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Beauty through Intuition

Some species of beauty... command our affection... and where they fail of this effect, it is impossible for any reasoning to redress their influence...But in many orders of beauty, particularly those of the finer arts, it is requisite to employ much reasoning, in order to feel the proper sentiment; and a false relish may frequently be corrected by argument and reflection...

David Hume (1777)

If we wish to decide whether something is beautiful or not, we do not use understanding to refer the presentation to the object so as to give rise to cognition; [such] a judgment of taste is not a cognitive judgment and so is not a logical judgment but an aesthetic one, by which we mean a judgment whose determining basis cannot be other than subjective.

Immanuel Kant (1790)


Accounts of beauty seem so often to add only confusion to the matter. Finding a firm footing is hard. The normal assistance offered by the Greeks is not forthcoming as their words diverge too far from ours. To find accounts from which firm progress might be made, we can turn to the eighteenth century when Hume surely rightly, posits an initial, apparently intuitive experience, not open to persuasion - for we simply see that an object is beautiful. The beauty of the flower, seems as readily observable as the flower; there is no addition, nothing, as Hume says, of argument and reflection that thought can add. Kant, in his normal rather opaque way, endorses this view that ‘aesthetic judgements’ - especially seeing beauty - are essentially instantaneous Bust of Peter Scott at the WWT reserve in southern Scotland. For Kant there is an elegant way forward - beauty taps the noumenal directly. and subjective. A view of the River weed in southern Scotland. The seemingly intractable problem of how the objective could encompass the subjective. While discussions of beauty weave ever more Byzantine edifices of words The Houses of Parliament across the Thames. Such edifices offer many examples of language overreaching itself. around the matter, maybe at base there is a simple intuition?

The Hume quote is from his Enquiries Concerning the Human Understanding... page 137, a more accessible book than his Treatise... of 38 years previously. In that respect rather similar to the Kant quote from page 203 of his Critique of Judgement which is not quite so tiresomely opaque in its wording as his Critique of Pure Reason of a couple of decades previously.

The photograph is of the flower of Nigella damascena or love-in-a-mist - somewhat dew speckled.

Above, hovering on blue introduces a link: click to go, move away to stay.


Saturday 1st October 2022

Murphy on duty to this site