I had originally titled this blog "Aesthetics Today" with the idea that I would make comments on up-to-date material, and in reality it became a place for me to try out any ideas I had in aesthetics. But today I want to comment on something quite up to date -- the special issue of the The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism titled "Seventy-Fifth Anniversary Issue." There will be nothing terribly organized about these comments and I will not try to summarize the claims made by the various authors since these are readily available in the abstracts they have provided. I will begin by saying that this issue is well worth reading. I will proceed article by article.
Kathleen Marie Higgins writes in "Global Aesthetics -What Can We Do?" on something very dear to me - the idea that aesthetics should not just be limited to Western aesthetics but should include in a systematic way aesthetic theories from throughout the world. Last year I taught a Philosophy of Art class for the first time with this emphasis. Higgins had already been an influence on me by way of a textbook she put together several years ago called Perspectives on Aesthetics. It was partly an interest in global aesthetics that led me to think more and more in the late 80s and early 90s about everyday aesthetics. For instance, I early wrote a paper on gardens as art which was in response to a paper by Mara Miller (who later wrote an important book on gardens as art), and Miller is also a specialist in Japanese Aesthetics. Yuriko Saito's work has also long had a very strong influence on my own not only in her interest in Japanese aesthetics and everyday aesthetics but also in her work on the aesthetic of the natural environment. In my World Aesthetics class I also incorporated many articles on various aesthetic traditions form the Encyclopedia of Aesthetics. I will close with one quote from Higgins: "We might take our expanded horizons as points of departure for new theories that relate to similarities and differences....If 'aesthetics' is interpreted as being global in scope, new theoretical discussions are likely to proliferate..." (346) Global Aesthetics, as described so well by Higgins, can only enhance aesthetics generally speaking. Ultimately aesthetics should be global, and we are right now making baby steps in that direction.
Paul Guyer "Seven-Five Years of Kant....and Counting"
Guyer's work in aesthetics, especially on Kant, is very high quality. I have been reading his history of modern aesthetics which has been a rich source for me of instruction and insight. In this work Guyer explores the history of Kant scholarship within the JAAC. Guyer, I believe rightly, places considerable emphasis on Kant's notion of "aesthetic ideas." In this regard, it is interesting to think that there is a metaphysical dimension to Kant's analysis connected with Kant's thought that the beautiful is the symbol of the morally good because, as Guyer puts it, "of analogies between the experience of beauty and moral experience, above all the analogy between freedom of the imagination and freedom of the will." (360) I find something intriguing about this. Perhaps there is a deep tie between the two in terms of the notion of freedom: it seems that when we are truly creative in art, or feel fully engaged in the experience of art, or of nature, we experience ourselves as free. I do not quite understand the relationship between this freedom and moral duty, but I suspect that behaving morally is a matter of treating one's life as an other-centered art, the "art of living" as Liu Yuedi puts it.
I am not happy however with Guyer's second point, which basically advocates an idea of Kant's that the naturally beautiful provides a sign that nature "has our own interests at heart." This, it seems to me, is precisely the kind of metaphysics Kant tried to overcome in the Critique of Pure Reason. Whereas Guyer thinks that "perhaps in fact...it is...natural for us to make such reflections" i.e. reflections that there is a God-like being who has our best interests at heart, I think that we need to avoid this illusion (as Freud rightly called it). Nature does not care about us. There is no evidence that it cares about anything. At best the only thing we can say is that we cannot avoid thinking of the world as possibly guided by goodness and that this may somehow be an overlay on our feelings of freedom associated with creative activity and in the art of living. Only the later can provide any grounds for self-improvement.
Guyer's overall thesis, however, is well taken: as he concludes the paper: "Kant's aesthetic theory ...combines logical and linguistic analysis, psychology and phenomenology, and metaphysics in both the older and the newer sense." I would only argue that the metaphysics in the older sense problematic. However, there is great value in Kant's metaphysics in the newer sense.