You don’t have beauty unless you have qualities *that please the senses*. When we’re evaluating for those qualities, we have to check with individuals. We have to see if an individual’s senses are pleased before we can begin to call the triggering quality “beautiful”. So, that quality’s determination as beautiful or not hinges on the individual’s senses.

    You write, “how would beauty ‘in things that [you] personally don’t care for’ enrich your life?”

    Well, I would rather have a life with Miley Cyrus music exclusively, than one with no music at all.

    I think this is because I mistook your understanding of “personally don’t care for.” I took it to mean that you had no aesthetic response to Miley Cyrus (rather than appreciating it, but at a much lower level than other things.)

    I mean, I frequently work and live without any music at all. For me, it would be an easy call: no music at all is not a bad way to go about things. So, if it’s a choice between having the radio on random stuff (that I have no response to or that I actively don’t like) or silence, I do choose silence.

    About as often as I find myself wrong about politics or religion. I have found myself wrong on politics on two major occasions: When I came to realize that abortion was evil, which started me on the way to becoming a Republican; and when I realized that democracy has no ultimate principles, which has seriously challeged my belief in democracy as the best possible political system…

    That is not quite what I was getting at with my question, but I can see how my question was not clear enough. I was not trying to ask, “How often do you change your views on what you find to be more beautiful, moral, etc,.” (which I definitely see is something that can happen, even if not all that regularly)

    The intent behind my question would be to search for an instance like, “I really like this music more than this other piece of music…but I have to admit that this other piece of music is objectively better.”

    On the moral front, it would be to search for an instance like “Abortion is objectively evil, but I subjectively feel that it’s permissible/not evil. I recognize I am wrong on this, and yet I still feel in favor of allowing abortions, being a Democrat, etc., etc.,”

    Can you think of anything like that?

  13. Agellius permalink

    “I agree that subjective disagreements about truth don’t entail logically that truth itself is subjective, but it also doesn’t contribute to showing that it’s objective.”

    It wasn’t intended to. I do contend that subjective disagreements about beauty don’t entail logically that beauty (or anything else) is subjective. Beauty may be purely or mainly subjective, and there may be other ways of demonstrating that, but subjective experiences alone don’t do it.

    “you will likely say that goodness and morality are tied to God, so it’s about what God wants and feels, not about what we want and feel. God presumably knows more than we do on it anyway”

    Again your way of talking about God seems to betray the Mormon understanding of God, which is not a criticism but may serve to explain one of the ways in which we’re talking past each other. I don’t think of God wanting and feeling things, or of any kind of a comparison between how knowledgeable God is compared with us. You speak as though there were a proportion between us and God, as if he were more or less the same kind of thing we are only to a greater extent. Thus, we’re intelligent but God is way more intelligent; we know things but God knows a lot more, and so forth.

    But for Catholics the difference between us and God is not merely quantitative — that God is a thousand or a million or a kajillion times more knowledgeable and powerful than we are — but that he is infinitely so. Thus he doesn’t just know better than we do, he knows *absolutely*; he’s not just more powerful, he’s *absolutely* powerful.

    https://agellius.wordpress.com/2014/09/04/is-gods-infinitude-unscriptural/

    https://agellius.wordpress.com/2013/09/07/to-create-anything-out-of-nothing-an-infinite-power-is-required/

    “But what if someone’s ultimate happiness is not in God. What if God for them is Hell (isn’t this how some formulations of hell basically work? Hell is not the absence of God but not being able to withstand the brilliant presence of God?) At a fundamental level, that’s subjective.”

    Again this betrays a Mormon conception of God, as if God is someone whose company we may or may not happen to like. To us, it’s an objective fact that God is the source of happiness. Someone who can’t — or rather won’t, since he offers it to everyone — get happiness from God simply cannot be happy, and therefore will be unhappy for eternity. Being unable to find happiness in God, is tantamount to being unable to find happiness in reality, since God is the source of all that is real. Finding happiness apart from God or against God, is fantasy and insanity. (Which is basically what Aquinas says about the fallen angels: That they were determined to be happy on their own terms, rather than be dependent upon God for their happiness, and this was their downfall.)

    “When you say beauty is objective, is that just a way of saying that “beautiful things” are full of or representative of something objective called “beauty”? Are delicious things full of something objective called “deliciousness”?”

    I would say that both are full of something objective called “goodness”, and we experience goodness in different ways. As you said, something visually beautiful is “good to look at”, and something audibly beautiful is “good to listen to”.

    I think there’s a difference, though, between experiencing something as visually beautiful and experiencing direct sensual pleasure like sexual pleasure, massage or the sweetness of sugar, which are basically direct, involuntary physical sensations.

    “Yes, “having a yellow-brown coat striped with black” is the central part. That’s how you know you’re not talking about a leopard or a jaguar or just a regular old house cat, even. If you show me a leopard and say, “Well, this is a cat too…” and I say, “But this cat doesn’t have a yellow-brown coat striped with black, so it’s not a tiger” that is a fair retort….”, etc.

    If you’re saying that both halves of the definition are needed, I agree. But I’m saying that the second half is a modifier, and the first half is the thing modified. If omitting the “yellow with black stripes” part leaves you not knowing what kind of a cat you have, what does omitting the “cat” part leave you with?

    “The intent behind my question would be to search for an instance like, “I really like this music more than this other piece of music…but I have to admit that this other piece of music is objectively better.”

    I did say that in my younger days I admitted that classical music was superior to pop, even though I didn’t enjoy much classical music myself.

    “On the moral front, it would be to search for an instance like “Abortion is objectively evil, but I subjectively feel that it’s permissible/not evil. I recognize I am wrong on this, and yet I still feel in favor of allowing abortions, being a Democrat, etc., etc.,” Can you think of anything like that?”

    I don’t think I have ever thought of morality in terms of how I felt about things. For me it has always been an external standard to which I either assented or didn’t. At times I have wondered at how seemingly cruel and difficult morality could be. For example in Dickens, it seems like he often has his heroes in situations where they voluntarily undergo extreme, prolonged suffering rather than take some seemingly simple, easy step that could alleviate their distress and provide them with an easy, comfortable life. But they won’t because of some principle or other which they would sooner die than violate. But this I think is what makes you love his heroes and get that lump in your throat when things work out for them in the end.

  14. Agellius,

    It wasn’t intended to. [show that beauty is objective]

    One of the responses you preemptively address on your post is that your argument hinges on beauty being objective. If we’re still at the place where it could be objective…it could be subjective…then you haven’t actually addressed that point.

    Again your way of talking about God seems to betray the Mormon understanding of God, which is not a criticism but may serve to explain one of the ways in which we’re talking past each other….But for Catholics the difference between us and God is not merely quantitative — that God is a thousand or a million or a kajillion times more knowledgeable and powerful than we are — but that he is infinitely so. Thus he doesn’t just know better than we do, he knows *absolutely*; he’s not just more powerful, he’s *absolutely* powerful.

    Perhaps I am still not getting the non-LDS understanding of God…but this part that I’ve quoted here after the ellipsis doesn’t sidestep my issue. When you say “God knows” that still implies a subjectivity. Just saying “knows absolutely” doesn’t change that subjectivity — you’re just making that subjectivity the most important.

    Again this betrays a Mormon conception of God, as if God is someone whose company we may or may not happen to like. To us, it’s an objective fact that God is the source of happiness. Someone who can’t — or rather won’t, since he offers it to everyone — get happiness from God simply cannot be happy, and therefore will be unhappy for eternity. Being unable to find happiness in God, is tantamount to being unable to find happiness in reality, since God is the source of all that is real. Finding happiness apart from God or against God, is fantasy and insanity. (Which is basically what Aquinas says about the fallen angels: That they were determined to be happy on their own terms, rather than be dependent upon God for their happiness, and this was their downfall.)

    While this is interesting, there are definitely ways that people can happy doing what Catholicism (or any other religion) says is “objectively disordered” or “sinful”.

    I think there’s a difference, though, between experiencing something as visually beautiful and experiencing direct sensual pleasure like sexual pleasure, massage or the sweetness of sugar, which are basically direct, involuntary physical sensations.

    I think you could say of all of them that they are beautiful though.

    But even if we go with the sweetness of sugar…is that inherent to sugar, or is it a relation of how human tastes buds have evolved over time? (actually, you don’t have to go there if you don’t want to.)

    If you’re saying that both halves of the definition are needed, I agree. But I’m saying that the second half is a modifier, and the first half is the thing modified. If omitting the “yellow with black stripes” part leaves you not knowing what kind of a cat you have, what does omitting the “cat” part leave you with?

    I’m not just saying that both halves of the definition are needed. I’m saying that the modifier cannot be relegated to “just” being a modifier.

    In particular, with the beauty definition, that modifier (“pleases the senses”) is precisely what makes the term require a subjective evaluation.

    Like, OK, if red hair is a trait that is beautiful, then we can say that has two parts: the quality (red hair) and the modifier (pleases the senses). The hair only attains the modifier if it actually pleases the senses — which it won’t for everybody. However, we know that for any individual, regardless of what triggers it, there is something about how ***they*** are built that pleases the senses when they witness or experience certain things. That’s what I’m trying to get at: what a person says is beautiful says something about *them*.

    I did say that in my younger days I admitted that classical music was superior to pop, even though I didn’t enjoy much classical music myself.

    OK, I will allow it. Although I do wonder how much of that could be due to alternative considerations (e.g., feeling like you should consider it superior because it is held in high esteem by other people, even if you didn’t enjoy it), I am not going to press that.

    I don’t think I have ever thought of morality in terms of how I felt about things.

    Well, there’s yet another place you’re zigging when I was expecting zagging. How much of this could just be a difference in personalities or temperaments, I wonder?

    For me it has always been an external standard to which I either assented or didn’t. At times I have wondered at how seemingly cruel and difficult morality could be. For example in Dickens, it seems like he often has his heroes in situations where they voluntarily undergo extreme, prolonged suffering rather than take some seemingly simple, easy step that could alleviate their distress and provide them with an easy, comfortable life. But they won’t because of some principle or other which they would sooner die than violate. But this I think is what makes you love his heroes and get that lump in your throat when things work out for them in the end.

    See, the way I would interpret this is that the heroes would voluntarily undergo extreme, prolonged suffering rather than take some seemingly simple, easy step because they *felt* that violating some principle or another would be personally, subjectively unconscionable to them. But one person’s “core principle” will not be the same as another, so one person’s sacrifices and suffering may not make sense to another.

    then again, I’m not generally a fan of dickens……..

