Thursday, August 30, 2012

Francis Hutcheson against Scientific Cognitivism

Francis Hutcheson, commonly considered one of the founders of aesthetics, raises in his An Inquiry into the Original of our Ideas of Beauty and Virtue an issue that would go against contemporary scientific cognitivists in the aesthetics of nature.  Scientific cognitivists, such as Allen Carlson and Glen Parsons, hold that in order to appreciate nature appropriately we need to have scientific knowledge.   However Hutcheson asks us to consider "how different we must suppose the perception to be with which a poet is transported upon the prospect of any of those objects of natural beauty which ravish us even in his description, from that cold lifeless conception which we image in a dull critic, or one of the virtuosos, without what we call a fine taste."  We quickly discover that the "virtuoso" is the person who has scientific knowledge.  "This latter class of men may have greater perfection in that knowledge which is derived from external sensation."  Hutcheson distinguishes between external sensation, which is the ordinary kind of sensation we experience immediately through our senses, and internal sensation, which is the kind of thing we refer to when we say that a music critic has "a good ear" or a visual artist "a good eye" or when someone appreciates something aesthetically without any organs of sense involved (for example, in appreciating a theorem).  The scientific virtuosos "can tell all the specific differences of trees, herbs...about which the poet is often very ignorant...And yet the poet shall have a vastly more delightful perception of the whole - and not only the poet, but any man of a fine taste."  So, argues Hutcheson, even if you are a person who knows the proportions of a building to the inch you are not a complete master of architecture or even a "tolerable judge" unless you have internal sense.  This does not, of course, prove the case against scientific cognitivism,  but it does seem that someone could perceive a building very accurately or a tree with a lot of scientific knowledge and still have no taste, i.e. not have a "good eye."    

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