Problems with Kant’s beauty: Ugliness, genius and mathematics

Christian Helmut-Wenzel gives two suggestions of poignant problematics within the Kantian aesthetic programme. The first is the so-called problem of the ugly; and the second is the beauty and genius of mathematics. Wenzel deems, and I agree with him, that the so-called problem of the ugly is easily dismissed; but the issue of genius and beauty in mathematics gives us a moral about our intuitions on the beautiful.

Beauty and ugliness

Kant’s analysis of aesthetics considers as a candidate a propositional schema ‘X is beautiful’, this seems to be a propositional analyis rather than a quantificational analysis. Is it a predicative one? I err on the side of saying that it isn’t..but you may reply, how could it NOT be?

Kant’s prime candidate for aesthetics is, beauty. Another curiousity is that Kant makes a division between nature and the works of human effort. That is; art and nature.

I think the schematic overview of ‘X is beautiful’ is more provoking for me, as a methodological consideration. I am curious about the widest perspective we can have; and what kind of methodology we can have towards the best depiction of art.

Anyhoo; the interesting thought here is that Kant’s emphasis on the beautiful is suggestive that he ignores ‘art’ that goes beyond beauty. Like what? Would you ask? Art that depicts ugliness, the darker aspects of our humanity that we cannot easily call beautiful, the dissonance of music, the sensory discomfort of the eyes in film noir. Stockhausen is art; beautiful melodic death metal like Eternal Tears of Sorrow is art! If Kant’s analysis excludes non-beauty by construing the candidate case of beauty alone; is Kant’s analysis of aesthetic experience limited? The answer (phew) is no.

Why? The analysis that Kant gives for the beautiful; namely the four ‘moments’, or ‘phases’ or ‘conditions’ of aesthetic experience which fit into his 4 categories which he establishes in the First Critique (modality, quality, relation, quantity) set the conditions for experience of the beautiful, or judgements of taste. These moments can be construed as preconditions for aesthetic experience, and with a bit of modification, we can make it applicable to ugliness.

Consider universality, for instance. We may say that the universality claim upon beauty applies just as much to beauty as it does to ugliness. That is, when we decree that the song Sweet Lilith of my Dreams, or Prophetian evokes deep sorrow in the ugliness of our human condition of despair; we must ascribe that everyone should (in principle) agree. Genuine judgments of beauty or ugliness, if they are such judgements of beauty or ugliness at all, must be binding beyond the agent herself. In other words, the underlying analysis machinery that Kant lays down is flexible enough to apply to beauty and ugliness. A textual point; there are precedents that Kant believed that the reception of the ugly was not merely an absence of beauty, but a feeling suis generis.

Genius, beauty and mathematics

From Kant’s views that Genius is not an act of scientific endeavour, but following a set of rules one binds onto himself (its not clear to me what this latter point means). Kant’s notion of cognition also may deny, if at least prima facie that any grasp of mathematics can be beautiful.

Why? Kant believes that judgments of the beautiful come only when there is a lack of a determinate concept to which we understand intuition (the condition of experience). Since, mathematics is understood as a series of concepts determinate (like say, natural numbers, functions), we cannot use the purposiveness a prioricity that is imbued in all beauty judgments. This is quite a bold claim. The only way would be…

  1. Mathematical sublimity (I’m thinking of the work of Cantor [and his alleged insanity], here)
  2. Reflection upon mathematics, rather than intuiting mathematical truth

Kant says in an earlier work, something like “Newton [the standard candidate of a genius] was a great man, but not a genius”, because of his quite interesting construal of genius being exclusively artistic. I think this is just a matter of being a non-standard definition and to talk of contradiction or inconsistency is just a matter of two concepts of ‘genius’ talking past each other.

Michael, Destre

High Hopes

Lets look at a song, and a Nightwish (‘Marco’) cover: High Hopes

Cover version

God Marco is so sexy. I love Nightwish when they play without a girl…

I love Marco’s attire; the dark longsleeve shirt, casual trousers and boots, not to mention the long, thick flowing hair. Masculinity at its finest, I say; I’m sure Antisophie would agree.