  15. Agellius permalink

    You write, ‘One of the responses you preemptively address on your post is that your argument hinges on beauty being objective. If we’re still at the place where it could be objective…it could be subjective…then you haven’t actually addressed that point.’

    When I subsequently said that beauty may be objective or may be subjective, what I meant is that it can’t be proven either way in the strict sense, which is why it remains a philosophical problem. Still, my opinion is that there are stronger arguments in favor of it’s being objective. Again this gets down to definitions: I think beauty is a quality built into things, but it’s also fair to say that it’s built into us, in that we have the built-in capacity to recognize and enjoy it. When we do recognize and enjoy it, that’s a subjective experience in us, but I contend that it’s an experience *of* something outside ourselves. In the same way, we have a built-in capacity to recognize truth, and when we do recognize it that’s a subjective experience, but nonetheless I contend that it’s an experience of something outside ourselves. I can’t prove it in either case, in the strict sense.

    You write, ‘When you say “God knows” that still implies a subjectivity. Just saying “knows absolutely” doesn’t change that subjectivity — you’re just making that subjectivity the most important.’

    You can say that God knows things subjectively in the sense that he is a knowing subject. But (N.B.) this doesn’t bear the same connotation that the word “subjective” bears in regard to human beings. With us, “subjective” connotes the idea that what’s in our mind, or what we experience interiorly, may not accurately reflect what’s in the “real world” outside our minds. With God this is not the case.

    We can only experience created reality through the sensory input of our bodies processed by our limited minds, which can’t see everything that’s out there, and can’t fully understand everything they see. But this isn’t so with God, who doesn’t experience reality in the limited way we do. He is not dependent on a body as mediator between the mind and the universe, and there is no limitation to the processing power of his mind. He experiences reality directly, immediately and comprehensively. Therefore what is so within God’s mind is also so without God’s mind, and vice versa. He doesn’t think, or suspect, or have opinions, he simply knows, and what he knows is entirely consonant with reality, since reality literally originates in his knowledge. Thus, God’s knowledge and objective reality align in every particular. He has no knowledge, called “subjective knowledge”, which is separate from his complete and perfectly accurate knowledge of objective reality, nor does he have feelings or intuitions or other things that are normally connoted by the word “subjective”. All of his knowledge is perfect, complete and immediate.

    You write, ‘While this is interesting, there are definitely ways that people can happy doing what Catholicism (or any other religion) says is “objectively disordered” or “sinful”.’

    That’s a matter of opinion — and a topic in itself — having to do with how we define “happiness”. (Here we go again … : ) Does happiness consist of the subjective experience of a certain type of emotion? Can one be happy even while suffering? Are things that make people feel good sometimes actually bad for them?

    ‘we know that for any individual, regardless of what triggers it, there is something about how ***they*** are built that pleases the senses when they witness or experience certain things. That’s what I’m trying to get at: what a person says is beautiful says something about *them*.’

    I agree that it says something about them. It says that they have a built-in capacity to recognize and experience the beauty in things. And the fact that different people judge different things beautiful, says that there is an infinite amount of beauty in the world and no one can appreciate all of it, and also that there are infinite differences among people, enabling some of them to recognize beauty that others miss, and vice versa.

    You write, ‘See, the way I would interpret this is that the heroes would voluntarily undergo extreme, prolonged suffering rather than take some seemingly simple, easy step because they *felt* that violating some principle or another would be personally, subjectively unconscionable to them. But one person’s “core principle” will not be the same as another, so one person’s sacrifices and suffering may not make sense to another.’

    I think I get what you’re saying. But I could never stop at the feeling. I would have to ask myself, “how do my feelings know? What verifies the validity of my feeling that this is wrong or that is right?” And that has to lead to an objective standard. Otherwise there’s no reason not to do the opposite of what my feelings say to do, other than the fact that I might not like how it feels.

  16. You can say that God knows things subjectively in the sense that he is a knowing subject. But (N.B.) this doesn’t bear the same connotation that the word “subjective” bears in regard to human beings. With us, “subjective” connotes the idea that what’s in our mind, or what we experience interiorly, may not accurately reflect what’s in the “real world” outside our minds. With God this is not the case.

    But what I’m saying here is that if beauty is a subjective trait, then the question is not whether what we experience interiorly may not accurately reflect what’s in the real world outside our minds — because beauty exists in the “real world” precisely as something inside our minds. I’m saying that God’s knowledge on this front must include the knowledge of billions of our subjective experiences. (and I recognize that this is not outside the purview of scripture, but I’m just saying…God’s knowledge of beauty is knowledge about *us*. And I mean, since he created us, he certainly could have created us, as you say later, with the capacity to recognize beauty in certain ways. I understand if you will still disagree on the whole “objective knowledge of beauty = God’s knowledge of every mind”, however).

    So with God, I say that still is the case. The question is whether our minds can disagree with God’s mind. That seems to be the case. You describe it as what it means to “simply be unable to be happy,” but I’m saying that doesn’t seem to be evidenced. But I’ll comment more on that later:

    That’s a matter of opinion — and a topic in itself — having to do with how we define “happiness”. (Here we go again … : ) Does happiness consist of the subjective experience of a certain type of emotion? Can one be happy even while suffering? Are things that make people feel good sometimes actually bad for them?

    I’m saying this is PRECISELY there realm where opinions matter. This is definitely the topic we are at.

    It seems like the way you have to defeat this is by saying that when people *feel* happy (e.g., they are feeling some sort of emotion that they would recognize and identify as happiness) that they are incorrect about that. I mean, maybe we should just stop here if you are going to say that every emotion is really just “recognition” of some “objective” thing outside of the mind.

    But I still am going to say that unlike the mirage example where the water isn’t real, that emotion that they feel still is real. Saying that that’s not happiness doesn’t mean they don’t feel it, or that they don’t desire to feel it, or that they aren’t perfectly ok with feeling it and desiring to continue to feel it.

    I think the question of whether one can be happy while suffering gets to the mention earlier (or maybe in another discussion) of how we can define these things in several different categories…one might physically suffer while being emotionally happy. Or any number of combinations.

    You say, “Are things that make people feel good sometimes actually bad for them?”

    I think the answer to this is yes, but also that we are comparing two different things. Eating a bunch of sweets whenever I want may make me feel good, but in terms of my physical health, it may be bad for me. But that doesn’t mean I am not happy while I’m doing it.

    I think one argument you could make is a measurement of long-term vs short term. E.g., I will truly be happy in the short term (happiness is defined by my subjective experiences here, so when I say “truly” here, I am saying that subjectively, it is factual that I will feel happy)…but in the long term as the health detriments pile up, I may no longer feel happy (e.g., the pain of the health complications will make it more difficult to feel happy…although not impossible.)

    I think another argument you could make is to discount certain forms of happiness over other forms of experiences or emotions. (But I still think that you’d have to make an argument for one subjective experience over another…as we’re getting at with the Dickens example…[although, you don’t seem to agree with my sentiments there, haha.])

    I agree that it says something about them. It says that they have a built-in capacity to recognize and experience the beauty in things. And the fact that different people judge different things beautiful, says that there is an infinite amount of beauty in the world and no one can appreciate all of it, and also that there are infinite differences among people, enabling some of them to recognize beauty that others miss, and vice versa.

    I guess one thing I can say is that with this additional explanation, I can see how belief in an objective view of beauty would work out from within this framework. Not saying I agree with it, but I can see it.

    But let me ask another question to test: do you think there is beauty even in sin (even if it’s lesser or even much lesser than the beauty in righteousness)? It seems like that is another piece that has to be in place when you say that we are just recognizing and experiencing the beauty *in* things and that it’s just that there is too much beauty for us all to handle.

    I think I get what you’re saying. But I could never stop at the feeling. I would have to ask myself, “how do my feelings know? What verifies the validity of my feeling that this is wrong or that is right?” And that has to lead to an objective standard. Otherwise there’s no reason not to do the opposite of what my feelings say to do, other than the fact that I might not like how it feels.

    For me, the reason not to oppose what my feelings say to do is precisely because *I have to live with myself and how it would feel to do such.* Like, it seems you’re saying that you would choose a path that would make you miserable, if that path didn’t compromise or violate an objective standard (and the happy alternative, to the contrary, would). You raise the Dickens characters up as an attempt to show this, I think.

    But if you’re miserable where you’re at, AND you get no satisfaction or joy from following the objective standard, then what is the point?

    I could see someone saying, “I will choose misery because I derive a different sort of satisfaction/joy/happiness/whatever from following standards I believe are true.” I could see someone saying, “I will choose not the violate this standard because I believe that would make me more miserable than any temporary happiness I could draw from it.”

    But to me, that gets right back to the subjective aspect.

  17. Agellius permalink

    I wanted to try a new approach.

    I was listening to an audio book on my way to work the other day, and it’s about how marketers try to use data gleaned from internet cookies to predict what kinds of products you might be interested in. At one point the author says, “Each piece of data by itself is meaningless, but when you link them all together a picture begins to emerge,” or something like that. It occurred to me that this might illustrate what you’re driving at in this discussion: Not just that individual data points are meaningless since they don’t provide the whole picture, but that even when you have all the data points assembled, the resulting picture is meaningless without a human being (i.e. a subject) to see the result and give it meaning.

    I think what you’re saying is that when we look at something beautiful, the thing itself, apart from our beholding it, is just a bunch of “data points”, so to speak. It takes a subject to put the data together into a picture that means something to someone.

    This also made me think of DNA. DNA is basically information in the form of a blueprint of sorts. But doesn’t information require intelligence to exist, both to create and to comprehend? This is a point of dispute, obviously, between materialists and theists. But does something count as information if there is no subject to either create or comprehend it? If no intelligence is present to comprehend something, does it still qualify as information? Or is it just stuff lying around? But the thing about DNA (and many other forms of information in the universe) is that it was doing its job of serving as a blueprint for the formation of living bodies long before anyone was aware of it. If it was serving and acting as a blueprint, then surely it contained information, as surely as an architectural plan for constructing a building contains information, regardless of human subjects becoming aware of it.

