Denis Dutton, Ken Minogue And Honor Vs. Rationalism?-Some Links

Denis Dutton reviewed Paul Theroux’s ‘The Happy Isles Of Oceania: Paddling The Pacific

Dutton:

In Vanuatu, Theroux finds villages where Christianity had been abandoned in the late 1930s in favour of the John Frum cult. John Frum, if that was his actual name, seems to have been an American pilot whose appearance was taken as a sign calling for a return to the old animist traditions — no more tithing, Ten Commandments, or prudish, meddling missionaries. And he promised “cargo”: useful, valuable goods from another world. Some villages fly the American flag as an act of continuing faith, and people even told Theroux the Gulf War was an event perhaps heralding Frum’s next appearance.

Gerald Russello on Kenneth Minogue’s: The Servile Mind: How Democracy Erodes the Moral Life.

Russello:

Unfortunately, for many American politicians, federalism is a dead letter, broken up on the obsession with equality and rights. Though Minogue does not discuss federalism in depth, The Servile Mind is a crucial book for the task of understanding and reconstructing the proper bases for a free society.

Speaking of rationalism vs. honor:

Sam Harris and Tamler Sommers had a discussion.

Old Hickory killed a man in a duel. Behold his exploits.

I’m Just Looking For Allies On Speech, Assembly & Rights & Responsibilities-We’ll Worry About The Rest Later

Via David Thompson: The incomparable Ms. Organ

So.Much.Guardian

Who reads the newspapers?

Via Reason: ‘The Conservative Trans Woman Who Went Undercover With Antifa In Portland

Christopher Rufo’s also in Seattle, pushing back against the Left-radicals taking over the public square. Oh yes, they would do violence against you. Oh no, you will not believe the lunatic ideas and people running Seattle, condoning the violence.

New Discourses is worth checking out, as well as ‘Cynical Theories: How Activism Made Everything About Race, Gender & Identity-and Why This Harms Everybody.’

-Review of Cynical Theories found at Quillette, and a discussion with James Lindsay, Peter Boghossian and Coleman Hughes.

Radical activism acts like a cult, with all the doom and gloom, faulty epistemologies, and true-belief found in cults.

Act now and act smaller. Don’t wait until it comes for you through your local officials.

A newly forming technocracy will bake unstable ideological foundations into place, pushing reasonable minds aside:

Those who speak most of progress measure it by quantity and not by quality.”

George Santayana

Check out the late Denis Dutton mixing aesthetics, philosophy and evolutionary theory.

Judith Butler Wants To Reshape Our Rage (your rage isn’t even your own at The New Yorker, these days, it belongs to the collective).

Martha Nussbaum on Judith Butler: ‘The Professor Of Parody

‘These developments owe much to the recent prominence of French postmodernist thought. Many young feminists, whatever their concrete affiliations with this or that French thinker, have been influenced by the extremely French idea that the intellectual does politics by speaking seditiously, and that this is a significant type of political action. Many have also derived from the writings of Michel Foucault (rightly or wrongly) the fatalistic idea that we are prisoners of an all-enveloping structure of power, and that real-life reform movements usually end up serving power in new and insidious ways. Such feminists therefore find comfort in the idea that the subversive use of words is still available to feminist intellectuals. Deprived of the hope of larger or more lasting changes, we can still perform our resistance by the reworking of verbal categories, and thus, at the margins, of the selves who are constituted by them.’

The Weinsteins discuss how reasonable people committed to progressive social and political causes, both biologists, got driven out of a public university dedicated to similar progressive social and political causes.

A longer, thoughtful, detailed piece.

One notes it’s not progressive nor even ‘mainstream’ publications offering a platform for the Weinsteins to speak-out at the moment, partially due to what I consider the Brockman effect (sugar caves):

Bonfire Of The Academies; Two Professors On How Leftist Intolerance Is Killing Higher Education

Wouldn’t a ‘canoe meeting’ qualify as ‘cultural appropriation?’:

And then came the canoe. First, senior administrators were called by name, invited to walk down to the stage, and to step into a large and imaginary canoe. Then, everyone in the room was invited to come aboard, en masse. Finally, everyone walked in a line, as if in a canoe, out of the building together, on a fantastical voyage toward campus equity. An Indian drum beat and the recorded sound of crashing surf were in the background.’

