Wittgenstein And Aesthetics

Wittgenstein And Aesthetics I disagree with Ludwig Wittgenstein when he states that aesthetics “draws ones attention to certain features, to place things side by side so as to exhibit these features” because of the logic that gives birth to the thoughts that led to this statement. This logic questions the ability of a person to ascertain what “beauty” is, what contains the quality known as “beauty”, and the levels of beauty and how they can be measured and compared. Wittgenstein uses the metaphor of games to illustrate his points regarding aesthetics and beauty. He reasons that the idea of a common feature or “ingredient” being common to all games is to simple and primitive an idea to accept. He states “It is comparable to the idea that properties are ingredients of the things which have the properties: e.g. that beauty is an ingredient of all beautiful things as alcohol is of beer and wine, and that we could therefore have pure beauty, unadulterated by anything that is beautiful.” (BB 17) Marjorie Perloff further explains Wittgensteins idea by stating what he meant was that “..

one cannot say X is beautiful unless one has a notion of what “beauty” is in the abstract.” She shows that Wittgenstein believes that you must be able to define a quality on its own, in regards to itself only, before you can apply that quality to any other thing. Wittgenstein goes on to explain by using the Greek ideal as a model. He says that what made this ideal was the role it played in the lives of the Greek People. This suggests that since this ideal, this standard if you will, was taught so fervently that it became the norm, and thus the ideal. Since the great scholar of the time (Aristotle) wrote with this form, and the great sculptors and artists were locked into this ideal, it was accepted as the prime example of form, and was thus accepted. To Wittgenstein, it was not the idea of “quality”, or “ideal form” that motivated the trends of people, but the models upon which these qualities were imposed.

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Quality itself might as well not exist, if aesthetics were not there to “draw ones attention” to certain things. There are certain points which could make one wonder about the validity of Wittgensteins ideas, however. Wittgenstein seems to think that quality does not exist by itself, that man imposes the idea of quality upon things that are deemed acceptable by the masses. Would this argument still make sense if you could define quality on its own terms, in and of itself? Even Wittgenstein seems to think not, otherwise he would not have pointed out the very fact that this autonomous quantification was impossible. But it seems that just to prove the existence of quality, however undefined, would raise a strong doubt about his theory. Quality is viewed as different things from different perspectives, it is true.

As I see something I deem to be beautiful, another could very well see vulgarity. As I view goodness, another can perceive ugliness. But the fact is that as a whole, a large group of people can always come to a decisive decision over the differences between beauty and ugliness. There is always a majority who will decisively choose the beautiful thing. It is true that as the differences between the subjects gradually becomes harder and harder to see, the majority will begin to shrink, and the thoughts will grow closer, but that is because the amount of quality in each thing comes closer together.

As Robert Pirsig said, the proof for the existence of quality lies simply in this thought: remove the idea of quality from anything, and that thing will become one thing. If all aesthetic quality were removed from all of the shoes in the world, for instance, soon every person would be wearing the same pair of shoes. It would be the longest-lasting, least expensive shoe, because there is no longer an issue of “style”, or “color”, or “brand name” to influence the choice. The deciding factor of aesthetic quality is gone. If you remove a thing from a situation, and it changes the situation by its absence, then it can be reasonably stated that that thing does exist. In any other case, the situation would have remained the same, would it not? This might argue to Wittgenstein that there is, indeed, a common factor between “roast beef, Greek art, and German music”. What do fine food, beautiful art, and soulful music have in common? The thing that makes them good, of course. Quality.


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