    So yes, I would contend that DNA contains information. But what it doesn’t contain is meaning. It takes a subject to give information meaning. There may be a set of architectural plans for a medievel cathedral lying in a remote, dusty cubbyhole of some ancient building, which surely contains information. But that information has no meaning apart from a subject looking at it and interpreting it, and understanding what it is and what it’s for. By the same token DNA has meaning for us, in the sense that we know it represents the plan for the body of a unique living thing. And when a marketer puts together the discrete data points from someone’s internet browsing trail, and we say a picture beigns to emerge, what we’re saying is that the data begins to have meaning – specifically because a subject, the marketer, is forming that meaning in his mind. Apart from that subject, the data points remain nothing but meaningless data points.

    It occurs to me that a subject experiencing a thing as beautiful is analogous to that subject giving meaning to the thing observed. But wait: Is the subject *giving* meaning to the thing, or is it only *discerning* meaning that is already there? You would say that there is no meaning until it’s given by a subject, since meaning exists only in a subject. And I agree. But the thing is, as a Christian I believe the entire universe has meaning — and had meaning even before human beings were around to impart that meaning to it. Because the universe was made by a subject, and is held in existence constantly by that same subject, there is never a time when there is no subject imparting meaning to it.

    For this reason, I believe that when we find meaning in a thing, we are only discerning meaning that is already there. Granted, there could be times when people impart meaning to a thing which is not actually there, or which is false. Probably everyone has had the experience of his motives being misconstrued. But there are also times when we discern meaning correctly, that is, meaning that is objectively there because it was imparted by God, and we have been given the capacity to discern that meaning.

    You may ask how we can see the meaning that is imparted by another subject. After all, the meaning that you impart to something is not accessible to me since I’m not in your mind, so how can we discern the meaning that is in God’s mind? But we must recall that God is a spirit and therefore can be within us in a way in which we cannot be within each other. Since God is existence itself, our existence is only a partaking of God’s existence; since he is goodness itself, our goodness, and the goodness in our lives, is only a partking of God’s goodness. By the same token, any meaning that exists in our lives is only a partaking of the meaning that God gives to our lives, and any meaning found in the universe is imparted to it by God.

    We may not always discern that meaning correctly, and I would argue that that’s a result of the Fall: Before the Fall we were in harmony with God and creation, and afterwards the light of our intellects was darkened and hampered; but not fully extinguished, so that we retain some ability to discern and detect God’s presence in the world through his effects in creation.

    Going back to the data points: Even if no subject is present to assemble the data points into a meaningful whole, the data points remain. When a subject does assemble them into a meaningful whole, he is only recognizing what was already there. That he is able to assemble them into a meaningful thing, has to mean that they had that meaning in the first place, even before he discerned it. When he forms a picture in his mind of a person based on that person’s actions, he is only able to do so because a person actually existed and created those data points on his travels through the web.

    I don’t see why I should believe that when someone discerns beauty in a thing, he is not also recognizing what is already there. It seems your only argument for this position is that we define beauty in terms of the effect of things on a subject. But I have already given my response to that argument, which is basically that there can be no effect of a thing on a subject where there is no thing in the first place. You admit the existence of the “thing”, but you say it’s a mere data point. But I say the subject is not merely discerning the existence of the thing, the data; that would be a mere perception of the thing’s physical properties and nature. I submit that when he discerns beauty, what he is discerning in the thing, beyond its bare physical properties, is its preexisting meaning. This, I would suggest, is why beauty moves us as it does: Because we sense something in a thing that is more than its mere physical makeup.

  18. I definitely think that this comment is an interesting way to move forward. And maybe it will offer a way to translate/reconcile a lot of the differences (although, hehe, maybe not quite).

    Not just that individual data points are meaningless since they don’t provide the whole picture, but that even when you have all the data points assembled, the resulting picture is meaningless without a human being (i.e. a subject) to see the result and give it meaning.

    I think that this fits what I am trying to get at, but mostly because I do see “meaning” as another thing that is subjective. However, I would imagine (and I don’t have to imagine…others have argued this) that some could suppose that there is such a thing as “objective meaning”. But without going there, yeah, i think I would agree here: meaning requires a subject.

    I think the thoughts on information, intelligence, and so forth, are interesting…I’m not entirely sure that information requires intelligence to create…(or if it does, I think we would have to look at very different definitions of intelligence here). I am amenable to the idea that intelligence is required to perceive information and to store it as, say, knowledge.

    But to me, the idea that information requires intelligence to create would be farther sweeping than just, say, the DNA example. Like, the composition of any element, and of anything composed of elements would be “information” even if there is no one to process it. (What makes “quartz” vs what makes “feldspar” or whatever is still information.) But to say that information requires intelligence to create in this sense would be begging the question that the existence of a material universe (regardless of whether it had conscious beings in it, even!) requires an intelligent creator. (And I don’t want to get into the five ways here or anything like that, lol.)

    It occurs to me that a subject experiencing a thing as beautiful is analogous to that subject giving meaning to the thing observed. But wait: Is the subject *giving* meaning to the thing, or is it only *discerning* meaning that is already there? You would say that there is no meaning until it’s given by a subject, since meaning exists only in a subject. And I agree. But the thing is, as a Christian I believe the entire universe has meaning — and had meaning even before human beings were around to impart that meaning to it. Because the universe was made by a subject, and is held in existence constantly by that same subject, there is never a time when there is no subject imparting meaning to it.

    This gets at what I’ve been saying regarding the Christian view of “objectivity” really just being prioritizing God’s subjective view over all. You may have reasons and a way of thinking about God that justifies that, but still, I think that the key point here is that in this model “the universe was made by a subject, and is held in existence constantly by that same subject.” This doesn’t mean that meaning is independent of all subjects. Rather, it means that for Christians, one mind’s meaning trumps all others.

    So, i think for other parts of the comment, we can talk about “one mind (e.g., God’s) meaning trumping others’ (e.g., humans’). For example, you say:

    For this reason, I believe that when we find meaning in a thing, we are only discerning meaning that is already there. Granted, there could be times when people impart meaning to a thing which is not actually there, or which is false. Probably everyone has had the experience of his motives being misconstrued. But there are also times when we discern meaning correctly, that is, meaning that is objectively there because it was imparted by God, and we have been given the capacity to discern that meaning.

    My counter to your first line here is that people can have meaning that is different than what a theist would claim God’s meaning is. Unless God simultaneously projects/creates all possibilities of meaning, you then have to say what you say next: “there could be times when people impart meaning to a thing which is not actually there, or which is false.”

    But from my perspective, I don’t think you can have meaning that is not actually there, because the “thereness” is internal to an individual. If an individual has meaning, the meaning is “there” because it’s within the individual.

    Yes, we can talk about motives being misconstrued, but we cannot say that the misconstrual is a phantom or an illusion (as it would seem to be from an objective viewpoint). Rather, the misconstrual is a *real thing* that we have to engage with because we are engaging with the people who have misconstrual. (If you privilege an objective view, then you might say that the misconstrued motive is not “real”. But this looks more like escapism from the subjectivist…Meanings are precisely the sorts of things where we have to work with what people believe and what they subjectively experience, and it doesn’t make sense going outside of that.) If our motives are misconstrued, we may work to convince someone to change their minds…but here we are going for intersubjective agreement. We are not getting at something that exists outside of both individuals. The existence is defined by the individuals.

    I am saying that I don’t see why the same cannot be true of God. I am saying that it seems really idiosyncratic to say “imparted by God” = “objective” (although it does make a whole lot of other arguments make a lot more sense, because it turns those arguments into begged questions. E.g, the idea that “objective morality cannot exist without a God” is begging the question because objective morality is now defined as morality imparted by God. [I mean, I personally wouldn’t try to argue that objective morality can exist without God, but that objective morality doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me because morality seems like something that precisely involves subjectivities.]) But regardless of this idiosyncrasy, I’m also saying that you have not established why God’s meaning should be privileged above all others (which is what I *really* think you’re getting at by using the word “objective”). Or, more importantly, which *human* view of God’s morality should be privileged above all others (because that’s another wrinkle here…we don’t seem to interact directly with God all that often. Instead, we’re figuring out whose self-reported statements of God’s commandments we should trust as being such.)

    Going back to the data points: Even if no subject is present to assemble the data points into a meaningful whole, the data points remain. When a subject does assemble them into a meaningful whole, he is only recognizing what was already there. That he is able to assemble them into a meaningful thing, has to mean that they had that meaning in the first place, even before he discerned it. When he forms a picture in his mind of a person based on that person’s actions, he is only able to do so because a person actually existed and created those data points on his travels through the web.

    I agree that the data points remain, but not that the assembly of meaning represents “only recognizing what was already there”. (although I think that we can keep going back and back on the data points. This is what I was arguing with “color” and “sound”. Data points exist, but subjects process these too…Whether I process a certain wavelength as red or green depends on my rods, cones, etc.,)

    When a subject does assemble the pre-existing data points into a meaningful whole, I think he is adding something — that is, the meaning. The entire disagreement is whether the assemblage just represents recognition of pre-existing meaning (your position), or whether it represents the creation internally of meaning (my position). I am saying that there was not meaning outside of a mind, but now that this mind has assembled the data in a certain way, meaning has arisen in his mind.

    This is true whether it’s God or humans. Saying that God did it first and does it constantly does not preclude humans from doing something different, doing something divergent, or doing something new.

    Yes, the person existed. Yes, the data points on his travels existed. But whether the meaning was pre-existent along with the person and the data points is the entire debate.

    For your position to work, I think that you have to argue that every potential meaning that can be drawn from a data point is inherent to that data point. To go back to misconstrued motives, you’d have to argue that within one person’s action and motive inheres both the meaning they intended AND the meaning that the other person perceived (which disagrees and therefore misconstrues the first person’s meaning.)

    And for whatever it’s worth, I think that theoretically, one could argue that. But to me, it just makes more sense to say that the various permutations of meaning exist within the individual subjects, not the objects themselves.

    I don’t see why I should believe that when someone discerns beauty in a thing, he is not also recognizing what is already there. It seems your only argument for this position is that we define beauty in terms of the effect of things on a subject. But I have already given my response to that argument, which is basically that there can be no effect of a thing on a subject where there is no thing in the first place. You admit the existence of the “thing”, but you say it’s a mere data point. But I say the subject is not merely discerning the existence of the thing, the data; that would be a mere perception of the thing’s physical properties and nature. I submit that when he discerns beauty, what he is discerning in the thing, beyond its bare physical properties, is its preexisting meaning. This, I would suggest, is why beauty moves us as it does: Because we sense something in a thing that is more than its mere physical makeup.

