Exploring the philosophy of beauty
Posted on January 7, 2013
One of the things I came across during my winter blogging break was a great website named Gilded Birds, which features brief discussions with philosophers, artists, and others on the subject of beauty. The most recent interview, with Stanford University philosopher Joshua Cohen, provides a fitting glimpse of what the site has to offer:
GB: Artists in the twentieth century turned against the idea of beauty because of its association with bourgeois ideals. This is man-made beauty that surely anyone would be happy with.
JC: [Frederick Law] Olmsted had spent the 1850s working as a journalist, writing about slavery and aristocracy. He thought that the conflict between North and South in the United States was part of a global fight between democratic and aristocratic models of society. There’s an aristocratic criticism of democracy that goes all the way back to Plato, that when you try to do things for everyone you end up with lowest common denominator crap. Olmsted saw building Central Park as a way of proving the aristocrats wrong. It was built by a democratic society for a democratic society—for the people—and was incredibly beautiful. His bet was that people would be drawn to it. In 1865 Olmsted wrote a piece making the case that Yosemite should be open to the public and he explains what’s really special about natural beauty. He contrasts the pleasure of beauty with the pleasure of reading a great novel. A novel contains moral lessons that draw you outside the story. The experience of natural beauty is completely absorbing. It’s a distinctive and important human pleasure that’s good for everyone.
You can read the rest of this interview, along with others, here.