A book on ethics and philosophy of values

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IV/ Reconfiguration of the field of knowledge

The emergence of axiology as a new discipline, if it proves to be the case, logically leads to a reconfiguration of the field of knowledge, since it may not be content to add to existing disciplines or to establish itself alongside them, but rather to maintain numerous and complex links with them. It is even possible that certain disciplines will disappear, because the newcomer can now take on, more effectively, the problems they were tasked with solving. In my view, this is the case with aesthetics, which we shall now examine, in an attempt to see whether it retains its legitimacy in this reconfiguration of the field of knowledge.

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

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

We have already tried to think about the fundamental phenomenon of the oblivion of value, due to its assimilation to other concepts, such as those of good, end, etc.
Such an oblivion seems necessarily to entail another: that of the subjective feeling provoked in us by the value of a thing, that is to say the pleasure taken in the value of a thing, axiological pleasure.

The existence and nature of such a feeling seems obvious: when I think that something (nature, for example) has great value, is worthy of love, then when I have a relationship - whatever it may be - with this thing (for example, a walk in nature), I will feel great pleasure.
The study of axiological pleasure is therefore an integral part of axiology as a discipline, and it must be compared with two other kinds of pleasure that we might identify as aesthetic pleasure in the beauty of a thing, and what we might call physiological pleasure, or pleasure of the senses (or: the agreeable). The question of whether there are other kinds of pleasure does not interest us here.

We need to try to determine whether these three kinds of pleasure are indeed irreducible to each other, or whether one might be an empty shell that actually contains the other two, the only consistent ones. To do this, we will look at the object of each of these three pleasures, and see whether these objects are indeed distinct.

So let us ask ourselves the question: does the concept of beauty really have a consistent meaning that is irreducible to other concepts?

The concept of agreeable and the concept of value seem to be the closest to that of beauty. Agreeable seems to be synonymous with beauty in that to find a work beautiful is to experience pleasure in seeing or hearing it, to find the sight of it agreeable.
On the other hand, value seems to be a synonym for beauty in that to say that a painting is beautiful is to say that it has great aesthetic value.

However, beauty seems to differ from agreeable in that eating an apple is agreeable, but seeing it in a still life is not. It is simply beautiful, in the sense that we experience a completely different kind of pleasure in seeing the apple than we do in eating it. The pleasure of the aesthete is not at all the pleasure of the gastronome, and it is necessary to mark a difference between these two incommensurable kinds of pleasure by two different concepts: agreeable and beautiful.
Moreover, the concept of beauty and that of value seem ultimately different, in that we imagine, for example, that there are human beings who are worth nothing (because of their wickedness and stupidity) while being endowed with great beauty. So there is a difference between the beauty and the value of a human being.

Beauty therefore seems to have a consistent meaning, irreducible to neighbouring concepts, and consequently aesthetic pleasure must be something quite different from axiological or physiological pleasure ("aesthetic" is taken here in the late sense (1750) and not in the ancient, classical sense of "aisthesis").

However, this initial superficial reflection should not be considered definitive, and we need to ask ourselves the question again: does beauty really have a meaning that is irreducible to the concepts of value and agreeable?