    I think that your more expansive definition of beauty (e.g., that beauty is so abundant that we cannot perceive it all; therefore, that explains why we may see different things as beautiful) helps with this partially…but I think that ultimately, you still haven’t fully addressed my difficulty here. You can’t just stop at people not seeing beauty in things you think are objectively beautiful…you also have to address people seeing beauty in things that you think are objectively not beautiful.

    That’s why I asked earlier: do you think that all things are beautiful in some way, shape, or fashion (including, say, sins)?

    I have tried to bring this sort of argumentation on the other analogies too…With meaning, you have to account for misconstrued motives (which is *still* meaning to the person who is misconstruing, even if it doesn’t agree with the original actor’s intentions). With happiness (from the other topic), you have to account for a person’s experienced happiness (which is *still* happiness to the person experiencing it, even if it doesn’t agree with the sorts of things you believe cause happiness.) And so on.

  19. Agellius permalink

    You write, ‘This gets at what I’ve been saying regarding the Christian view of “objectivity” really just being prioritizing God’s subjective view over all. You may have reasons and a way of thinking about God that justifies that, but still, I think that the key point here is that in this model “the universe was made by a subject, and is held in existence constantly by that same subject.” This doesn’t mean that meaning is independent of all subjects. Rather, it means that for Christians, one mind’s meaning trumps all others. … But from my perspective, I don’t think you can have meaning that is not actually there, because the “thereness” is internal to an individual. If an individual has meaning, the meaning is “there” because it’s within the individual.’

    Yes, meaning is internal to an individual. But if you insist that it’s only in the beholding individual and not in the thing beheld, then I have to say again that you’re talking about an illusion of some kind. An illusion basically is when we believe we are perceiving something that is not actually there. If we say that a painting or a book has a meaning, and the meaning is only in our heads, then we’re asserting the existence of something that is not actually there – in the painting or book – but is only in our heads.

    However, we may be using two different senses of the word “meaning”. If I utter a statement, and someone misconstrues my meaning, it’s true that he has one meaning corresponding to my statement in his mind, and I have a different meaning corresponding to my statement in my mind. Nevertheless I know what I meant in uttering my statement.

    So in a sense, it has the meaning that I intended, insofar as it’s my statement, even if someone else construes it in a different way. In this sense the meaning is not only in my mind, but also in the statement. Yes, insofar as it’s a generic statement that anyone could have uttered, the words themselves may be susceptible of varying interpretations. But insofar as it’s *my* statement, it has the one meaning and not the others, since it’s an objective fact that I meant the one thing and not the others.

    The same goes for a painting or a poem. If people beholding the painting or reading the poem don’t care what the author or the painter meant, they can proceed to give it any meaning they want. But usually when people talk about the meaning of a work of art, they’re talking about its intended meaning, and not just whatever meaning pops into the head of whoever looks at it. For example the Canterbury Tales by Chaucer was written in a very different time from our own, and so its meaning is not always apparent to us moderns on its face. As a result, scholars have spent a lot of time analyzing it in terms of its contemporary context: A statement made in that context would mean something different from what it appears to mean to us. Scholars may also discern the likely or probable meanings of certain lines, based on what they know of Chaucer himself, what is known of his experiences, or what he may have written elsewhere.

    When we talk about the meaning of the Canturbury Tales in this sense, we’re talking about the meaning that Chaucer evidently intended to convey when he wrote it, and not whatever meaning may happen to occur to Modern Person X reading the poem in the modern context. But we’re not talking about the subjective meaning that exists in Chaucer’s mind, because he’s dead! Instead we’re talking about the meaning that he imparted to the words when he composed them. It is in that sense that we usually speak of the meaning of a work of art.

    I submit that “meaning” in this sense is neither in the mind of the artist (especially if he is dead) nor in the mind of the beholder (who may be too ignorant to discern it), but is in the work itself.

    You may say that speaking of the meaning of a work of art is just a figure of speech, because meaning, properly speaking, can’t be contained in canvas-and-paint or paper-and-ink, but only in a mind (which, by the way, is an argument against materialism). But I would disagree. I contend that it’s not a mere figure of speech but is a perfectly legitimate manner of speaking.

    As an analogy, consider the word “healthy”: We speak of a healthy body, a healthy mind, or healthy foods. The word “healthy” has basically the same connotation in all three, but means something different in each case. A healthy body means a body that is physically intact and free of illness or injury. A healthy mind has basically the same meaning, but without the notion of physical integrity implied in “healthy body”. And healthy food means not food that is enjoying good health (a broiled chicken, after all, is dead), but rather, food that imparts health to the eater. One might argue that “healthy food” is a mere figure of speech, but it’s not, it’s one of the legitimate senses of the word “healthy”.

    I’m not saying the meaning is there simply because the author says so. Chaucer didn’t just write a bunch of random words and proclaim that they meant X. Rather, Chaucer worked long and hard to actually put the meaning into the words, that is, to ensure that the words themselves conveyed his intended meaning. Painters have often done the same in their works, imparting meaning to them through the use of various symbols, darkness and light, color, and so forth. Thus they don’t have meaning merely because the artist intended a certain meaning, nor merely because the beholder of the work forms a certain impression of it in his mind, but because the artist strove to put his meaning into the work. The work, in a sense, is the meaning in the mind of the artist, made physically manifest. (Is this not what makes it art?)

    Now when Catholics talk about how God created things, we say that he spoke and they came into being. His word makes them so. Jesus himself is called “the Word” of God (in Greek, the Logos), and all things were created by the Word and through the Word (Jn. 1:1). The Catechism says that the universe was made by God for the “manifestation and communication of his goodness”. As Thomas Aquinas puts it:

    ‘[W]e must say that the distinction and multitude of things come from the intention of the first agent, who is God. For He brought things into being in order that His goodness might be communicated to creatures, and be represented by them; and because His goodness could not be adequately represented by one creature alone, He produced many and diverse creatures, that what was wanting to one in the representation of the divine goodness might be supplied by another. For goodness, which in God is simple and uniform, in creatures is manifold and divided and hence the whole universe together participates the divine goodness more perfectly, and represents it better than any single creature whatever.’

    Therefore God intended the universe to manifest and communicate a certain meaning, namely his goodness. But God didn’t just toss off the universe any old way, and then assert that it meant something. Rather, in creating he strove to put that meaning into the universe itself, that is, deliberately made it such that it would in fact convey his meaning. And based on the fact that the vast majority of people throughout history have believed in a God or gods, it would seem that his efforts were successful.

    If God’s meaning is “privileged” or “trumps” other people’s meanings, it’s for the same reason that Chaucer’s intended meaning is privileged by scholars over the subjective impressions of ignorant modern readers: Because he (in both cases) is the source of it and ought to know. The sense in which God’s meaning inheres in the universe is, analogously, the same as the sense in which Chaucer’s meaning inheres in his poems: It was put there intentionally and serves to convey his intended meaning.

    Meaning may not inhere in a work of art in the same sense in which it inheres in a mind, but I submit that it inheres in some sense nevertheless.

  20. Agellius,

    . But if you insist that it’s only in the beholding individual and not in the thing beheld, then I have to say again that you’re talking about an illusion of some kind. An illusion basically is when we believe we are perceiving something that is not actually there. If we say that a painting or a book has a meaning, and the meaning is only in our heads, then we’re asserting the existence of something that is not actually there – in the painting or book – but is only in our heads.

    But the definition of what counts as “something that is not actually there” is what’s under debate. You’re privileging an objective definition over a subjective definition, implying that subject is not “really” there. But my argument is that things like meaning, beauty, etc., are the types of things that are precisely subjective things. Their existence is defined by their existence “in our heads.” Talking about them “only” being in our heads understates the importance of subjectivity.

    When we assert that a painting or a book has a meaning, we are asserting something real insofar as (and precisely because) we are asserting what we are actually experiencing or recognizing in our heads.

    However, we may be using two different senses of the word “meaning”. If I utter a statement, and someone misconstrues my meaning, it’s true that he has one meaning corresponding to my statement in his mind, and I have a different meaning corresponding to my statement in my mind. Nevertheless I know what I meant in uttering my statement.

    Right. But what’s important here is that when we talk about the meaning of the statement, ultimately we are just debating whose subjectivity we will prioritize. You as the utterer of the statement want to prioritize your meaning, for sure, but that doesn’t mean that the other person’s interpretation is illusory. No, it *really* exists, because that other person *really* did interpret your statement that way.

    So in a sense, it has the meaning that I intended, insofar as it’s my statement, even if someone else construes it in a different way. In this sense the meaning is not only in my mind, but also in the statement. Yes, insofar as it’s a generic statement that anyone could have uttered, the words themselves may be susceptible of varying interpretations. But insofar as it’s *my* statement, it has the one meaning and not the others, since it’s an objective fact that I meant the one thing and not the others.

    The same goes for a painting or a poem. If people beholding the painting or reading the poem don’t care what the author or the painter meant, they can proceed to give it any meaning they want. But usually when people talk about the meaning of a work of art, they’re talking about its intended meaning, and not just whatever meaning pops into the head of whoever looks at it. For example the Canterbury Tales by Chaucer was written in a very different time from our own, and so its meaning is not always apparent to us moderns on its face. As a result, scholars have spent a lot of time analyzing it in terms of its contemporary context: A statement made in that context would mean something different from what it appears to mean to us. Scholars may also discern the likely or probable meanings of certain lines, based on what they know of Chaucer himself, what is known of his experiences, or what he may have written elsewhere.

    When we talk about the meaning of the Canturbury Tales in this sense, we’re talking about the meaning that Chaucer evidently intended to convey when he wrote it, and not whatever meaning may happen to occur to Modern Person X reading the poem in the modern context. But we’re not talking about the subjective meaning that exists in Chaucer’s mind, because he’s dead! Instead we’re talking about the meaning that he imparted to the words when he composed them. It is in that sense that we usually speak of the meaning of a work of art.

    So, your counter is that the misinterpreted meaning does NOT really exist, because it is not, in fact, what *you* intended. But I say two things: 1) this is just asserting that your subjectivity is more important than your listener and 2) your subjectivity does not undermine what the other person is actually hearing, interpreting, recognizing.