Who needs the arts, science, social science when you’ve got righteous certainty, ideology, and grievance on your side?

Interesting read here.

Francis Fukuyama and his influential essay are mentioned, as well as Immanuel Kant, Marx, and Isaiah Berlin.

Theodore Dalrymple:

‘Who, then, are ideologists? They are people needy of purpose in life, not in a mundane sense (earning enough to eat or to pay the mortgage, for example) but in the sense of transcendence of the personal, of reassurance that there is something more to existence than existence itself. The desire for transcendence does not occur to many people struggling for a livelihood. Avoiding material failure gives quite sufficient meaning to their lives. By contrast, ideologists have few fears about finding their daily bread. Their difficulty with life is less concrete. Their security gives them the leisure, their education the need, and no doubt their temperament the inclination, to find something above and beyond the flux of daily life.’

Related On This Site:  Perhaps after Kant’s transcendental idealism, Chomsky really does believe that morality, like Chomsky’s innatist theory of language, is universal and furthermore hard-wired into the brain.  This could possibly lead to a political philosophy of either universalism or nihilism (a central postmodern problem), or at least his retreat into anarchism or anarcho-syndicalism away from such idealism.  There’s little to no room for the individual in such a vision.  Perhaps Chomsky has never seen life, liberty and property and the individual except from such a vantage point:  Via Youtube: (1 of 3) Kant, Chomsky and the Problem of Knowledge

What about value pluralism…positive and negative liberty?: The classical liberal tradition…looking for classical liberals in the postmodern wilderness: Isaiah Berlin’s negative liberty: A Few Thoughts On Isaiah Berlin’s “Two Concepts Of Liberty”

A reader points out that I’ve put forth no real arguments…: The Politics Of Noam Chomsky-The Dangers Of Kantian Transcendental Idealism?

Martha Nussbaum criticizing Chomsky’s hubris in Martha Nussbaum In Dissent–Violence On The Left: Nandigram And The Communists Of West Bengal

Perhaps Chomsky and Strauss both flirted with Zionism, but they were very different thinkers:…From Peter Berkowitz At Harvard: ‘The Reason Of Revelation: The Jewish Thought Of Leo Strauss’From Darwinian Conservatism By Larry Arnhart: “Surfing Strauss’s Third Wave of Modernity”

Repost-Land Art Links Along A With A Quite Modernist W.S. Merwin Poem

Via kotte.org, some of New York’s iconic, modernist structures placed in new surroundings…


On that note, Land Art is often about removing the monetary value, commodification and fungibility of a piece of art and making something big enough, weird enough, useless enough; maybe making a beautiful/ugly enough imitation of Nature or man’s design within Nature.

Here’s Wikipedia, keeping it simpler:

‘Land art, earthworks (coined by Robert Smithson), or Earth art is an art movement in which landscape and the work of art are inextricably linked.’

Sometimes, maybe, it doesn’t really inspire the imagination:

Or maybe it’s a little gimmicky, as I imagine ‘Christo’ revealing his work with a magician’s flourish of the hand.

‘Essential’ art?:


Moving along, a reader links to W.S. Merwin’s ‘Tergvinder’s Stone,’ where you get some weird metaphysical notions of space/non-space, subjectivity/objectivity going on.

Abstract Modernism? Mid-Century Modernism? Relentlessly rhythmic, ambitious and (P)rophetic pieces looking to reshape not Nature, but how readers should think about Nature?

(addition: Plymouth Rock? Uh-oh…what is the poem being asked to do? What about the reader?):

‘One time my friend Tergvinder brought a large round boulder into his living room. He rolled it up the steps with the help of some two-by-fours, and when he got it out into the middle of the room, where some people have coffee tables (though he had never had one there himself) he left it. He said that was where it belonged.

It is really a plain-looking stone. Not as large as Plymouth Rock by a great deal, but then it does not have all the claims of a big shaky promotion campaign to support. That was one of the things Tergvinder said about it. He made no claims at all for it, he said. It was other people who called it Tergvinder’s Stone. All he said was that according to him it belonged there.’


