17 June 2017

Beauty is a judgement, not a property

That's it.

Beauty isn't a property.  Nothing is beautiful.  Beauty exists as a thing is apprehended as beautiful.  Right then.  In the apprehending mind and not otherwise.  It's not some sort of quantum entanglement with God or Truth or any other delusion.  There is no beauty in the properties of matter.  Beauty doesn't apply outside the apprehending mind.  (At all.  Ever.  Any other apprehending mind may perceive some other beauty, but it isn't this one.  All apprehension is fleeting.)

The impossibility of self-knowledge if you're thinking of beauty as a property is one of the things that makes me sad, because the mistake is ubiquitous, profitable, and enforced.  (Profitable behaviours are enforced.  The folks arguing for the general utility of markets have some explaining to do.)


dd-b said...

It seems to me to be still open to consideration that human perception of beauty has some commonalities with a physical basis. If we had clear communication with other species the discussion could get a lot more interesting, I think; but our communication with the other local species is pretty iffy (I'd guess part our fault and part their capability, but I dunno) and we haven't met any possible beauty-perceivers that aren't terribly close relatives yet.

(People asserting strong claims of biological imperative are nearly always protecting themselves from something they can't bear to think about, I know. But ruling it out completely in some cases also seems to me to require some pretty strong evidence.)

And on a completely different matter, I brought the Commonweal books into a panel that got to discussing magical and other fantasy economics at Fourth Street last weekend. I think they're excellent in a bunch of ways, and they don't seem to me to have high-profile flaws to drive people away either (the old political polling check for negatives). More people should read them!

Graydon said...


We know with some confidence that nothing more complex than a protein is strictly genetic, and that the range of developmental influence is huge. We also know that humans build a machine for learning language and for developing sexuality; none of it is hardcoded. (The machine's have got their limits, but that's not the same thing.)

So I think "not a property" stands pretty well; there's a well-known (and correlated with better footwear) transition in western art where mountains went from demon-haunted scary places to beautiful; there's all the changes in physical standards of beauty; there's the whole Rule 34 thing, there's the people cooing over mollusks.... There may be a common bit of neurological mechanism in mammals that could be labeled a beauty response, but the range of things that set if off may not be subject to useful statistical generalization. (Outside of a particular cultural timeslice, anyway.)

I would be delighted were more people to read the Commonweal books, and glad to hear they got into a panel discussion. (And that you find them to your liking! I am always surprised when people like them.)