    In your paragraph about paintings and poems, this is really clear: “if people beholding the painting or reading the poem don’t care *what the author or the painter meant*…” This is not an argument about objectivity. This is an argument about preferential subjectivity. In this case, there is a question whether the audience will care about what the author intended or not. Objectivity would be what the painting or poem means *regardless of what any mind things about it*, but that’s not how meaning works. The painting or poem is imbued meaning by minds — but this is a process performed by BOTH the author AND the audience. That’s why I say it makes more sense to attribute the meaning to the minds rather than the painting/poem — even if it’s the author’s meaning or the painter’s meaning.

    Let me put it in another way: suppose I draw a picture of a blue triangle and say this means the yellow sun. You look at the blue triangle and say, “That’s not the sun.” Your argument for objective meaning should be that the blue triangle’s meaning is independent of whatever you think but also independent of what I think…if it means the sun, that’s not because I said it. And if it doesn’t mean the sun, that’s not because you disagreed.

    I am totally down with us making study of various works in terms of *what the author intended* (or, as you note, *what scholars thinks he may have intended*. [Keep in mind, when you raise up that we’re not talking about the subjective meaning that exists in Chaucer’s mind, I agree…but that’s because I think instead we are talking about the subjective meaning formed around constructs of what *we think* Chaucer would have thought — and right here, right now, is the problem. It’s subjective anyway!] But I just want to point out that that still is not “objective” — and there is also the question of why we should prioritize the author’s POV, just because they wrote it.

    I’m not saying the meaning is there simply because the author says so. Chaucer didn’t just write a bunch of random words and proclaim that they meant X. Rather, Chaucer worked long and hard to actually put the meaning into the words, that is, to ensure that the words themselves conveyed his intended meaning. Painters have often done the same in their works, imparting meaning to them through the use of various symbols, darkness and light, color, and so forth. Thus they don’t have meaning merely because the artist intended a certain meaning, nor merely because the beholder of the work forms a certain impression of it in his mind, but because the artist strove to put his meaning into the work. The work, in a sense, is the meaning in the mind of the artist, made physically manifest. (Is this not what makes it art?)

    I would say that Chaucer had to do several things. Chaucer wanted to communicate in a way that his audience would understand. That’s one reason why the meaning can’t simply be “because the author said so,” but that doesn’t mean that it’s objective either. For example, Chaucer couldn’t just write “gejaoisfjasiodfjaidofu” and have anyone understand that. He had to, at the very least, use symbols, ideas, metaphors, etc., that would be familiar to his audience. He had to use the orthography shared by his culture. Artists do similarly, Musicians do similarly.

    And again, I think that a lot of these things do speak to human physiology. There are certain sounds the human voice cannot make, so they do not appear in any human speech or language. That we can discuss elements of arts and study them says more about human physiology than anything else.

    and yet, the meaning is performed by the audience and the author together. If the author’s meaning doesn’t get across, then that’s unfortunate for him or her, but it doesn’t mean the audience is necessarily ‘wrong’ — because we don’t *have* to prioritize the author’s meaning.

    Let’s apply this to what you have written about God:

    If God’s meaning is “privileged” or “trumps” other people’s meanings, it’s for the same reason that Chaucer’s intended meaning is privileged by scholars over the subjective impressions of ignorant modern readers: Because he (in both cases) is the source of it and ought to know. The sense in which God’s meaning inheres in the universe is, analogously, the same as the sense in which Chaucer’s meaning inheres in his poems: It was put there intentionally and serves to convey his intended meaning.

    Firstly, *If* God’s meaning is privileged or trumps other people’s meaning is precisely the question. IF. Obviously, for many theists, you say it does. But this is not an open-and-shut case.

    When we look at Chaucer’s intended meaning being privileged by scholars, we have to note

    1) not all scholars privilege chaucer’s intended meaning (I mean, you’re ignoring the existence of the reader-response school of criticism, and by prioritizing authorial intent, you are actually opposing the formalist or new critical schools. This is a big deal. Your emphasis on authorial intent, as I’ve mentioned it, contradicts the idea of objective meaning),

    2) the meaning we’re attempting to get at STILL is subjective meaning (Chaucer’s. In contrast, if you took a formalist approach or a new critical approach, you wouldn’t appeal to the author’s intent. You’d take a close reading of the texts themselves — if you truly think such is possible),

    3) the meaning we’re getting at may not be what it attempts to be (e.g., it is the scholar’s interpretation of Chaucer, which may not be what Chaucer actually intended).

    These outline at least three place for breakdown…and I think the same things apply with God.

    1) Why privilege God’s intended meaning?
    2) especially if God’s intended meaning is still subjective?
    3) especially when the people claiming to speak for God may miss the mark even in their attempts?

    I think in the case of human authors and artists, there is an attempt to understand the author’s meaning out of a hope for shared understanding. There is a hope that we are similar enough intersubjectively that with enough study or practice, we can figure out what was motivating the author. We can see what inspired them and be similarly inspired.

    But this is the subjective realm, still, and we are still paying attention to our own subjectivity even when we try to align with the author.

    So, if there is a disconnect…if there is a chasm…then the analysis looks very different.

  21. Agellius permalink

    You write, ‘what’s important here is that when we talk about the meaning of the statement, ultimately we are just debating whose subjectivity we will prioritize. You as the utterer of the statement want to prioritize your meaning, for sure, but that doesn’t mean that the other person’s interpretation is illusory. No, it *really* exists, because that other person *really* did interpret your statement that way.’

    I’m not arguing that the other person’s interpretation doesn’t exist; certainly it does. The question is whether his interpretation matches up with what was intended to be communicated. He can say “I discern this meaning”, but he can’t say “your statement has this intended meaning” unless it matches with what I actually meant.

    You write, ‘your counter is that the misinterpreted meaning does NOT really exist, because it is not, in fact, what *you* intended.’

    First, I didn’t say “the misinterpreted meaning does NOT really exist”. Certainly it exists in the person’s mind, but I’m saying the misinterpreted meaning doesn’t exist in the thing beheld (which I assume you would agree with anyway).

    Second, it has nothing to do with importance. The key word may be “insofar”. What I said is that INSOFAR as it’s my statement, it has my meaning. INSOFAR as it’s a generic statement, it can mean whatever anyone thinks it means. If you hear my statement and it means X to you, that’s well and good and I’m not going to say that my meaning Y is “more important” than your meaning X. Who am I to judge? But I will say that meaning X does not reflect the meaning of the statement INSOFAR as it’s my statement. It’s an objective fact that if you were to go around telling people that I spoke words A, B and C and that the meaning of my statement (insofar as it’s mine) was X, you would be misinforming people.

    Looking at it from your point of view (as I understand it anyway), it seems that you could go around telling people that I spoke words A, B and C and that the meaning of my statement was X, and have no qualms about misrepresenting the true meaning of my statement, since X was the meaning YOU gave to the statement — notwithstanding that X was not MY meaning at all. You could do this on the ground that any meaning you choose to give to the statement is as valid as anyone else’s, including mine.

    You write, “Objectivity would be what the painting or poem means *regardless of what any mind things about it*, but that’s not how meaning works”.

    Obviously a work of art has no meaning without some mind first conceiving the meaning and then imparting that meaning to the work of art. But once he has conceived the meaning and worked to express that meaning in the work of art, to the extent he was successful in doing so, the meaning is now contained in the work of art, in the sense that the work of art is now capable of conveying that meaning, at least to a certain extent.

    You write, “The painting or poem is imbued meaning by minds — but this is a process performed by BOTH the author AND the audience.”

    Agreed. But if the author is dead, then the only way he has of conveying his meaning is through the work itself. At this point it’s not the author interacting with the audience, it’s the audience interacting with the author’s work. If the author’s meaning is still conveyed to the audience, long after his death, then his meaning has to be contained in the work, if not perfectly, then at least in some manner and to some extent.

    Consider what you and I are doing right now: Trying to communicate via blog posts. I do my best to convey my meaning to you through symbols on a screen, and you do your best to discern my meaning from symbols on a screen. If, together, we succeed in transferring meaning from my mind to yours (and vice versa), then this is not a matter of you reading what I write and assigning to it any meaning that occurs to you. We evidently believe that my actual meaning is being conveyed to you, and yours to me (at least to some extent, however imperfectly); otherwise why are we bothering? But if my meaning is conveyed to you, it’s not directly from my mind to yours. It’s through putting my meaning into words on a screen, from which you can then extract my meaning. If words on the screen don’t contain my meaning in any way whatsoever, then there’s no way you can possibly get my meaning into your head, because you have no other way of accessing it. The same goes for Chaucer and the Canterbury Tales.

    You write, ‘Let me put it in another way: suppose I draw a picture of a blue triangle and say this means the yellow sun. You look at the blue triangle and say, “That’s not the sun.” Your argument for objective meaning should be that the blue triangle’s meaning is independent of whatever you think but also independent of what I think…if it means the sun, that’s not because I said it. And if it doesn’t mean the sun, that’s not because you disagreed.’

    Sorry, but this is not my argument for objective meaning. If you thought it was then I’ve done a bad job of conveying it.

    You write, ‘Chaucer wanted to communicate in a way that his audience would understand. That’s one reason why the meaning can’t simply be “because the author said so,” but that doesn’t mean that it’s objective either. For example, Chaucer couldn’t just write “gejaoisfjasiodfjaidofu” and have anyone understand that. He had to, at the very least, use symbols, ideas, metaphors, etc., that would be familiar to his audience. He had to use the orthography shared by his culture. Artists do similarly, Musicians do similarly.’

    That’s what I said, I think. : )

    You write, “not all scholars privilege chaucer’s intended meaning (I mean, you’re ignoring the existence of the reader-response school of criticism, and by prioritizing authorial intent, you are actually opposing the formalist or new critical schools. This is a big deal. Your emphasis on authorial intent, as I’ve mentioned it, contradicts the idea of objective meaning),”

    We’re apparently thinking in two different ways about meaning being objective. You seem to think that “objective meaning” is meaning which exists apart from any mind whatsoever. Whereas I’m conceding that meaning can only come into existence in a mind, and be imparted by a mind, and requres a mind to discern; but in between being imparted and being discerneed, meaning nevertheless inheres in things other than minds.