As previously posted, of the land artists, Richard Serra seems quite substantial:

Click through for a Serra-released photo of four metal pillar-forms aligned in the deserts of Qatar, designed to inevitably rust. The piece has a slight ‘2001: A Space Odyssey feel, but that could just be me.

‘The Qatar Museums Authority is estimated to spend about a billion dollars per year on art. At its head is the young Sheikha al-Mayassa Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, a sister of the Emir of Qatar and a Duke University graduate, who was recently named the most powerful person in the art world by ArtReview.’

Get while the getting is good, so long as the Sheiks have the dough.

Check out Hyperallergic’s visit to ‘Shift,’ a series of concrete forms he left in an Ontario field.

Here’s Serra discussing a piece of his at 21 West Gagosian, or a densely-packed, carefully measured series of metal forms in a room. What does the viewer experience in this space?:

Related On This Site:A structure in the desert…not even a city Update On LACMA, Michael Heizer And The ‘Levitated Mass’-Modern Art And The Public

Denis Dutton suggested art could head towards Darwin (and may offer new direction from the troubles of the modern art aimlessness and shallow depth…the money and the fame) Review of Denis Dutton’s ‘The Art Instinct’

No thanks to living in planned communities upon someone else’s overall vision.: Roger Scruton In The City Journal: Cities For Living–Is Modernism Dead?Repost-Via Reason: ‘Salvador Allende’s Cybersocialist Command Center’

Repost-Adam Kirsch At The New Republic: ‘Art Over Biology’

Full post here.

Darwin and the arts.  Kirsch has an interesting piece reviewing 3 books, including one by Denis Dutton.  What might neuroaesthetics have to say about art that hasn’t been said already?

‘This sensible reticence served both art and science well enough for more than a century after Darwin’s death. But with the rise of evolutionary psychology, it was only a matter of time before the attempt was made to explain art in Darwinian terms. After all, if ethics and politics can be explained by game theory and reciprocal altruism, there is no reason why aesthetics should be different: in each case, what appears to be a realm of human autonomy can be reduced to the covert expression of biological imperatives. The first popular effort in this direction was the late Denis Dutton’s much-discussed book The Art Instinct, which appeared in 2009.’

Worth a read.

More broadly, it’s interesting to note how art, aesthetics, morality, moral reasoning, ethics etc. are being attached to Darwin’s thinking.  For some, I suspect, it is to advance a secular humanist platform which is full of oughts and shoulds for all of us in other areas of life, including politics and culture.

Related On This Site:  Review of Denis Dutton’s ‘The Art Instinct’Denis Dutton R.I.P.-December 28th, 2010 …From Bloggingheads: Denis Dutton On His New Book: ‘The Art Instinct’A Few More Thoughts On Denis Dutton’s New Book: ‘The Art Instinct’

How might Nietzsche figure in the discussion, at least with regard to Camille Paglia.  See the comments:  Repost-Camille Paglia At Arion: Why Break, Blow, Burn Was Successful…Here’s Nietzsche scholar J.P. Stern on Nietzsche’s anti-Christian, anti-secular morality (Kant, utilitarians), anti-democratic, and anti-Greek (except the “heroic” Greek) biases…Adam Kirsch At The Prospect: ‘America’s Superman’… From The Spiked Review Of Books: “Re-Opening The American Mind”.

Some say we’re just selfish, others disagree-Franz De Waal At The NY Times 10/17/10: ‘Morals Without God?’

Adam Kirsch Reviews Francis Fukuyama’s New Book At The City Journal: ‘The Dawn Of Politics’Adam Kirsch In The New Republic On Slavoj Zizek: The Deadly JesterSlavoj Zizek In The New Republic: Responding To Adam Kirsch

Repost-Modern Land Artists Point You Back To Nature, Placing You In Time, But Whose ‘Now’ Is This, Man? What Is Nature, Exactly?

Paul Wood discusses the works of Robert Smithson (Broken Circle, Spiral Hill) and Richard Serra (Fulcrum, Spin Out):

Land-art pieces are site-specific. They require you to be there and experience them, designed as they are to be within the specific spaces they occupy.

