Sunday, February 19, 2017

'Aesthetics' as a Contemporary Word

Though Hegel never used these terms, he is recognized as the creator of the following triad: thesis, antithesis, and synthesis. It is quite convenient, then, that there are, what I would consider, three contemporary meanings for 'aesthetics': 1) as a philosophy; 2) as a practice; 3) as a preference. The game at hand, it appears to me, is to delineate which meaning fits within each of Hegel's categories. But first, let me properly describe what I am referring to with each of these three meanings. First, aesthetics as a philosophy refers to not only the study of beauty but how 'beauty' might be defined, if at all. Second, aesthetics as a practice refers to the attempt to make things beautiful - e.g. Roberta, an aesthetician, dyes a client's hair blonde because that's what the client deems beautiful. Third, aesthetics as a preference refers to a certain characteristic or set of characteristics that a person maintains - e.g. "Black nail polish is my aesthetic," said Veronica.

Now that I have sorted out the proper definitions, it is appropriate to match these definitions to the three Hegelian stages. I would say that the thesis here is aesthetics as a practice. The reason I would not select aesthetics as a philosophy as pertaining to this stage is because part of what this comprises is the study of beauty, and to study beauty, you must first have something beautiful. All things that begin to exist must have a cause, so for any beautiful things that begin to exist they must have a cause, and it seems most clear to me that a term like practice denotes the making of something, in this case, something beautiful. From here I would say that aesthetics as a philosophy is the antithesis because it can question those practices and results which are deemed beautiful by some. Lastly, I would say that aesthetics as a preference represents the synthesis of aesthetics as a practice and a philosophy because for someone to maintain characteristics means that those characteristics came from somewhere - a practice. It is by means of philosophizing that they observe this characteristic and allow it to be of personal significance.


I should say that all of this has been motivated by Kierkegaard's three stages: aesthetic, ethical, and religious. It's interesting to note that G.K. Chesterton incorporated Kierkegaard's aesthete into his work. I came to this realization in quite a non-calculated way, as I read Chesterton's essay back in 2015 and William McDonald's entry on Kierkegaard yesterday. In Chesterton's essay On Mr. Rudyard Kipling and Making the Small World he writes: "We might, no doubt, find it a nuisance to count all the blades of grass or all the leaves of the trees ... The bore would go onward, bold and gay, and find the blades of grass as splendid as the swords of an army." In McDonald's entry it says: "The prime motivation for the aesthete is the transformation of the boring into the interesting."

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