Original – Pink Floyd

I must admit I know nothing of Pink Floyd so; I suspend judgment in comparison issues. Needless to say; I like the original Floyd only in relation to my reification of Marco. Yes, shallow and interested (in the Kantian sense of the latter term), but I’m allowed to identify my flaws; do you ever identify your aesthetic flaws?

I should ask questions about the intentionality and the differences between them. I have to think harder about it.


(written 30.01.08)

Thoughts of the day: communication technology; Jeremy Beadle, and Sex

1. Jeremy Beadle has died.

 I feel quite sad about this. Beadle was a lovely entertainer, and he reminds me of warm childhood memories. Coming to terms with the fact that those days are long gone, and forever lost, is something I increasingly find difficult. Ah, to be a child again. I was going to write a post about the semiological significance of the womb…another time, perhaps.

2. I have to be honest here. Normally I enjoy dismissing or trying to challenge people who comment on my blog, and do so out of the joy of rationality, and not out of ego; but I found out that one of my regular contributors is loaded! I am quite shocked by this, and I am trying not to treat him differently with this new knowledge. He’s making the wonga, big time! I am now more intimidated and a little afraid to humiliate him…but I’ll try my best to ignore my prejudices about his wad of cash!

Let’s put a philosophical term in here. They call it conditionalisation when you change your belief about something in lieu (i’m using that phrase too much!) of new information. Imagine you are a soldier, for example, and you spent hours trying to hunt down this assassin, just as you incapacitate her, and unmask her, you find, that it is your sister…your beliefs about the assassin change, and quite possibly your actions toward her might too. Conditionalisation is quite interesting; but I hardly know enough about it….which leads me to my new point

3. There is a lot of stuff I need to learn more about, I am a mere Kant exegete, exegesis is like biblical scholarship for me; its important, crucial, yet almost useless for everything outside of it. I shall think more about Mr. Dawson’s suggestion in my post about truth, concerning the role of second-order logic, and try to understand Godel…

4. I want to alert you about SEX; Chris from Only a Game has a lovely post about sexual beliefs. I tried to challenge him by saying that his intuitions about sex are limited. He retorted by basically saying “no, they’re not, mate…”, I think I’ll just hold him to that without argument. Suddenly when my thoughts concern such human matters, I feel very uncomfortable; like when approached by beautiful women (except Antisophie), I feel the overwhelming urge to hide in my study and read more Kant. Kant…the problem of, and solution to celebacy.

5. I thoughroughly enjoy when there is proper dispute in blogging. Look at the forum/blog crooked timber, for instance. That concerns a whole gammet of philosophical issues, by individuals far more qualified than this pissant (another word I like)philosopher. My thought is this: perhaps the internet is a new way to express philosophical dispute. We all know of the Leibniz-Clarke correspondence, or the letter between Descartes and Hobbes. I would love to see the philosophers of our day engaging in facebook-wall disputes, or blog comment arguing. I often argue with Michael on MSN; the arguments often go something like this…

(if B. Russell, and K. Godel were on mIRC)

* <russell> dude.. can u prove 1+1=2 ?!1
* <kurtykurt> stfu u teh gay
* <russell> * writes Principia Mathematica *
* <russell> lol i kick a$$…
* <russell> i proved 1+1=2 on page 360!!!11
* <kurtykurt> * publishes Incompleteness Theorem *
* <kurtykurt> pwn3d suxor
* <russell> omgwtf?!?!!1?! hax! 😦

From []


The Hedgehog Dilemma [On love]

This is by no means my own thought. Actually, it comes from Neon Genesis Evangelion; a very arty anime about a post-apocalyptic Japan haunted by ‘Angels’, huge mutant alien things which kill people. Its a very disturbing anime and very scary and distressing. I do recommend it.

The thought goes something like this; which is obviously a likening to our own human plight.

The Hedgehog has spikes.

Whoever gets close to it will get hurt.

The Hedgehog is, as a natural disposition, lonely, and seeks the closeness of others.

Whenever the Hedgehog gets close to say, another Hedgehog, they both get hurt.