In so doing, they break from previous modernist ‘Readymades‘ and reproduced images (I don’t know about you, but I’m tiring of so many commentaries on consumerism, the desire for craft over mass production, a certain collective vagueness against such disposability…the dream of unique Selfhood, celebrity even, amidst a thousand urinals).

As a viewer, you’re supposed to interact with these pieces and start feeling and thinking differently than perhaps you might have otherwise. Walk around, through, and over them. View one hillock from another. Walk back over to the first hillock and look from whence you came. The view is never quite what you were imagining.

Clap inside of Serra’s ‘Vortex:’

Time is clearly intended to be an element, here; the long sweep of geologic and/or historical time as the artist understands it, as well as the relative brevity of personal time during just a 10-minute visit.

These pieces can act as signposts towards Nature and what we can begin to observe of our specific natural environments (steel rusts in unique, but perhaps underlying, patterns…winds blow at different angles and around different obstacles in one grove as opposed to another, these lichens are growing here…other lichens over there, are they the same species?).

If you pull the piece out of its specific environment, it may just wither and die, looking out-of-place as many other products of civilization do amidst natural settings (a jar in Tennessee). Perhaps, though, they won’t look quite so out-of-place as mass-produced objects because of such careful design and attention to detail.

That said, these pieces will eventually look quite awkward undergoing the changes they will undergo if Nature’s Laws are any guide (Romantic/Modernist recreations of Nature can promise the comforts of Home).

Here’s Wikipedia, keeping it simple:

‘Land art, earthworks (coined by Robert Smithson), or Earth art is an art movement in which landscape and the work of art are inextricably linked.’

From the video description:

‘Robert Smithson and Richard Serra both believed that sculpture should have a dialog with its environment. This program explores the challenging dialectic of the site-specific sculpture of Smithson and Serra through examples of their work. In an interview, Serra discusses the aspects of time and context in relation to his art as well as the influence of Smithson.’

Maybe it’s worth pointing out that Serra seems interested in symmetry, visualizing and realizing abstract shapes with the help of some mathematics and the practice of drawing/drafting. Interesting problems can arise from tooling around with shapes on paper (a practice of Serra’s), the kind I’m guessing folks fascinated by puzzles and software and math love to solve.

But Serra’s not a mathematician nor an engineer nor an architect. He’s not writing a proof for its own sake nor building bridges nor houses for practical use.

Rather, the intuitive and creative impulses of the artist take over in his work, a kind of creative exploration, as well as the dialog between fellow artists, living and dead.

Much (A)rt, of course, is useless for most, if not all, purposes. It’s one of the things that can make it meaningful for people. There can be a significant gap between what the artist may have felt, thought and realized, and which emotions, thoughts and experiences any viewer/listener might have in interacting with a particular piece.

Serra, in his work, wants to alter the thinking of anyone moving through the space he creates by manipulating specific substances like steel (he has a facility with the material), and by getting viewers to a point of reorientation of spatial and temporal awareness.

Of course, this involves reorientation towards certain ideas as he understands them, and by promising people a return to themselves, or a state of experience and creative play perhaps similar to that of the artist.

Here’s a Charlie Rose interview:

More about Land Artists:

Any thoughts and comments are welcome. Feel free to highlight my ignorance…

Related On This Site:A structure in the desert…not even a city Update On LACMA, Michael Heizer And The ‘Levitated Mass’-Modern Art And The Public

Denis Dutton suggested art could head towards Darwin (and may offer new direction from the troubles of the modern art aimlessness and shallow depth…the money and the fame) Review of Denis Dutton’s ‘The Art Instinct’

No thanks to living in planned communities upon someone else’s overall vision.: Roger Scruton In The City Journal: Cities For Living–Is Modernism Dead?

