Aesthetic value is a catch-all term that encompasses the beautiful, the ugly, the sublime, the dramatic, the comic, the cute, the kitsch, the uncanny, and many other related concepts. It is a well-worn cliché that the practical person scorns aesthetic value. But there’s reason to think that it is the only way in which we can draw final positive value from the entire world. Thus, to the extent that we care whether or not we live in a good world, we must be aesthetically sensitive. In short, the ultimate value of the world can be discovered if you are sensitive to what is beautiful.
Tom Cochrane in Aeon: We care about more than our own lives. We care about our families and friends and our local communities. We care about the political scene, and regularly check the news about the latest travesty. Every so often, something truly horrific happens; the kind of calamity that makes one despair of the world. Every so often, a child is murdered. It does not matter how far away it is. It matters to us. It weighs on us.
Moral evils have a way of calling into question the value of the world. Can the world really be a good place if such things happen? Classically, this is a problem for theists. Yet anyone can wonder what value, if any, our Universe has. It is closely related to wondering what the point of it all is.
But perhaps we shouldn’t worry about it. Perhaps we should regard the Universe as evaluatively blank, and find value only in our own lives, or in the lives of our loved ones. After all, many would say that value itself is something that we make up. However, I’m not asking whether value is purely up to us or not. I’m asking what we value, or should value. Even if we think that value is something that we do, or is in some sense made out of pleasure, we can still wonder what those valuing activities should be directed at, or in what things we can take pleasure.
Suppose that in response to moral evil someone says: ‘Yes, well that is obviously regrettable, but it doesn’t really affect what I value. I just focus on my own life and my friends and family.’ This seems an extraordinarily small-minded attitude to take. I suspect there are very few people who would be fully satisfied if they and their loved ones were secure while the rest of the world burned. Instead, most of us prefer to set the value of our limited lives within a larger context. We want to say that we are part of a good world, and even contribute to its goodness. And if we can say this, the value of our own lives is considerably more robust. Indeed, if our own lives are going badly, being able to look to the value of the world can be an important buffer against nihilism and despair.
Furthermore, what we seek is a kind of ultimate or final value; a value that requires no further rationale or justification. Without this, we are always prey to the further question: but what is the value of that? Note that final value is not the same as intrinsic value, which is value independent of context. While final value can be intrinsic, it can also be fully contextually sensitive. This is exactly what we seek when contemplating the world at large.
So can we find final value in the world? I believe that we can, so long as we are attuned to aesthetic value. Aesthetic value is a catch-all term that encompasses the beautiful, the ugly, the sublime, the dramatic, the comic, the cute, the kitsch, the uncanny, and many other related concepts. It is a well-worn cliché that the practical person scorns aesthetic value. But there’s reason to think that it is the only way in which we can draw final positive value from the entire world. Thus, to the extent that we care whether or not we live in a good world, we must be aesthetically sensitive. More here.
Honorary contributors to DesPardes.com: Adil Khan, Ajaz Ahmed, Anwar Abbas, Arif Mirza, Aziz Ahmed, Bawar Tawfik, Dr. Razzak Ladha, Dr. Syed M. Ali, G. R. Baloch, Haseeb Warsi, Hasham Saddique, Jamil Usman, Javed Abbasi, Jawed Ahmed, Ishaq Saqi, Khalid Sharif, Majid Ahmed, Masroor Ali, Md. Ahmed, Md. Najibullah, Mushtaq Siddiqui,, Mustafa Jivanjee, Nusrat Jamshed, Shahbaz Ali, Shahid Hamza, Shahid Nayeem, Shareer Alam, Syed Ali Ammaar Jafrey, Syed Hamza Gilani, Shaheer Alam, Syed Hasan Javed, Syed M. Ali, Tahir Sohail, Talha Alam, Tariq Chaudhry, Usman Nazir, Yasir Raza