Does the Hedgehog stay alone, isolated from the closeness of others, to avoid being hurt, and to hurt others?

Or does she take her lot in with all the others of her kind, and make the decision to get close to someone, thus fulfilling her own natural disposition for company and closeness, with the inevitability of hurting another, and getting hurt?

To hurt another by being close to the Hedgehog isn’t necessarily an intentional thing, but it is necessarily going to happen as the sufficient and necessary condition of being close to someone with spikes around their whole body.

The hedgehog is going to be hurt, one way or another.

We may not hurt others if we don’t get close to them, but we can hurt them in other ways too…

Is it worth the pain of being hurt to be close to another?

Is it worth the possibility of hurting another to find closeness and to fulfill the need of the other Hedgehog?

How important is it to obey our natural disposition, over a forced isolation to protect others from possibly being hurt?

This analogy tells us that love, or mutual acts have

  1. Direct self-interestedness in my own ends (I want to be close to another)
  2. Concern for another (the Other Hedgehog has the same need as me, which I want to fulfill)
  3.  Concern for our own actions impacting on others
  4. Concern for our own harm
  5. Concern for the harm of another
  6. The deliberation between our own happiness and that of others, against the alternatives

To love another in this hedgehog way, seems, then, to be a very complex (and might I add) rational affair.

To be fully aware of the calculi of the other, and our own concerns, to balance them, and decide knowing the consequences for yourself and the other; that seems to be genuine closeness.

How does the noumenal realm answer to this dilemma?

Antisophie: What beautiful closeness to be aware of this, of the concern over the other, and my own individual longing; to fulfill both ends through one act is truely wonderful

Sinistre: I’m too concerned about the other than my own preferences. I would rather isolate myself than hurt another. Rather deny my own longings for the good of the other

Michael: [refused to answer]

Destre (consulted with Michael)

Scary philosophy: Truth

I was at a pretty fierce seminar with Michael last night; one of the things that Michael often says is ‘I don’t do “truth”‘. Theories of truth has become a very odd area of philosophy. It’s very scary, very scary. The seminar was concerned with a formal theory of truth. To try and put it in a little context, up until about 1903-4, every philosophy basically advocated a model of truth known as the correspondence theory. The correspondence theory of truth is highly intuitive, but almost hugely rejected. There are other theories of truth; identity theory, coherentist accounts, but the ones that I see people most fuming about are deflationary accounts and anti-deflationist accounts.

Truth is one of those areas of philosophy that integrate so many different areas; the philosophy of langauge, philosophical logic (arguably even mathematical logic), metaphysics and maybe some other stuff too like epistemology and philosophy of mathematics…

Some of you might be thinking, “Isn’t TRUTH the most important aspect of philosophy?”, isn’t TRUTH the most fundamental concept of reality that demands understanding? I answer to you, after scratching my head and thinking about it, yes, it is. But it’s damn hard. Kantian systematic philosophy is my upper limit of extremity in the comprehension of philosophy proper. Truth just blows my mind. But, being the daring idiot that I am, I try to understand the literature from time to time.

There were two interesting points of the seminar.

  1. It seems that most of the formalisations of the theories of truth used first order logic, I found this curious, in that one of the counterexamples was a case that came from ‘Leibniz’ Law’. Or what should properly be refered to as the principle of the indiscernability of identicals (the leibniz connection isn’t really relevant in the modern literature). What one of my colleagues identified and correctly so, was that the formulations of the PII are putatively second-order. I wonder, what are the motivations for applying a model of truth to either first or second order logic; furthermore, what is significant about the two quantificational schemata that makes it significant when it comes to the truth predicate? (I think I just about understand what I said…)
  2. Another point; how relevant is the Second Incompleteness theorem in regard to truth, or truth-theoretic models. I wonder, because I’m an idiot, if all theories are subject to the Godel theorems, or is it just Arithmetic as the candidate language? I hear often the suggestion that other theories are not subject to incompleteness. Perhaps this may lead to an answer to the first question. Are there any kinds of logic that are NOT subject to incompleteness; that is, is there a logical sentence that cannot be proven despite the axioms.

Truth really does my head in, I’m going back to Epistemology…