Modern Art For Sale In The Middle-East-From The New Yorker: ‘Richard Serra In the Qatari Desert’

Thoughts From The Anglosphere-Some Links

Denis Dutton: ‘Delusions Of Postmodernism:’

‘Here perhaps lies postmodernism’s greatest failure of nerve: as Khanin puts it, where the modernist posture was one of pathfinder and conqueror, the postmodernist prefers the passive life of a voyeur. The former posture may have been presumptuous, but the latter is senseless. Why this mood of fatigue has so much current appeal in the industrialized world is, I readily admit, mysterious to me. I can only affirm my view that the Enlightenment in its modernist and postmodernist manifestations is still a vital enterprise in science, politics, and even art. Though its completion is nowhere within our sights, it demands our active engagement.’

Roger Sandall: ‘Guardianship: The Utopia Of The New Class

‘You can’t keep a good idea down. You can be gently derisive and hope it will go away. You can make things hot for True Believers by exposing their ideas to ridicule and scorn. Or adopting a more serious approach, you can research and write and publish two mighty volumes of overwhelming argument printed in several editions over a period of forty years, which make vividly clear the intellectual error of Platonic politics, the practical folly of using them as a guide to action, and the numberless vices which invariably ensue.’

From an emailer: Revisiting Martha Nussbaum’s paper on Judith Butler: ‘The Professor Of Parody

‘These developments owe much to the recent prominence of French postmodernist thought. Many young feminists, whatever their concrete affiliations with this or that French thinker, have been influenced by the extremely French idea that the intellectual does politics by speaking seditiously, and that this is a significant type of political action. Many have also derived from the writings of Michel Foucault (rightly or wrongly) the fatalistic idea that we are prisoners of an all-enveloping structure of power, and that real-life reform movements usually end up serving power in new and insidious ways. Such feminists therefore find comfort in the idea that the subversive use of words is still available to feminist intellectuals. Deprived of the hope of larger or more lasting changes, we can still perform our resistance by the reworking of verbal categories, and thus, at the margins, of the selves who are constituted by them.’

From Spiked: ‘The Culture Of Complaint’

Full piece here.

Oh God, help us:

‘Tate Modern, one of the most important and influential modern art galleries in the world, is expressing its commitment to public engagement by inviting people to complain. In the echoey space, plastered with Guerrilla Girls’ agitprop posters, members of the public are invited to sit at a table filled with coloured paper and pens, scribble out their complaints and pin them to one of the boards around the room. After a couple of days, the boards were full of complaints about everything from elitist art collectors to low wages for cleaners, from the lack of affordable housing to the misuse of the apostrophe. The boards created a silent, confused, colourful cacophony of grumbling.

Are we supposed to take this seriously? I would say so. The Guerrilla Girls, an activist collective of female artists based in New York, has been complaining for over 30 years.’

This stuff trickles down, you know…

Damien Hirst’s Diamond Skull here, which is entitled ‘For The Love Of God.

As found yesterday, November 13th, 2016…in a Seattle Eastside Supermarket.

img_08331

Denis Dutton suggests art could head towards Darwin (and may offer new direction from the troubles of the modern art aimlessness and shallow depth) Review of Denis Dutton’s ‘The Art Instinct’

It’s worth thinking about Western culture and the travels of the individual artist through romanticism, modernism and post-modernism and to wherever it is some of those artists are headed now. As for Damien Hirst, it was probably inevitable that someone who couldn’t draw all that well, and didn’t have many of the basics down, would rocket in and out of the spotlight, capturing the moment.

‘Damien Hirst’s output between 2005 and 2008 – the period of his greatest success – has subsequently resold at an average of thirty per cent less than its original purchase price. Moreover, a third of the almost 1700 Hirst pieces that have gone to auction since 2009 have failed to sell at all. Most recently, in November, his gloss-and-butterfly collage Sanctimony failed to reach its lowest pre-sale estimate at a Sotheby’s auction’

Maybe Jeff Koons got there first, where marketing, money, and branding met pop art:  A Reaction To Jeff Koons-For Commerce Or Contemplation?

Goya’s Fight With Cudgels and Goya’s Colossus.  A very good Goya page here.

Joan Miro: Woman… Goethe’s Color Theory: Artists And ThinkersSome Quotes From Kant And A Visual Exercise

Adam Kirsch At The New Republic: ‘Art Over Biology’

Full post here.

Darwin and the arts.  Kirsch has an interesting piece reviewing 3 books, including one by Denis Dutton.  What might neuroaesthetics have to say about art that hasn’t been said already?

