Monday, January 28, 2013

Aesthetic Values Vs. Ethical Values

Scheler considers the intrinsic value of art on par with the moral values. They occupy the same level of givenness as spiritual values. I want to explore the possibility that aesthetic values are trumped by moral values. Scheler is silent on this issue since the various value-rankings receive no internal measure or prescription about values in the same ranking. Within the same ranking, various values are incommensurable with each other, and therefore inquiry is invited on this score. Here's something akin to the argument I am currently pondering:

Argument from Communal Priority

(1) Aesthetic values concern reasons that count in favor of the status of an artwork
(2) Moral values concern reasons that count in favor of why we ought to pursue a particular course of action or why we ought not pursue a particular course of action.
(3) Both aesthetic values and moral values must be instantiated in worldly goods.
(4) In order for a society to function, there must be at least some settled prima facie agreement of moral values and the corresponding worldly goods that embody these agreed upon moral values.
(5) Aesthetic values are not necessary in the settling of prima facie agreed upon moral values
(6) If (5), then aesthetic values are trumped by moral values as a requirement of civilization.
(7) Therefore, aesthetic values are trumped by moral values as a requirement of civilization.

Premise (1), (2), (3) are true by definition. (3) follows from accepting Scheler's distinction between values-as-that-which-manifests in terms of a good. Goods are valuable as "bearers of value." A hammer may be instrumental to my purposes in building a house, but the hammer could also be a holy relic manifesting some deeper truth of Holy life. Material goods can come to embody all types of value. Needless to say, we only encounter values in terms of goods, actions or persons. Given the material logistics required for civilization, I posit (4) as a criterion of what it means to be social beings living in communities.

I do not want to call (4) a definition. Perhaps, intuitive belief is the right word, an a priori belief akin to a Rossian moral intuition. Moreover, I am rather unclear what I mean by society's "functioning" on purpose. It stands to reason that if we are communal beings, and human beings require some type of infrastructure for culture to develop, then spaces must be devoted to their appearance in a functional way. Following Arendt, I think certain worldly spaces are devoted to the manifestation of certain values, and the creation of art work attests expressing some evaluation of how values manifest. Roman art work might be dedicated to the continuing endurance of Rome itself. Roman culture seemed to subsume all aesthetic expression under the Roma Aeterna ethos. In this way, art work can enhance or even destroy our ability to pick up on other values. For now, I won't worry about this here. Instead, I only want to clarify further what I intend with (4).

The real argument occurs in (5), (6) and (7) as a modus ponens. Notice within the argument, moral values receive more priority from the fact that aesthetic values are not necessary as a requirement of civilization. However, there is a strong line between necessity and how art may augment moral values once civilization has been established. Art can disclose critical reflection or open up discourses about values in new ways. However, this augmentation of discourse or opening up perception turns on the very fact that civilization develop to a point of stability. Philosophers are not ideal in a warring state, and this fact follows why Plato must ban Homeric myths from the ideal city as much as why civilization cannot entertain aesthetic values as important as moral values. Moral values establish the material condition of civilization itself. While this establishment will never be perfect, there will be at least some agreed upon prima facie beliefs that fill out the space between persons such that the business of practical life can commence.

Whence practical life can commence, participants in that lifeworld will develop the spirit of its practical life in terms of aesthetic works. Aesthetic works are the moments when spirit comes aware of itself within individuals, and an intersubjective space opens up inquiry such that one might say that the spirit of the individual comes to embody the whole. The whole becomes questioned in the reflective moment of the individual turned to spirit in art. This opening up of discourse in an intersubjective space cannot come about if moral questions are neglected, but nor can the moral questions advance in understanding if the self-reflective moment of culture never occurs in actual artworks of the society.

However, I do not want to urge the complete superiority of moral values over aesthetic values, nor do I want to oversimplify the relationship between them. In fact, the tolerance for art is directly proportional to how openly pluralistic a society can be. If the tolerance for certain avenues of aesthetic expression diminish, then there will be the diminishing of our capacity to live tolerantly with each other. Thus, the relationship between them is incommensurable, yet if some external factor reduces our ability to appreciate spiritual values in the form of aesthetic and moral values, then our society is incapable of experiencing justice or beauty as values in their own right.

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