    I tried to make this point in my last comment, when I talked about “meaning” having more than one sense. But let me try it another way. Suppose we say that the first sense of “meaning” is “meaning insofar as it exists in people’s minds”, and refer to this sense as “meaning1”. And suppose the second sense of “meaning” is “meaning insofar as it is expressed in works of art via symbols and so forth, from which meaning can be conveyed from one person to another,” which we’ll refer to as “meaning2”. Obviously meaning1 only exists within people’s minds, by definition. But I am arguing that meaning2 inheres in works of art (and in “art” I am including the written word, e.g. the correspondence between you and me).

  22. well, this will be a long one.

    I’m not arguing that the other person’s interpretation doesn’t exist; certainly it does. The question is whether his interpretation matches up with what was intended to be communicated. He can say “I discern this meaning”, but he can’t say “your statement has this intended meaning” unless it matches with what I actually meant.

    I agree with this, but note that when we talk about “intended meaning,” we are immediately situating that within subjectivity. So…

    First, I didn’t say “the misinterpreted meaning does NOT really exist”. Certainly it exists in the person’s mind, but I’m saying the misinterpreted meaning doesn’t exist in the thing beheld (which I assume you would agree with anyway).

    Second, it has nothing to do with importance. The key word may be “insofar”. What I said is that INSOFAR as it’s my statement, it has my meaning. INSOFAR as it’s a generic statement, it can mean whatever anyone thinks it means. If you hear my statement and it means X to you, that’s well and good and I’m not going to say that my meaning Y is “more important” than your meaning X. Who am I to judge? But I will say that meaning X does not reflect the meaning of the statement INSOFAR as it’s my statement. It’s an objective fact that if you were to go around telling people that I spoke words A, B and C and that the meaning of my statement (insofar as it’s mine) was X, you would be misinforming people.

    Looking at it from your point of view (as I understand it anyway), it seems that you could go around telling people that I spoke words A, B and C and that the meaning of my statement was X, and have no qualms about misrepresenting the true meaning of my statement, since X was the meaning YOU gave to the statement — notwithstanding that X was not MY meaning at all. You could do this on the ground that any meaning you choose to give to the statement is as valid as anyone else’s, including mine.

    I would say the misinterpreted meaning doesn’t exist in the thing beheld, but neither does the intended meaning. (I understand this is the major disagreement though). The intended meaning exists with the intender, but my claim is that there are multiple intenders here. I think that your discussion of “generic statement” vs “my statement” ultimately meshes with this understanding.

    I totally agree that if I said “Agellius means X when he said A, B, and C” when you perceive A, B, and C as meaning Y, then that is misinforming people about *your* meaning.

    But let’s pivot on two things:

    1) Regarding qualms and misrepresentation…If I truly believe that you meant X when you said A, B, C, I would have no qualms, because I would not believe that I had misrepresented you. This is important — if you wanted to convince me otherwise, you’d have to work on this subjective level. This is true *even if really, truly, I have misrepresented you*. What will give me qualms is not the misrepresentation, but *my recognition of misrepresentation*. If I never recognize that (a subjective call), I never have qualms.

    2) I think you’re dismissing that there can be good reasons for disagreeing with authorial intent.

    Let me try to use another example: “Authorial Intent vs Audience Consensus”. From your last paragraph here, it seems you think that I believe that “any meaning you choose to give to the statement is as valid as anyone else’s, including mine.” Firstly, I will say, I think you may be over-inflating the role of choice. The meaning I perceive may not be voluntarily or directly “chosen”. I think that the range of potential meanings would practically be limited in many cases.

    But secondly, I think there are good reasons for why people might take a different meaning than the author’s intention. Let’s say I’m in a game show or taking a test, and the question is “What is the capital of the United States.” I buzz in (or answer on my test): “New York City!” Let’s say that in my heart of hearts, I intended the meaning of “the capital of the United States is Washington, D.C.,” (but I used the words “New York City” instead of “Washington D.C.”) Maybe it was just a slip of the tongue. Maybe I already thought of the location that everyone else knows as “Washington D.C.,” as being “New York City”.

    But would it really be misrepresenting me if someone responded, “ohhhh, Andrew says the capital of the United States is New York City…that’s incorrect!”?

    I don’t think so.

    And say that after that moment, I chimed in: “Oh, I meant Washington D.C.!”

    Is there any reason to believe that? Suppose my intention really is to express that I meant Washington D.C., Why should game show host (or the test grader, or any audience member) believe my stated meaning over alternative meanings (including the possibility that I “mean” to appeal for extra points even though I was actually just wrong.)

    There’s room to disagree with my *intention* based on what our own understanding of the word meaning is, or our own understanding or guess as to a person’s intentions.

    But I think that this highlights something else. When you talk about “insofar as it is my statement,” I think you have to address why the “my statement-ness” of this is more objective than the “generic statement” of this. In other words, if we have to define some form of meaning as being “objective,” why would it be the meaning *you* imbued in the words vs the meaning *the majority of the language speakers have imbued*? (I still think this is not very “objective”…but getting at intersubjectivity.) In other words, if most of us take New York City to be a different place than Washington D.C., why would we privilege my answer that “New York City” really “meant” “Washington D.C.,”?

    Obviously a work of art has no meaning without some mind first conceiving the meaning and then imparting that meaning to the work of art. But once he has conceived the meaning and worked to express that meaning in the work of art, to the extent he was successful in doing so, the meaning is now contained in the work of art, in the sense that the work of art is now capable of conveying that meaning, at least to a certain extent.

    What do you think about the possibility of, for lack of a better term, “accidental art”? In other words, is it possible for someone to create something with a certain meaning, beauty, whatever, without having conceived the meaning first, or even having intended it?

    I think you get at a different concept: that one can be successful or unsuccessful at expressing a particular meaning in a work of art. But I’m asking a different question: can one successfully express a particular meaning they never intended or conceived in a work of art?

    Agreed. But if the author is dead, then the only way he has of conveying his meaning is through the work itself. At this point it’s not the author interacting with the audience, it’s the audience interacting with the author’s work. If the author’s meaning is still conveyed to the audience, long after his death, then his meaning has to be contained in the work, if not perfectly, then at least in some manner and to some extent.

    I want to loop something back up to my previous example…I think this also gets to the idea of “success” or “failure” in expression.

    So, suppose that I intend: “The capital of the United States is Washington D.C.,” but I write on my test, “The capital of the United States is New York City.”

    Suppose I die (poor me), and no one had a chance to ask me what my intention was.

    Which is the objective meaning of the words: the authorial intention (Washington D.C.,), or the intention gleaned from the words themselves (New York City)?

    I think that the better argument for objective meaning would be from the words themselves (e.g., “New York City”).

    But I would still say that’s not “objective”. When we talk about gleaning things from the words themselves, we still need to talk about who is doing the gleaning…and that’s the audience. You say, “If the author’s meaning is still conveyed to the audience, long after his death, then his meaning has to be contained in the work.” But I would say, “If the author’s meaning is still conveyed to the audience, long after his death, then his meaning has to be *interpretable to the audience*.” I agree that the work is the object that the audience will use to interpret, but interpretation requires a subject. That audience is in charge.

    Consider what you and I are doing right now: Trying to communicate via blog posts. I do my best to convey my meaning to you through symbols on a screen, and you do your best to discern my meaning from symbols on a screen. If, together, we succeed in transferring meaning from my mind to yours (and vice versa), then this is not a matter of you reading what I write and assigning to it any meaning that occurs to you. We evidently believe that my actual meaning is being conveyed to you, and yours to me (at least to some extent, however imperfectly); otherwise why are we bothering? But if my meaning is conveyed to you, it’s not directly from my mind to yours. It’s through putting my meaning into words on a screen, from which you can then extract my meaning. If words on the screen don’t contain my meaning in any way whatsoever, then there’s no way you can possibly get my meaning into your head, because you have no other way of accessing it. The same goes for Chaucer and the Canterbury Tales.

    But here’s what ACTUALLY happens.

    You do your best to convey your meaning to me through symbols on a screen, *using what you know about me *and our shared subjective experience* to do that*. (For example, you can reasonably assume that I speak English, so you use English symbols. Our shared experience gives us proficiency in certain dialects of English, certain constructions and methods of using these symbols) I read what you write, and the *meaning that I assign is the meaning that occurs to me* *because that’s all I can do*. (This is why earlier I said I thought you were overstating the “choice” aspect.) But the meaning that occurs to me is also based on what I know about *you*, what i know about myself, and what I know about the symbols you are using.

    The words on the screen can only communicate your meaning because of the intersubjective agreement about what the symbols, words, etc., mean.

    But what I’m saying is that intersubjective agreement may not always exist. You can intend one thing in your words and yet, it’s possible for your words not to carry that intention. (“New York City is the capital of the United States”). But it’s more possible for more types of intersubjective disagreements to occur, so there’s all sorts of other possibilities for miscommunication.

    Sorry, but this is not my argument for objective meaning. If you thought it was then I’ve done a bad job of conveying it.

    We’re apparently thinking in two different ways about meaning being objective. You seem to think that “objective meaning” is meaning which exists apart from any mind whatsoever. Whereas I’m conceding that meaning can only come into existence in a mind, and be imparted by a mind, and requres a mind to discern; but in between being imparted and being discerneed, meaning nevertheless inheres in things other than minds.

    Please let me know what you think of the various examples I’ve raised in this comment about authorial intention disagreeing with audience consensus about the meaning of words. (E.g., the New York City example). Why should the meaning of the author’s mind trump the meaning of the minds of the consensus (if you think so)? But even if so, why should the author defer to the consensus?

    I think that if you define objective meaning in terms of meaning that can only come into existence in a mind, be imparted by a mind, and requires a mind to discern, you still have to address whose mind takes priority and why. For example, if meaning can only come into existence in a mind, be imparted by a mind, requires a mind to discern, yet nevertheless inheres in things other than mind, then *why* isn’t *both* the author’s meaning *and* the audience’s meaning inherent to the thing other than the mind? Why is it just the author’s?

    I tried to make this point in my last comment, when I talked about “meaning” having more than one sense. But let me try it another way. Suppose we say that the first sense of “meaning” is “meaning insofar as it exists in people’s minds”, and refer to this sense as “meaning1”. And suppose the second sense of “meaning” is “meaning insofar as it is expressed in works of art via symbols and so forth, from which meaning can be conveyed from one person to another,” which we’ll refer to as “meaning2”. Obviously meaning1 only exists within people’s minds, by definition. But I am arguing that meaning2 inheres in works of art (and in “art” I am including the written word, e.g. the correspondence between you and me).

