Saturday, June 16, 2012

Malcolm Budd's mistake about aesthetic pleasure

In an otherwise fascinating and agreeable paper, Malcolm Budd writes "'noting something's value with pleasure' means nothing other than taking pleasure in something's possessing a valuable quality of some kind - pleasure in the reliability of one's car, the thickness of the walls of one's house, the speed of one's computer, the excellence of one's spectacles, the good fit of one's new shoes, the purity of the water, the power of the vacuum cleaner, the high level of one's IQ, the strength of the cable, the accuracy of the thermometer, and so on.  But none of these is an aesthetic pleasure, each of them being disqualified by the fact that it is a propositional pleasure - pleasure in the fact that one's shoes fit so well, for example."  (22)  This is a very rich mistake.  It is true that propositional pleasure is different from aesthetic pleasure:  we can thank Budd for this distinction.  But in most of these cases there is both propositional pleasure and aesthetic pleasure.  Yes I can be pleased that my shoes fit so well, but I can also be pleased by the way that my shoes fit so well:  the second is a sensory pleasure, not pleasure in a fact. Similarly,  I can be pleased that my car is reliable, or I can be pleased by the new feel of my car after it has been worked on, the new feel of reliability.  The second is aesthetic.  I can be pleased by the fact that my walls are thick or I can be pleased by the look and feel of the thick walls of my newly purchased (but possibly quite antique) house.  I can be pleased that the vacuum cleaner is powerful or I can find pleasure in the feel of vacuuming with my powerful vacuum cleaner. I can be pleased by the fact that my computer is fast, or I can be pleased by the feel of the speed of my computer.  I can be pleased that the water is pure or I can be pleased by the pure taste of the water.  Although I may be pleased that I have a high IQ it is not clear how there can be an aesthetic version of this.  Nor do I see room for aesthetic pleasure in experiencing the accuracy of a thermometer.  I can however both be pleased by the fact that a cable is strong and also by the way that the cable feels strong when I touch it and the way it looks strong when I look at it.  If Budd were right, there could be no such thing as everyday aesthetics, but I believe I have shown he cannot be right. The quote is taken from Budd's article "Aesthetic Essence" which appears in Aesthetic Experience edited by Richard Shusterman and Adele Tomlin (New York: Routledge, 2008)

Friday, June 1, 2012

Can children's games involve aesthetic judgments and pleasures?

Kendall Walton, in his fascinating aticle "How Marvelous! Toward a Theory of Aesthetic Value" suggests that they cannot, or at least for the most pat do not.  (in his Marvelous Images:  On Values and the Arts, Oxford University press, 2008 3-21...originally JAAC article).  He says "Participation in children's games of make-believe doesn't demand or even encourage judging the value of props, or games (types or tokens), or participants, or acts of participation....Children don't endeavor to perform well, in participating in their games;  it seems out of place to judge that one child did a superb job of playing dolls..."  (6)  This is right as it stands but perhaps a bit deceptive.  I remember back to playing games where we dressed up as pirates and turned a piece of furniture into a pirate ship.  Surely in putting together the costume or the selecting the object to serve as a "ship" we judged some to be better than others:  that looks good, that does not.  The quality of the prop might well have enhanced our playing experience:  some pieces of furniture just work better as pirate ships.  Moreover, some kids just are better at playing than others:  we know this because they select playmates.  Also, some play sessions are better and more fulfilling than others.  Following Dewey, one could say that some examples of playing games count as "an experience" and some do not.  The ones that do would count, for Dewey, as aesthetic, and the ones that do not would not.  Of course Walton doesn't say that this never happens:  he just thinks that evaluation doesn't happen, and for an experience to be aesthetic aesthetic evaluation has to be present.   This all relates to everyday aesthetics of course.  When I wrote The Extraordinary in the Ordinary I had forgotten about Walton's essay, although I must have heard him give it since I was at the Summer Intitute in the Histories of the Arts in San Francisco when it was originally given.  The work is actually quite significant for everyday aesthetics since it seeks to distinguish between aesthetic and non-aesthetic pleasure.  It doesn't exclude the possibility that everyday experiences can be aesthetic, but it does definitely draw a dividing line.

Consider what he has to say about folk art.  Walton says that many folk art traditions are like children't games of make-believe.  "People may participate in singing or dancing or acting, or watch with interest and enjoyment as others do, without it ever occuring to them to ask how good aesthetically the performance or the work performed is, or whether it is better or worse than another one." (7)  And this, on his view, would indicate that they are not having an aesthetic experience, for that would involve an aesthetic pleasure and that must have as a component "pleasure taken in one's admiration or positive evaluation of something" (13).  But surely gaining pleasure from watching someone else dance involves an implicit evaluation that the dance is worth watching.  Why does one have to consciously state to oneself that this is good or better than something else for the pleasure to be aesthetic?  I think Walton is right that there is a reflective element to aesthetic pleasure, but the reflective element might be much more widespread than he makes it out to be.