Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Fundamental bearers of aesthetic properties

I am finding myself frustrated trying to figure out whether the fundamental bearers of aesthetic properties are mental states or things out in the world. When I think about the fact that there does not seem to be any significant difference between the beauty of music that one actually listens to with one’s ears versus “music” that is directly piped to the auditory center of the brain, that makes me think that the fundamental bearers of aesthetic properties are mental states.

But on the other hand, when I think about the beauty of character exhibited by a Mother Teresa, I find it hard to think that it is my mental states—say, my thoughts about Mother Teresa—that bear the fundamental aesthetic properties. If I thought that it was my mental states that are the bearers of aesthetic properties, then I would think that a fictional Mother Teresa is just as beautiful as a real one. But it seems to me that a part of the beauty of the real Mother Teresa is that she is real.

Perhaps the fundamental bearers of aesthetic properties vary. For music and film, perhaps, the fundamental bearers are mental states: the experiences one paradigmatically has when listening and viewing (but which one could also have by direct brain input). For the characters of real people, perhaps, the fundamental bearers are the people themselves or their characters. For the characters of fictional people, perhaps, the fundamental bearers are mentally constituted (in the mind of the author or that of the audience or both).

Maybe the beauty of a real person is a different thing from the beauty of a fictional character. This kind of makes sense. For we might imagine an author who creates a beautiful work of literature portraying a nasty person: the nasty person qua fictional character is beautiful, but would have been ugly in real life, perhaps.

But I hate views on which we have such a pluralism of fundamental bearers of a property.


Red said...

But I hate views on which we have such a pluralism of fundamental bearers of a property

Alexander R Pruss said...

I like simplicity.

Red said...

Oh OK, I just found the use of word "hate" a bit strong. From what you explain above, the pluralism seems well motivated enough.

Heath White said...

If a piece of music plays in the woods and there is no one there to hear it, is it beautiful?

Can't we draw a pretty simple distinction between "being beautiful" and "being an experience of beauty", such that the former applies to objects and the latter to mental states? And then we could have a debate about whether 'music' piped directly to your auditory center would count as a beautiful object.

Dylan said...

Maybe music is something in the mind. This would be plausible if you thought sounds were in the mind.

If you thought music exists in the mind, then in both the music and Mother Theresa themselves are beautiful. No need for pluralism.

There is a natural way to think about sounds and colors were they exist only in the mind (although in contemporary philosophy this point of view is unpopular). After all, nothing in the physical world resembles my experience of sound or color. If you tell me about certain kinds of sound (or light) waves or whatever, my thought is "that's nothing like the sound of a trumpet (or red) -- that's not what this sound (color) is!"

Alexander R Pruss said...

Interesting. I am inclined to think of sounds and colors as existing in the world, though. There are such things as sound sensors and color sensors, and they don't work by mind-reading.

Alexander R Pruss said...

Another move is to be a dualist and say that music is in the brain but not in the mind.

But couldn't God or an angel pipe music right into my mind?

Yes, but perhaps still a distinction can be made, between what I would be paying attention to--the music--and the conscious experience of attending to this music. The conscious experience of attending to the music would still be different from the music itself, and so while the music wouldn't be in the world, it would not be in the "inmost mind".

What if God made me to attend to the music, by directly creating in me the experience of attending to the music? But forced attendance seems sufficiently different from free attendance that I think I might be missing out on something of aesthetic relevance then.

So perhaps there is a way of making music be "in the mind" but still have a distinction between the mental state of attending to the music and the music itself, analogous to the distinction between the mental state of attending to Mother Teresa and Mother Teresa herself.

But I'm feeling at sea.

Dylan said...

There are things we call "sound/color sensors." But if you think sounds/colors are in the mind, you'll say they really are detecting certain kinds of waves, and that when the mind receives such waves that leads it to create sounds or colors.

I'm sure I won't convince you that this view of sound/color is correct. I'm not myself convinced it's correct! But it would solve your problem about aesthetic properties nicely.

Dylan said...

I think there is a distinction between having an experience and attending to that experience. For instance, it's common to be experiencing a noise in the background, say, without attending to that experience. So, if music is "in the mind" you can still distinguish between the music itself and attending to it. So I agree with you about that.

Mikhail said...

We can distinguish between a musical work and its various realizations. The Moonlight Sonata is a musical work, and various performances of it are of the same musical work. Live performance is one way to realize a musical work - another is via direct brain input. In this latter case, the realization is a mental state, but what it is a realization of - the musical work - isn't. Otherwise, the fact that the Moonlight Sonata is a *piano* piece would depend on my mental states, but this is false. Is this helpful?

Alexander R Pruss said...

I think that's too Platonic for me, though.

Mikhail said...

Why does it need to Platonic? Whatever metaphysics we ultimately choose, we need to distinguish between a musical work and its realizations, otherwise we wouldn't be able to account for how different performances can be of one and same work.

Alexander R Pruss said...

Well, the musical work seems to be an abstract object. What else could it be?