    What I’m trying to say is that meaning2 derives from meaning1, and since meaning1 is diverse/numerous/varied, you have to show why certain forms of meaning1 should be converted to meaning2 and “inhered within the object”. Like, earlier, you say that a misinterpreted meaning doesn’t exist in the thing beheld…why not? If “The capital of the United States is New York City” is a misinterpreted meaning for “The capital of the United States is Washington D.C.,” why should we say the latter inheres in the words “The capital of the United States is New York City” just because the author intended that?

  23. Agellius permalink

    I think our disagreement may come down to definitions.

    You seem to be saying that since the meanings of words arise from linguistic and societal conventions, they are subjective. The meanings arise from subjects and depend on subjects for their continuing existence, therefore they are subjective.

    But I would argue that the linguistic and social consensus is something that exists objectively, in that the reader doesn’t decide it for himself (as you have admitted). The consensus doesn’t exist only in his mind but also exists as a fact apart from his mind. Thus, he doesn’t invent the words, and he doesn’t invent the possible meanings of the words within the societal and linguistic conventions in which he finds himself. These all exist apart from his subjective consciousness, and he participates in them due to the objective fact of having been born and raised in that society.

    So we could say that the consensus exists objectively, and *given* the objectively-existing consensus, the words on paper (or screen) are interpretable by other persons, and in that sense are meaningful, that is they contain meaning.

    You may say that this consensus doesn’t exist objectively, but is a matter of “intersubjective agreement”. OK, but the intersubjective agreement is nevertheless an objective fact. If you invented your own alphabet and language, then the meanings of its words might be entirely subjective, since they exist only in your mind. But once you agree with someone else as to the meanings of the words, the agreed upon meanings are no longer merely subjective since they now exist apart from either subject – they’re not only in your mind, and they’re not only in his mind, and the agreement between you prevents either of you from changing the meanings at will, lest the other person be unable to interpret what you say.

    If there is agreement as to the meaning of the word, then the word has that meaning objectively, given the definition of “meaning” as “the intersubjective agreement as to what a word signifies”. Saying that words are defined through intersubjective agreement doesn’t imply logically that words have no objective definitions. It just means that the objective definition is arrived at through intersubjective agreement. If it is an objective fact that the meaning of a word has been arrived at through intersubjective agreement, then it is an objective fact that the word has that meaning.

    Suppose we were talking about the rules of football. The rules are agreed upon through discussion involving various subjects (persons). But that doesn’t mean that the rules of football are subjective. Once agreed upon by the authorized parties, from then on they exist apart from the consciousness or opinion of any individual subject, and may be appealed to by other subjects with no involvement in their establishment; that is, a coach can argue with a referee 3 years later, on the sideline of a stadium 1,500 miles away, by appealing to rules which neither of them invented in his own mind but which exist independently of either of them, i.e. rules which are objective.

    If you deny that the rules of football are objective, then it seems that we are simply using “objective” differently. You seem to be defining it as “existing absent the presence of any person”, whereas I’m defining it as “that which doesn’t exist only within the mind of a single person”. Things like the experience of pain or of feelings of love are subjective, because they are only experienced within individual persons and one person’s experience can’t be experienced by other persons. Also opinions are subjective, in the sense that an opinion doesn’t exist apart from a specific person who holds that opinion. You and I may share an opinion, but we each arrive at that opinion internally. My opinion is mine not yours, and your opinion is yours not mine, even if our opinions happen to coincide.

    But a mutual agreement as to the meaning of a word, or the rules of a game, is not a thing of this type. The conventional meanings of words or the rules of games are things that don’t exist until two or more people have reached this agreement. They’re not things that each person arrives at on his own which just happen to coincide; it’s not as though you and I each thought of the word “apple” to represent the same thing, independently of each other. Rather, the word “apple” came into existence as a word, only after people agreed that it would represent a particular thing. The word came into existence not within individual people’s minds, but out in the open, in the objective sphere.

  24. If you define objective as taking into account intersubjective agreement, then I think I’m OK with that.

    But forgive me if I’m missing something, but I don’t see how that really gets you to where you want to go with objectivity (and maybe I was confused about what you wanted to achieve with objectivity). For example, I can go along with the idea that “the conventional meaning of words or the rules of games are things that don’t exist until two or more people have reached this agreement” and even that “if it is an objective fact that the meaning of a word has been arrived through intersubjective agreement, then it is an objective fact that that word has meaning”…but then we actually have to get at that intersubjective agreement first. If we define meaning as “the intersubjective agreement as to what a word signifies,” I would quibble that this does not account for the fact that we can talk about meaning when people do not intersubjectively agree. In other words, this definition doesn’t account for the fact that we can say, “His meaning is different from hers” and that statement makes perfect sense to us.

    But that’s a small quibble that we can set aside. Even moving past this quibble, if we agree that *objective* meaning is defined that way, we still have to get to intersubjective agreement. I would argue that since descriptively, we do not necessarily have that intersubjective agreement when it comes to things like beauty, morality, etc., that at least raises questions about what these things objectively should be that would not necessarily be as problematic in a different formulation of objectivity.

    This also makes a markedly different answer to the question of “who’s subjectivity takes priority”. It might not be the author/creator’s, especially if the author/creator did not achieve intersubjective agreement with at least the first audience.

    And there’s the problem where there could be competing consensuses.

    So, you say:

    Suppose we were talking about the rules of football. The rules are agreed upon through discussion involving various subjects (persons). But that doesn’t mean that the rules of football are subjective. Once agreed upon by the authorized parties, from then on they exist apart from the consciousness or opinion of any individual subject, and may be appealed to by other subjects with no involvement in their establishment; that is, a coach can argue with a referee 3 years later, on the sideline of a stadium 1,500 miles away, by appealing to rules which neither of them invented in his own mind but which exist independently of either of them, i.e. rules which are objective.

    …who is the authorized party? How is that determined? Even if that’s intersubjective, we could have different intersubjective consensuses. (NCAA vs NFL vs…etc.,)

    With morality, we are basically at that level. I will agree that people typically don’t have just a private morality. Rather, they have moralities that agree with some consensus. But a Catholic Christian consensus is different than a liberal Episcopalian Christian consensus, and is different from (insert any group here.) And I’m totally OK with saying, “here’s how we can objectively define what Catholic morality is. You can be incorrect in your understanding of Catholic morality if you disagree with the authorized parties.”

    But that in and of itself doesn’t really help us decide between them — although we can certainly point out that the different groups can try to argue amongst each other and try to persuade one another.

    I also think that there is a bit of a problem when you say something like:

    Things like the experience of pain or of feelings of love are subjective, because they are only experienced within individual persons and one person’s experience can’t be experienced by other persons.

    I think that you can find someone’s red hair beautiful, but that’s something only experienced within individual person’s and cannot be experienced by other persons. We can say that other people can independently find red hair beautiful, but each person reached that internally.

    If we say red hair can be objectively beautiful because of intersubjective agreement from red hair aficionados, why cannot two people love one person?

    • Agellius permalink

      Dang you’re fast! : )

      I’ll get back to you as soon as I can.

  25. Agellius permalink

    Referring back to the closing paragraph of the OP, you write:

    ‘When we talk about the widespread nature of things like love or beauty (but also color or sound), this does not necessarily mean we have jumped from the subjective to the objective. To the contrary, we are referring to concepts like intersubjectivity — the extent to which one’s subjective experience may align or agree with another. Agreement among subjective beings seems more important for these concepts in particular than an objective existence that makes no reference to what any subjective beings experience at all.’

    I don’t say that no reference should be made to what any subjective beings experience. I say that if something exists only within our minds, then it doesn’t exist really, except as a phantasm, the equivalent of a mental image. We can imagine all kinds of things which everyone acknowledges do not exist, such as unicorns or flying spaghetti monsters. Color and sound are different from this; they’re not mere mental images because our perception of them corresponds with something outside ourselves, just as the perception of a unicorn would not be a mere imagined phantasm if there were an actual unicorn present.

    When I talk about the meanings of words being objective in the sense that they exist outside of individual minds, what I’m saying is that my experience of the meaning of a word that someone uses is not a mere mental image, because it objectively corresponds with a meaning which exists outside my mind as well. I could invent a word in my own head which means something that no existing word means, but that word would be nothing more than a phantasm — an imagined sound or an image of letters on a page spelling out that certain sound, to which I assign the meaning which I hold in my mind. This word, as a word, has no existence outside of myself. If I imagine using it in a conversation, that mental image has no correspondence to anything existing outside myself, and thus is a purely imaginative phantasm.

    When our mental phantasms do correspond to things outside ourselves, they are not mere illusions but are part of our interaction with the objective world, that is, the world outside our minds.

    Sorrow is another example of a subjective experience which normally has correspondence with things happening outside the mind. When someone is sorrowful and that sorrow has no correspondence with the outside world, we conclude that the person is mentally ill. He’s basically crying over nothing; he must have a chemical imbalance or something.

    There is no question that sound and color have a subjective aspect. Like sorrow, each individual can only experience those things subjectively, that is, within himself, an experience which no one else can share. Nevertheless, the subjective experience of sound or color has a correspondence with something existing outside ourselves; it is a part of the process of our mind interacting with the outside world. Whereas someone who experiences a sound or a color as existing outside himself, which does not correspond to anything outside himself, is suffering an illusion.

    By these definitions, if the experience of beauty has no correspondence with anything existing outside ourselves, then it is an illusion as well. Saying that lots of people experience the same thing internally, but not corresponding with anything externally — that is, calling it “inter-subjective” — doesn’t really change that. That’s just saying that we, as a race, suffer illusions. We do, as a race, suffer illusions, that is, we have the shared experience of dreams, which are subjective experiences and perceptions of things having no correspondence with anything outside ourselves. But we collectively (or inter-subjectively if you prefer) recognize dreams as illusions, therefore they don’t call our sanity into question. Whereas hardly anyone recognizes the perception of beauty as an illusion. It seems to be one that has us thoroughly fooled.

  26. I say that if something exists only within our minds, then it doesn’t exist really, except as a phantasm, the equivalent of a mental image.

    What I am saying is that something “existing only within our minds” still exists. For you to say “it doesn’t exist really” is to say that the only things that can exist are the things outside of our minds. It is to say that phantasms and mental images *don’t really exist*.

