[ExI] Objective standards?/was Re: silly 'rules'

Dan danust2012 at gmail.com
Tue Sep 22 03:27:46 UTC 2015

On Friday, September 18, 2015 3:11 PM William Flynn Wallace <foozler83 at gmail.com> wrote:
>> But if no one can really say why they're great, the best thing
>> to do is either be precise with "many people think they're great"
>> or find out if and why they are.)

>> Anyway, it's not like the world's going to end anytime sooner because
>> of this discussion. :)

> I have looked into the philosophy of aesthetics at some (not great)
> depth.  I still have not found any valid argument that can contradict
> "I don't know much about X but I know what I like."
> Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, if you want the cliche'.

I'm not sure if the point of esthetics is to contradict that. One should separate between one's reactions to art and standards. And then the issue of whether there are any reliable objective standards, what they are, and how to apply them to a work. (Some might maintain there are none, others that there are but that they're pretty abstract so won't prove helpful in most cases, and still others that each work carries its own esthetics with it. This latter position might be objective in the sense that if one can uncover the esthetics inherent in the work, then one has the means to judge it -- whatever that means.)

I'm also not sure esthetics will make you change you feelings about a work. It might, but so can other factors. My feelings toward certain movies has changed as I've seen more movies, gotten more experience, grown up (I think:). Haven't you experienced that?

Also, have you ever analyzed why you like a given work -- story, film, painting, poem, etc.? Did you come up with some idea -- I like it because it's got X -- only to find there are other things with X that you don't like. For example, imagine you love "The Walking Dead." Let's say you analyze why and, without too much thought, you say, "Well, it's got zombies in it. I'm a sucker for zombies." Then you see "In the Flesh," and you absolutely detest it. Well, both have zombies, so zombies simpliciter can't be why you like it.

> I advised my children and grandchildren:  "Never let anyone tell you that
> your tastes are bad or wrong.  You like what you like and that's all it
> takes.  Never be ashamed at what you like.  However, do expose yourself
> to other opinions and tastes to see if you might like them too."  Nobody
> gets to be the arbiter of my tastes except me.

Sage advice! Being involved with Objectivists (I mean of the Ayn Rand sort) over the years I've run into too many people who think they must remold their tastes according to some Randian esthetics. They haven't cornered the market on this. Think of how people will sort of bully others on issues of taste. "Oh, you like that band?" "You're reading that trash?" "You enjoyed 'American Beauty'?" (The last is from me, actually.:)

> I love gourmet cooking and I also like those little gutbombers they sell at Krystal.

You raise another point: Whether tastes are predictable. I'm clueless here, especially about myself. Well, not completely. But there are plenty of examples where someone says, in all seriousness, if you like X, you'll like Y, and someone else likes X but not Y or vice versa. And, yes, there are cases where someone like both the highbrow and lowbrow (and middlebrow) stuff. 

And I think one can still say, while not being ashamed or trying to do psychological surgery on one's tastes, "I like this, but I know it's not great" -- along with "I think that's great, but I don't really like it."

> (I left out all the obvious things about snobs [does it matter who likes
> what?] and elitism, etc.)

It depends on the goal. I do agree with what you seem to be hinting at: some people want to lord over others with their tastes. So there's a bit of social status dominance thing going on. On the other hand, one of my roommates in college turned me on to a lot of music partly by shaming me. :) I'm glad he did, but at the same time there might have been a more rational approach to this.


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