‘This sensible reticence served both art and science well enough for more than a century after Darwin’s death. But with the rise of evolutionary psychology, it was only a matter of time before the attempt was made to explain art in Darwinian terms. After all, if ethics and politics can be explained by game theory and reciprocal altruism, there is no reason why aesthetics should be different: in each case, what appears to be a realm of human autonomy can be reduced to the covert expression of biological imperatives. The first popular effort in this direction was the late Denis Dutton’s much-discussed book The Art Instinct, which appeared in 2009.’

Worth a read.

More broadly, it’s interesting to note how art, aesthetics, morality, moral reasoning, ethics etc. are being attached to Darwin’s thinking.  For some, I suspect, it is to advance a secular humanist platform which is full of oughts and shoulds for all of us in other areas of life, including politics and culture.

Related On This Site:  Review of Denis Dutton’s ‘The Art Instinct’Denis Dutton R.I.P.-December 28th, 2010 …From Bloggingheads: Denis Dutton On His New Book: ‘The Art Instinct’A Few More Thoughts On Denis Dutton’s New Book: ‘The Art Instinct’

How might Nietzsche figure in the discussion, at least with regard to Camille Paglia.  See the comments:  Repost-Camille Paglia At Arion: Why Break, Blow, Burn Was Successful…Here’s Nietzsche scholar J.P. Stern on Nietzsche’s anti-Christian, anti-secular morality (Kant, utilitarians), anti-democratic, and anti-Greek (except the “heroic” Greek) biases…Adam Kirsch At The Prospect: ‘America’s Superman’… From The Spiked Review Of Books: “Re-Opening The American Mind”.

Some say we’re just selfish, others disagree-Franz De Waal At The NY Times 10/17/10: ‘Morals Without God?’

Adam Kirsch Reviews Francis Fukuyama’s New Book At The City Journal: ‘The Dawn Of Politics’Adam Kirsch In The New Republic On Slavoj Zizek: The Deadly JesterSlavoj Zizek In The New Republic: Responding To Adam Kirsch

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Denis Dutton R.I.P.-December 28th, 2010

Sadly, like everyone else who visited the Arts & Letters Daily today, I found out that its founder, Denis Dutton, has passed away.

After linking to his turn on Bloggingheads over a year ago, he left a comment and asked me to review his book, ‘The Art Instinct’.  I was flattered, accepted, and wrote what can really only be termed a brief commentary on the book.  While I didn’t know him beyond this contact, his website (one of the best out there), his book, and his thinking have influenced me a good deal. I’m grateful for his example and saddened by his death.

My condolences to his family, friends and colleagues.  R.I.P.

Edge has more here, including a video explaining what might have moved Dutton most.

Denis Dutton by wnyc

Related On This Site:  Review of Denis Dutton’s ‘The Art Instinct’

From Bloggingheads: Denis Dutton On His New Book: ‘The Art Instinct’A Few More Thoughts On Denis Dutton’s New Book: ‘The Art Instinct’

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Review of Denis Dutton’s ‘The Art Instinct’

I think it would be more appropriate to call this a commentary:

Book here.

“What would a universal aesthetics or theory of art look like?”

“…my aim has been to elucidate general characteristics of the arts in terms of evolved adaptations.”

I think these quotations are fairly representative of what most engages Denis Dutton in his new book “The Art Instinct’.

Landscape painting, for example, can be best understood as exemplifying the traits developed for our own survival within Darwinian natural selection (to which he appeals to the popularity of landscapes as portraying abundant food and water, a good view and a safe place to enjoy it from).

Thus, Dutton may be trying to synthesize Darwin’s theory of natural selection with aesthetic theory and art (and also by drawing somewhat on the philosophies of Kant, Aristotle and Plato).   From this synthesis, Dutton comes up with a rough list of the criterion he thinks art ought to give, possess, or meet:

1.  Direct pleasure

2.  Skill and virtuosity

3.  Style

4.  Novelty and creativity

5.  Criticism

6.  Representation

7.  Special Focus

8.  Expressive Individuality

9.  Emotional Saturation

10. Intellectual Challenge

11. Art Traditions and institutions

12. Imaginative experience

———————————————————————————————

Dutton then puts these ideas to the test (not scientifically) against a piece of art which openly questions what a piece of art ought to be, and which he finds emblematic of where he thinks art theory and criticism have gone partially wrong:  Marcel Duchamp’s ‘Fountain,’ or likely the most famous urinal in the world.