    But they do exist — and in fact, their existence within our minds is what makes them crucially relevant.

    But let’s take it another level: your next example of sorrow shows that things that exist only within our minds can still exist objectively because they can be sourced to “chemistry”. The fact that that chemistry is not generally available to others doesn’t mean the chemistry doesn’t exist — if we had MRIs and scans going on, we would still see those aspects.

    Sorrow is another example of a subjective experience which normally has correspondence with things happening outside the mind. When someone is sorrowful and that sorrow has no correspondence with the outside world, we conclude that the person is mentally ill. He’s basically crying over nothing; he must have a chemical imbalance or something.

    I would put a different spin on this. Sorrow due to something like depression isn’t “crying over nothing.” Your very statement that “he must have a chemical imbalance or something” highlights that he’s not crying over nothing — he’s crying over a chemical imbalance or something.

    That chemical imbalance is real. That’s why we can treat depression with medicines, if not just from therapy.

    Depression isn’t illusory. Depression isn’t fake. Even if and when depression is not triggered by something in the outside world, it is real because its reality is defined by its experience by a person. (But depending on how far you want to go into dualism, if you define mind different than brain…then chemical imbalances in the brain would show that depression is triggered by something in the outside world…namely: brain chemicals).

    When you say that the person is mentally ill or that he’s basically crying over nothing, this is not to say that he’s not experiencing anything. Rather, it’s to say that you do not approve of the trigger of the experience (e.g., chemical imbalance).

    But in fact, I would say that we try to “resolve” sorrow regardless of its triggers. Whether it is caused by chemical imbalances or whether it is caused as a response to external events, we seek to minimize sorrow because it is generally unpleasant. But this is a subjective call — because we experience it as unpleasant, we want to diminish it. If the sorrow is caused by some experience beyond chemical imbalances, that might change how we work to diminish that sorrow, but we still aim at that subjective experience.

    But if we had some sort of joy, then we would seek it *regardless of its triggers*. Whether it was caused by chemical imbalances or whether it is caused as a response to external events, we seek to maximize joy because it is generally pleasant. This too is a subjective call — because we experience it as pleasant, we seek it out. If joy is caused by some experience beyond chemistry, then that might change how we seek it, but we still aim at that subjective experience.

    So, moving on:

    By these definitions, if the experience of beauty has no correspondence with anything existing outside ourselves, then it is an illusion as well. Saying that lots of people experience the same thing internally, but not corresponding with anything externally — that is, calling it “inter-subjective” — doesn’t really change that.

    There are several ways we can go with this:

    1) Even if I concede it is illusory, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. Even if it exists as chemistry in the brain, it exist. But the more important part is the subjective experience.

    2) Even if I concede it is illusory, that doesn’t make it undesirable. It’s desirability is not a product of its objective existence, but of the subjective experiencing.

    But we collectively (or inter-subjectively if you prefer) recognize dreams as illusions, therefore they don’t call our sanity into question. Whereas hardly anyone recognizes the perception of beauty as an illusion. It seems to be one that has us thoroughly fooled.

    Perhaps the reason you are so resistant to the idea of beauty as subjective is because you are not willing to recognize the value of illusions, and so it does call your sanity into question to consider beauty as such.

    Whereas for me, I do not feel such a tension.

    Like, I am thinking that we are both describing the same sort of thing. So, where we are thoroughly fooled — if at all — is in our accounting for that thing.

  27. Agellius permalink

    You write, ‘What I am saying is that something “existing only within our minds” still exists. For you to say “it doesn’t exist really” is to say that the only things that can exist are the things outside of our minds. It is to say that phantasms and mental images *don’t really exist*. But they do exist — and in fact, their existence within our minds is what makes them crucially relevant.’

    So are you saying that if I have a phantasm of a unicorn, then that unicorn exists? I assume you would say it does not. Or, if you say it does, you would qualify that by saying that it exists only within the mind. But that’s just what I’m getting at: There is a distinction between things within our minds which are supposed to, and do, represent things outside our minds; and things within our minds that are not supposed to represent things outside our minds. If we have a phantasm of a unicorn and recognize that the unicorn exists only within our mind, then we are not suffering illusion. If we have a phantasm of a unicorn and are convinced that the unicorn is standing in front of us, then we are suffering illusion (on the assumption that unicorns don’t exist outside our minds, except in artifical representations).

    Of course, if we perceive not a unicorn but a horse standing in front of us, and there really is a horse standing in front of us, that’s not an illusion either.

    Which of these types of experiences is the subjective experience of beauty?

  28. So are you saying that if I have a phantasm of a unicorn, then that unicorn exists?

    No, I’m saying that if you have a phantasm of a unicorn, then that phantasm exists.

    When you call something a “phantasm,” you implicitly are saying that the domain in which it exists is the mind. So when we say, “The phantasm exists” — that is a true statement, describing the mind of the person experiencing the phantasm. No qualification is necessary because we already understand that is the domain.

    If I say, “Here is a unicorn,” but I am referring to a hologram of a unicorn, then that doesn’t mean that there is a physical unicorn, no. But when you question me on that, I can say, “That’s a hologram.” Sure, you can be upset for a second that the *unicorn* didn’t exist in the way that you thought it did, but that hologram *does* exist. The domain of its existence is redefined as light and sound, etc,. but it still exists.

    If you are deceived through a magic trick, then perhaps you wouldn’t say that “that lady got cut in half,” but the illusion, the sleight of hand, the distortion — that DOES exist. And that is the ENTIRE POINT of magic.

    But that’s just what I’m getting at: There is a distinction between things within our minds which are supposed to, and do, represent things outside our minds; and things within our minds that are not supposed to represent things outside our minds. If we have a phantasm of a unicorn and recognize that the unicorn exists only within our mind, then we are not suffering illusion. If we have a phantasm of a unicorn and are convinced that the unicorn is standing in front of us, then we are suffering illusion (on the assumption that unicorns don’t exist outside our minds, except in artifical representations).

    Of course, if we perceive not a unicorn but a horse standing in front of us, and there really is a horse standing in front of us, that’s not an illusion either.

    Which of these types of experiences is the subjective experience of beauty?

    So, if I can summarize…Your argument is that beauty is something within our minds that is supposed to represent things outside our mind. So, for you, if beauty is not such a thing — if beauty does not, in fact, represent things outside our minds, then when for you to believe that it does means that you are suffering illusion.

    But if we do not define beauty in that way, we don’t have that problem. As you say, “If we have a phantasm of a unicorn and recognize that the unicorn exists only within our mind, then we are not suffering illusion.”

    This is why I said at the end of my previous comment that I think this is a problem for *you*.

    Because what I’ve been arguing from the beginning is that beauty shouldn’t be seen as one of those things that is supposed to represent things outside your mind — and furthermore, that this shouldn’t cheapen it at all, because its existence within our minds is what we were getting at anyway. Our experience is surely real — we are surely experiencing beauty. But we need not say that beauty is part of the things that are supposed to represent things outside our minds. We don’t need to focus on whether beauty “really represents” what is outside our mind, because that’s not what it’s about.

  29. Agellius permalink

    ‘Your argument is that beauty is something within our minds that is supposed to represent things outside our mind.’

    My argument is that *if* beauty is something within our minds that is supposed to represent or reflect or correspond with something outside our minds, and if beauty does not exist outside our minds, then we are suffering illusion.

    The question then becomes, whether or not beauty is supposed by us — that is, by human beings in general — to exist outside our minds. You say in the OP that ‘I know that what “a lot of people” think isn’t a slam dunk case for anything…I’m just saying that it can count as a heuristic for reasonableness.’

    It’s evident to me that ‘a lot of people’ think that beauty inheres in objects, and not in subjects only, so much so that it is reflected in our language. People have always understood that we don’t agree on what is beautiful in every case, but that has not stopped the linguistic consensus from speaking of beauty as a quality of things beheld. As you say, this doesn’t make it a slam dunk, but at least it seems reasonable.

    I have a hard time concluding that perhaps a majority of people in all times and places, in any event a large enough proportion to form a linguistic consensus, have all been suffering illusion in this regard.

    I’m not saying this proves my position, or makes yours necessarily unreasonable. There’s a reason why this remains a philosophical problem: Because it can be looked at in different ways and how you come down on it depends a lot on your philosophical presuppositions. The possibility of our coming to an agreement or persuading one another to change our minds is limited, since it would require one or both of us to change some of the more fundamental parts of our respective philosophical outlooks.

  30. My argument is that *if* beauty is something within our minds that is supposed to represent or reflect or correspond with something outside our minds, and if beauty does not exist outside our minds, then we are suffering illusion.

    OK, suppose this is the case. Does the possibility or fact that something is illusory cheapen its value?

    I’m just not seeing why saying “we are suffering illusion” is really a bad deal, either for us or for beauty.

    I don’t think the question is whether or not beauty is supposed by us to exist outside our minds. Whether our suppositions about concepts is right or wrong may not necessarily be super important, if our working model of the concept is practical enough that we can still engage with it.

    I would say that we have a LOT of examples where folk understandings of concepts have been shown to be in error over time. (E.g., folk psychological beliefs about demonic possession have given way to medical/psychiatric models for things like schizophrenia and the like). We now don’t speak of humors, of phlogiston, of aether and so forth — even if, in the past, those were radically popular understandings and suppositions about how the world worked.

    I don’t think we are immune to that either. I’m not claiming to be immune to that either. So I recognize that the beliefs that we hold say more about ourselves (and our respective philosophical outlooks) than about reality, in many ways. But these sorts of beliefs — and even the ones we have today, however they may also be flawed — didn’t just come out of thin air (pun not fully intended there). Rather, they had a pragmatic value — they approximated *something*. Our changing of explanations is a process of refinement that gives us greater and greater pragmatic value, but these too are also provisional — maybe in 200 years, people will look at our scientific and philosophical understandings with pity and shock.

    Whether that *something* is something within us (as is my view) or something outside of ourselves (as is your view) is not really known, but all I’m saying is that I don’t see it as a big loss if it’s just something inside ourselves.

  31. Agellius permalink

    I can live with that. : )

    I’ll just say that the problem of beauty is a metaphysical problem, and not a problem of physics like the longstanding illusion that the sun orbits the earth. Therefore it’s not the kind of thing that is likely to end up being settled once and for all by advances in the physical sciences.

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  1. The Value of Happiness and Suffering | The Irresistible (Dis)Grace
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