Beauty as a feeling (On Allison’s ‘chain of associations’)

In the year 1789 (I think), Archibald Allison published a work on aesthetics, on the same year as Immanuel Kant; it was a directly opposed theory with deeply empiricist flavourings. Kant’s aesthetic account, by contrast, is more nuanced of a rationalist account, but Allison assert what Kant denies, but in doing so, I think Allison hit the nail right on the head on some issues.

One particular conception that I considered prima facie true, and my mind really hasn’t changed on this, is the significant empirical component in our aesthetic behaviour. When I see an object, I associate it with past memories in which I have seen it, and with past times in which I saw it; and those past times evoke memories of the feeling I had when I saw it.

For me, a summer’s day reminds me of those days in the collegium with S*; it reminds me of a few other summers which were particularly bad, but it also, through the culmination of these memories, synthesises to a new experience: it is no longer the past, it is now; this year can be different. A chain of reasoning comes through the cognizance of our recollection, a determinate set of facts, and an indeterminate process of feeling.

Granted, there is a very complex and relative chain of thought to our associations, and it would be interesting to formalise the process we have in such cases; we could have a formal logic of aesthetics, or a formal logic of memory, or even a formal logic of emotional reasoning/emotional conditionalisation.

But what I think is the lasting platitude here, is the undeniable empirical aspect of aesthetics (aesthetics, after all, is experience)…

Michael, Sinistre

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