Marcel Duchamp 'Fountain' 1950, Museum of Art, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania by hanneorla.

by hanneorla

Dutton finds that while ‘Fountain’ does meet a majority of his criterion, it is best thought of as an outlier, and an outlier which has influenced art for quite some time now (think Duchamp to Andy Warhol to Damien Hirst) and which Dutton seeks to change by aiming the debate toward evolutionary science and thus broadening it considerably.

This is where his theory meets with some success.  If I were an art critic, for example, or a theorist or academic making a living in this field, or perhaps just someone who had spent an hour listening to Mozart and been tremendously moved….then I might find these ideas useful in providing a broader context for the experience I had just had (though I still think Nietzsche provides the deepest thought here, which is why he and the existentialists have been so influential).

So, as a theory of aesthetics, Dutton may be on to something.

———————————————————————————————

However, I grew doubtful as to the scientific validity of his thinking when he tried to apply natural selection theory to orgasms, sex, and chocolate.

As a scientific theory Dutton seems to fall short of the mark:  that the truths and universality of Darwin’s theory of natural selection when applied to the arts fully and best explain why people make art.  I’m pretty sure Dutton’s theories aren’t intended too, nor function, as scientific theories.  In addition, I don’t think many scientists will find his thinking a compelling addition to their respective fields of knowledge.

I should mention there is some philosophical debate as to whether or not Darwin’s ideas are scientific (upon which creationists seize), but they are quite obviously more predictively successful and universally applicable than aesthetic theories are….and I just don’t believe that Dutton has come up with a true synthesis here that would benefit, say, an evolutionary biologist.

———————————————————————————————

That said, Dutton does however demonstrate a good understanding of Kant, and where Kant may (or may not) have left room for aesthetics in his thinking.  The ‘imagination’ as defined by Kant was a part of the elaborate metpahysical framework of his, and as Dutton notes:

“Trying to understand what life was like in ancient Rome is an imaginative act, but so is recalling that I left my car keys in the kitchen.  However, the experience of art is notable marked by the manner in which it decouples imagination from practical concern, freeing it, as Kant instructed from the constraints of logic and rational understanding.”

Dutton also brings up Plato, and Plato’s idealism: that art is an imitation of an imitation…twice removed from the ideal forms that yield genuine knowledge.

Plato regarded the whole Greek literary tradition, but especially the Homeric epics that lay at its heart, as setting the worst possible moral examples.”

…so much so that Plato’s Ideal State would cen(sor) them.

Dutton responds with the following caveat:

“Religion, ethics, and politics all require to some degree adherence to a conceptual stability that even the most conformist artist may wish to test.  The arts never quite fit with the moral demands on which any functioning society depends.”

He seems to understand reasonably well some of the philosophical challenges that await an aesthetic theory…

————————————————————————————-

All in all, it’s not a bad read.   If you’re interested in the philosophy of art, aesthetics and art theory…libertarian aesthetics?…perhaps the debate within psychology and its philosophical influences (the Pinker/Spelke debate) evolutionary psychology and anthropology…then I would recommend it.

There are certain targets (cultural relativism and social contructionism particularly) that Dutton, as a libertarian, has in his sights.  Hopefully, he doesn’t focus too much on them…

Addition:  I should add that I’m quite sympathetic to many of Dutton’s themes, and am impressed with the scope of his aesthetic thinking (especially in regard to philosophy). I’m trying to piece together how his theory is pieced together and what it may achieve and what it may not.

Dutton’s bloggingheads appearance here. (read the comments).

Dutton On The Colbert Report here.

Denis Dutton by wnyc

See Also On This SiteFrom The Washington Post: A Few Thoughts On Jonah Lehrer’s Review Of Denis Dutton’s ‘The Art Instinct’

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