I’ve written an essay about the implications that ‘The Moral Landscape’ has on the aesthetics and the philosophy of art.
In particular I try to define art as a quality that ‘benefits conscious creatures’. This means that audience becomes highly important for art, and that this points to the free market being a good indicator of ‘good’ art. I’d love your comments!
It might be a bit long to post so I’ll chuck the link here
I think aesthetic beauty and morality are synonomous. I like using the Sam Harris definition of morality as what ‘benefits conscious creatures’. There seems to me little doubt that the quality that makes something ‘beautiful’ benefits conscious creatures and exclusively benefits conscious creatures.
It may benefit some more than others, and they will necessarily find it more beautiful than others. The benefit of observing a creation, be it the pleasure in experiencing the skill in creating it, because it is sensorarily pleasant to experience, or by way of appreciating how well the subject is represented, has no conceivable negative effect on conscious creatures. It’s this quality of a creation that makes art, art.
This doesn’t meant that artworks don’t do other things, potentially damaging things, such as educating, or inspiring, (or even keeping you warm if you burnt them!) but it is not these qualities that make art, art. The peculiar function of art is that i it benefits, and only benefits, conscious creatures.
Art in and of itself can be very aggressive and people have different senses of aesthetics as well. Some people see the squirming of a victim they are slicing up as sublime beauty. So, I disagree that art and aesthetics are necessarily moral.
I’ve just now thought about it, and can’t see any similarity between art and morality.
For me, morality has to do with evaluating a sum function of the benefits and detriments of a particular action. If at time X, I do action Y, then it will cause the harms A, B, C, and it will cause the benefits D, E, F. If it is clear that D + E + F > A + B + C, then Y is a moral action, otherwise it is not.
On the other hand, I don’t have any such function for art where I can break down a piece of art into its component parts and compute the sum. In fact, my appreciation for art changes over time. During one period of time, I may like a piece of music A, a comic book B, and a painting C. During another, I might not. I might be more interested in religious articles submerged in urine.
So currently I’m not sure exactly how morality and art could be synonymous…
Sure, your idea of art and beauty may change over time but so can morality. Some times it is moral to do a certain action (using your formula at time X) but at another time (X+1) then doing action Y may completely change the morality equation.
Everything changes e.g. good health, the number of birds in flight over the earth etc. and so too does morality, and by extension beauty. Art and beauty depend on an audience of conscious creatures rather than an innate, unchanging quality.
As for personal opinion, well this poses little problem either. Morality, and by extension beauty, is what is good for conscious creatures AS A WHOLE. So yes, some will find beauty in things that others will not just as an unfair tax rate may benefit a millionaire and not the majority. Mark Zuckerberg might be deliriously happy about current tax rates but this does not mean that it benefits humanity as a whole (ie is moral).
The other thing about slicing humans is that it is the beauty, or art, that is moral and not the other qualities (such as the slicing quality). Artworks can have many qualities and some may be detrimental but the true art quality, the true beauty, is the bit that does nothing but benefit conscious creatures. A Tom Cruise film may fund Scientologists evil works but the ART quality, is the bit that is beautiful to observe.
If art results in someone’s hand being sliced then this doesn’t negate the idea that it can be beautiful.
That’s why in my morality evaluation function I included time X.
Questions of Morality are unambiguous when expressed in terms of a static, finite number of factors that determine the subjects well-being at that particular moment in time.
Questions of Art are ambiguous even if they could be expressed in terms of a static, finite number of factors. The simple example is “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.” This proverb applies to art, but not to morality.
So I still don’t understand how art and morality are similar.
I don’t think questions of Art are ‘ambiguous’. The quality of art has a very real impact on the benefit of conscious creatures. Someone may not appreciate a piece of art (trash vs. treasure) but that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t still benefit conscious creatures as a whole. Not everyone agrees on beauty but neither do they on morality!
For example lower taxes for the poor may not help me much, but they may still be the most moral thing. Similarly I personally may not care for the Beatles but they obviously have brought beauty into the lives of millions making them good art.
I agree that not everyone agrees on art or morality. I also agree that in the middle of the bell curve, questions of art or morality are pretty obvious. Beatles are obviously good art (even though I’m not a big fan of Beatles). Killing innocents is obviously a terrible moral choice (even if I was a genocidal maniac).
My point is that, when presented with the really interesting questions, when looking at the very fringe questions, art and morality are not similar. Fringe, extreme, disagreeable art - it could be considered art by joe, and garbage by jill, as you point out. However, fringe, extreme, disagreeable morality - this is not dependent on subjective consideration, but rather is a sum function of harm vs benefit, like I explained above.
The difficulty in saying X is art or is not art lies in truly subjective circumstances, in the same way that some people might like milk while others don’t.
The difficulty in saying Y is moral or not moral does not lie in anything subjective, the difficulty here lies in doing the exact computation, because in difficult moral question it is difficult to fully quantify every harm and every benefit and to compute the sum. But that’s a matter of technique, not subjectivity.
At least, that’s the way I see it.
edit: I didn’t read your entire essay, but skimming down to the conclusion, you seem to agree on me on the point of ambiguity in art: “it becomes clear that the audience is the best indicator of the value of art.”
Please correct me if that’s in error
Yes but surely some will disagree on whether something is moral just like some will disagree on if it is good art? ‘Fringe’ art and morality may scientifically have correct values but humans can still argue about their worth.
The point about audience being the best indicator of the value of art is that the audience of conscious creatures is how we should measure the effect of art. The more it helps humans the better art it is. This means that if the audience is very large it is more likely to help conscious creatures as a whole, meaning the free market is a quite valuable measure of art.
Some will disagree about anything
I’m not sure of the point you are trying to make here.