A book on ethics and philosophy of values

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IV/ Reconfiguration of the field of knowledge

The emergence of a new discipline – axiology- logically entails a reconfiguration of the field of knowledge, because this one has close links, numerous and complex, with other disciplines that already exist.
It is even possible that some of these disciplines disappear, because the new one may now treat more adequately the problems that they tried to solve. This is, in my opinion, the case of aesthetics, of which we are now going to examine the legitimacy, to see if this one maintains its relevance in this reconfiguration of the field of knowledge.

1/ Questioning the legitimacy of aesthetics and of the concept of beauty

1/ The three kinds of pleasure: physiological, aesthetic, and axiological one

We have in a preceding chapter examined the fundamental phenomenon of the oblivion of value, due to its confusion with other concepts, like good, end, etc.
It seems that this oblivion leads to another one: that of the subjective feeling caused by the value of a thing, viz. the pleasure derived from the value of a thing, namely the axiological pleasure.

The existence and nature of such a feeling is, I think, obvious: when I think that something (for instance, nature) has a great value, is worthy of love, then when I have a relation – whatever it is- to this thing (e.g. a nature walk), I will have a great pleasure.
So the study of the axiological pleasure is an essential part of axiology, as a discipline, and must be compared to two other kinds of pleasure: the aesthetic pleasure of contemplating the beauty of a thing, and the physiological pleasure, viz. pleasure of the senses (in other words, the agreeable); the question “are there other kinds of pleasure?” is not our concern here.

We must determine whether these three kinds of pleasure are really irreducible to one another, or whether one of them is nothing but an empty shell which includes in reality the two other consistent ones. For that purpose, let us consider the object of each of these three pleasures, in order to find whether they are really distinct.

So we ask, has the concept of beauty a consistent meaning, irreducible to other ones?

On the one hand, the concepts of agreeable and of value appear to be close to that of beauty. Indeed, ‘agreeable’ and ‘beautiful’ seem to be synonyms, for we call something beautiful when we feel a great pleasure by seeing or hearing it, viz. when we find it agreeable.
And ‘value’ and ‘beauty’ seem equivalent, for when we say that a painting is beautiful, we attribute a great aesthetic value to it.

On the other hand, beauty seems to differ from agreeable, because to eat an apple is agreeable, but to see it in a still life is not agreeable. It is merely beautiful, that is to say we feel, on seeing this apple, a pleasure of a quite different nature than that which we feel by eating it. The pleasure of the aesthete is not at all the pleasure of the gastronome, therefore we must clearly differentiate these two distinct kinds of pleasure by two different concepts: agreeable and beautiful.
And the concepts of beauty and value seem finally very different, since we may assume that there are human beings who, due to their wickedness and silliness, are worth nothing, but are very beautiful. So there is a difference between value and beauty, as we see in this example.

So beauty seems to have a consistent meaning, irreducible to close concepts, and consequently the aesthetic pleasure must be something else than the axiological pleasure or the one offered by all that is agreeable (“aesthetic” is here used in its later sense (1750) and not in its ancient and classical one, as ‘aesthesis’).

However, this first superficial reflection is not conclusive, and we have to readdress the question: has really beauty a meaning irreducible to the concepts of value and agreeable?