Saturday, August 17, 2013

What is it to appreciate?

The Oxford English Dictionary gives a sense of appreciate which is "v.t. Estimate rightly; perceive the full force of; understand; recognize that; be sensible or sensitive to; esteem adequately; recognize as valuable or excellent; be grateful for." But these are several different meanings.  In particular, one can estimate something rightly and not recognize it as valuable or excellent.  When we say that we appreciate something we generally mean that we value it positively in some way.  However, there is an older meaning having to do with the origins of the word, related to pricing something, which implies that one is simply evaluating it.  If a critic writes up a negative or neutral evaluation of a work of art, this might be said (in a rather archaic or odd way) to be an appreciation of the work.  Ted Gracyk in The Philosophy of Art argues for the primacy of this older sense, as the critic is genuinely engaging in art appreciation when she evaluates a painting negatively.  Gracyk's view leads to his saying "Appreciating can include a belief that an experience has negative value when considered as valuable for its own sake."  (178) How can something be considered valuable for its own sake and have negative value?  Don't you always value something positively when you value it for its own sake?  I can estimate that someone is a criminal but if I value him for his own sake I am not valuing him as a criminal and my estimation of him as a criminal is not a valuing of him for his own stake.

Gracyk's odd proposal also leads to his endorsing statements like, "I appreciate the pie you baked for me, but I found the taste of the rhubarb overpowering and could not eat it." (179)   I doubt that anyone will take up this recommended change in the way we speak.  (Talk about a backhanded insult!  You start by implying that you value the pie and then you rip it apart....good idea for family get-togethers!  )

Gracyk also seems to endorse the claim that "Appreciating is evaluating the experiencing of a state of affairs [a thing's having a particular property] as valuable in itself." (The idea is a modification of an earlier one presented by Gary Iseminger.)  This is a mouthful.  In advocating this, he seems at first to have dropped the idea that appreciation can be negative or neutral.  But remember that he does not think that appreciating something as valuable in itself requires that one see it as having positive value.  (He has this odd notion of negative value in itself)   Isn't it overly long-winded for example to say that appreciating the beauty of a vase is a matter of experiencing that it has the property of  beauty as valuable in itself?  

Let's set aside the issue of Gracyk recommendations for linguistic change and simply consider the endorsed sentence with its normal meaning.  I might say that I appreciate the orange tree in my back yard.  That is, in the normal contemporary sense of "appreciate," I value it positively.  The normal sense also implies that I appreciate it accurately or least in an appropriate way.  So, let's say that I do not only value it positively but I value it appropriately.  (I doubt one can be accurate about such things.)  I value it for the sweet oranges it provides, for its look in my backyard, and so forth.  Now do I also have to look at the experience I have when I experience it having the property of bearing sweet oranges in order to appreciate it?  That is, does appreciation require also looking into my own mind?  It doesn't seem so.  I can appreciate my orange tree without thinking about how I appreciate it.  So I wonder why Gracyk favors this kind of understanding of appreciation.  Is it because he wants appreciation to be tied more to things that we reflect on:  i.e. push it more in the direction of  "critical appreciation"? It's a philosopher's prejudice in favor of reflection that leads some philosophers to think that experiences are only valuable if they have a reflective dimension.  The overall issue here is whether an experience needs to be evaluated (or evaluated for its own sake) to be considered aesthetic.  Gracyk thinks so, but I wonder.   . 

No comments: