Marcia Eaton

Aesthetics: The Mother of Ethics?



2.      Eaton’s view aes and ethics: Different, equal (no priority), (sometimes?) inseparable, (often?) integrated

         a.      Rejects idea that ethics first and aesthetics second

                   i.       As in assumed by “beauty is as beauty does”

         b.      Also rejects ethics comes second and aesthetic first

                   i.       Rejects that ethics is a branch of aesthetics

                   ii.      In this sense does not buy “aes is mother of ethics metaphor”

         c.      Thinks aesthetics and ethics are “integrated” (forming a harmonious whole)

         d.      Aes and ethics are equal partners

         e.      Aes is important, serious and integrated with general human values in binding, influential and deep ways.

3.      What Eaton likes about the aesthetics mother of ethics metaphor

         a.      Aes and ethical intertwined

         b.      Mother/child not ontologically equivalent, nor conceptually separate, nor is first causally related to but separate from the second

         c.      Conceptually related and causal relations are continuous in both directions

         d.      Like a mother to a child, aesthetics is valuable to ethics (which like a child is also valuable)

         e.      Mother and child defined in terms of each other (like aes and ethics)

         f.       Nurturing and mutual concern are long and deep

         g.      Friendship or sibling-hood might be better (as no priority)



5.      Morality essential to the intelligibility of some artworks

         a.      A great many artworks become intelligible only when the audience provides appropriate moral emotion and evaluation (Carroll)

                   i.       E.g., Harry Potter series and Snape’s role

         b.      Failing to illicit proper emotional responses can be an aesthetic flaw (and if for moral reasons, the moral flaw can lead to an aesthetic flaw)

                   i.       If Rowling had made Harry so obnoxious that we couldn’t feel sympathy for him

                   ii.      The “merited-response argument”


6.      Harmless offenses are first aesthetic offenses, then moral wrongs

         a.      Moral offensiveness of some acts are based on aesthetic reactions

         b.      When no rights or interests at stake, and still object–believe it is wrong, objection is aesthetic

         c.      Immoral because aesthetically offensive?

         d.     Possible examples:

                   i.       Roast human thigh: Cultivating and eating genetically engineered human flesh

                   ii.      Incest between consenting adults

                   iii.     Sex with animals

                   iv.     Public nudity or public defecation

                   v.      Mistreating corpses

                   vi.     Obscene language



8.      Aesthetics makes people morally better people

9.      Two versions (not clear Eaton accepts either)

         a.      One (strong version): One who fails to engage in aes activity will not be a moral person

                            (1)    What about Goody Two Shoes?

         b.      Two (weaker version): People who engage in aes activity are more likely to be moral people

                   i.       “Bringing students to love Henry James or Bach or Michelangelo will make them morally better”

10.    People who participate in real art are morally improved

         a.      Brodsky’s Dickens claims:

                   i.       “For someone who has read a lot of Dickens, to shoot his like in the name of some idea is somewhat more problematic than for someone who has read no Dickens

                   ii.      Yes literate people can kill with conviction (Lenin, Stalin, Hitler, Mao Zedong): what all these men had in common though was that their hit list was longer than their reading list

                   iii.     “Politicians should not be asked about foreign policy but their attitude toward Dickens”

         b.      Books we read, like the friends we surround ourselves with, say much about what kind of people we are

         c.      Beautiful cities make for better citizens

         d.      Aesthetics can motivate ethical action

                   i.       Aquarium director: When people see how beautiful oceans ecosystems are, more likely to act to protect them

11.    Counter-examples to claim aes experiences make people morally better

         a.      SS officers in Nazi concentration camps arranged concerts by prisoners

                   i.       Shows that evil people can enjoy aesthetics, not that aesthetics doesn’t make you a morally better person

         b.      People love to visit forests leave litter behind

                   i.       Shows that people can appreciate the beauty of something and still harm that beauty

         c.      Artists are not typically kinder/more generous than others

                   i.       So producing art does not make you a better person; but perhaps consuming it does?


12.    Note: Valuing beauty as a means to moral goodness actually suggests the priority of ethics, not aesthetics

         a.      Something Eaton rejects

         b.      But it does show their interconnection



14.    Lives can be (are?) constructed as works of art (Foucault)

         a.      Searching for an “aesthetics of existence”

         b.      Stronger claim: Lives are works of art, importantly aesthetic enterprises, whether intended or not, whether done well or badly

15.    Morality of antiquity was aesthetic

         a.      What matters is living a life according to patterns that can be recognized by others in one’s community as representing a particular type of person or character

         b.      To give one’s own life a certain form that even posterity might take as an example

         c.      How will others see me?

                   i.       So we construct our lives so that others viewing our lives can appreciate them and this sounds like making an art object

16.    Art plays a crucial role in developing meaningful lives

         a.      A more specific claim than that aesthetics does

         b.      Art, literature in particular, stories, teach us how to be inventive and imaginative

         c.      Need to invent ways of inserting value into one’s life

         d.      Need to imagine possibilities

17.    We want our life stories to be exciting, meaningful and exemplary of the values we prize

         a.      “Exciting” is an aesthetic concept

18.    Morality--in the broad sense of how we should live our lives-- involves a huge aesthetic dimension

19.    Himalayan expedition example of how moral and aesthetic ideals integrated in life choices (92)

         a.      You are the leader of the expedition and you have to decide at last camp if you will go to the top or if should give another member of the party the opportunity

         b.      Decision not so much about the interests of the parties (not so much a moral question)

         c.      But ideals of what a man should be: which is a better man to be?

                   i.       A man who overcomes dangers/obstacles and climbs to top

                   ii.      A man who uses his position of authority to give a friend this opportunity instead of claiming it himself

         d.      An aes question: man regarding his life and character as work of art and asking how it should best be completed

20.    Assessing lives is as much aesthetic as moral (Murdock)

         a.      When we assess other people we assess their total vision of life

         b.      As shown in mode of speech/silence, choice of words, their assessments of others, conception of their own lives, what they think attractive or funny

         c.      The texture of a person’s being; nature of his/her personal vision

21.    Key idea: Meaningful lives are as much aesthetic as moral and involve these two dimensions in “woven interdependence”