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    Beauty and elegance are inherently subjective parts of art critique

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      The idea of beauty being subjective seems a bit exaggerated. There are personal quirks and preferences, but there’s also a vast common ground that’s sort of ignored by the idea of subjectivity. For example, is a meadow teeming with spring flowers beautiful? Maybe there’s someone who would say “ew, not at all” but that seems like an extremely rare outlier. Or, like, a Norwegian forest cat, a happy pregnant woman, a handmade Japanese chisel, the light through the windows of a temple, the typesetting of Knuth’s books, the lambda calculus, Bach’s solo cello concerts, and so on. Shoving all of this into the notion of “subjective” seems quite misguided!

      Christopher Alexander in the introduction to the first book in the “Nature of Order” series:

      “But,” I went on, “we did do one thing differently. We assumed from the beginning that everything was based on the real nature of human feeling and—this is the unusual part—that human feeling is mostly the same from person to person, mostly the same in every person. Of course there is that part of human feeling where we are all different. Each of us has our idiosyncrasies, our unique individual human character. That is the part people most often concentrate on when they are talking about feelings, and comparing feelings. But that idiosyncratic part is really only about ten percent of the feelings which we feel. Ninety percent of our feeling is stuff in which we are all the same and we feel the same things. So from the very beginning, when we made the pattern language, we concentrated on that fact, and concentrated on that part of human experience and feeling where our feeling is all the same. That is what the pattern language is—a record of that stuff in us, which belongs to the ninety percent of our feeling, where our feelings are all the same.”

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        The idea of beauty being subjective seems a bit exaggerated. There are personal quirks and preferences, but there’s also a vast common ground that’s sort of ignored by the idea of subjectivity.

        I’m no philosopher or critic, but I’ve never understood “commonly held” to mean “objective”. “Shared subjective” would seem a more accurate term for this, but it is - still - subjective and not objective.

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          Is the taste of saltiness subjective? It has an objective basis in biochemistry, and if two people differ in that perception you would be more likely to look for a genetic difference leading to some different function of the tastebuds, rather than some inner psychological decision or preference or arbitration. So it’s dependent on a subject because it’s a perception, but it’s not subjective in the folk sense of “taste” or “preferences” or “opinions.” I think the idea that aesthetics and ethics are subjective is overly simplistic for roughly the same reason that the idea of free will is a kind of idealized reduction that turns out to be really complex and thorny when you investigate it seriously. Alisdair MacIntyre the virtue ethicist used a big part of his book After Virtue to argue against the now common notion that ethical utterances just express emotions and subjective attitudes; indeed, he claims that this misconception is at the root of a huge problem in ethical thinking ever since the Enlightenment. As I see it, Christopher Alexander offers a related argument in the sphere of aesthetics in his work, especially the Nature of Order series.

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            By the way I just ran into this post by Sarah Perry which goes more into the subjectivity of beauty as it relates to Christopher Alexander.

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              Thanks! I’ll try to read up on the things you’ve posted :)