Thursday, May 8, 2014

A student comment on everyday aesthetics: the aesthetics of childbirth

My Introduction to Aesthetics students have always been an inspiration to me in thinking about everyday aesthetics.  I have asked them to comment on my book and will be commenting on some of their idea.   The first one is on the aesthetics of childbirth.

A student I will call S. raises issues about the beauty of childbirth.  Of course childbirth is not an everyday event but it does fall into the larger category I call the aesthetics of life.  The issue is how the beauty of childbirth can be incorporated into a Kantian aesthetic.  It cannot.  Certainly the mother cannot see the baby as beautiful from a disinterested perspective.  She cannot, unless she is in some way abnormal, detach herself from caring about the existence of this baby she considers so beautiful.  Nor can she see the beauty of the child in terms of dependent beauty:  the child is not beautiful in the way a race horse is when it comes close to the perfect example of a race horse (the kind of example Kant would use).  Sure, the notion of "perfection" might come up in the minds of some who perceive a newborn child (particularly one with no obvious imperfections, e.g. no missing parts.)  But this is not because of a comparison being made with some concept.  So it appears that the beauty of a child for its mother, or even for others who are concerned about the child's welfare, is not something that can be fit into Kant's aesthetics.  S. juxtaposes the way in which some see "the miracle of birth" against the way in which others merely see that baby as something that is cute, focusing only on surface prettiness.  This is a good distinction. These are two dramatically different ways of aesthetically appreciating the same child.  We naturally think of the first as more to be valued, although we do not therefore think that the cuteness response is of no value.  The first is associated with strong love, whereas the second is not.  

I know of one quite significant and excellently written article on this topic.  It appears in her article "The Sublimity of Gestating and Giving Birth: Toward a Feminist Conception of the Sublime in Sheila Lintott and Maureen Sander-Staud ed.  Philosophical Inquiries Into Pregnancy, Childbirth, and Mothering: Maternal Subjects (Routledge, 2012): 237-250. 

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