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techne

"all art is either spiritual or decorative"

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a quick review about dutton's the art instinct at books & culture.

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dutton + TED = great RSA piece

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dutton + TED = great RSA piece

There's a lot of truth here, certainly.

But it seems to me that Dutton chooses his examples selectively, and ignores inconvenient counter-examples. For example, he points out that verdant, pastoral, savannah-like landscapes with water, trees and animals are universally regarded as beautiful. Although he doesn't explicitly draw out the connection to the Darwinian mechanisms of fitness selection and sexual selection, presumably the idea is that preferring landscapes where food is plentiful and a living is easier to eke out is a useful fitness trait.

Okay. Fine. But why do we find compelling beauty in so many starkly inhospitable landscapes? What about Monument Valley and the Gobi Desert? What about the snow-covered peaks of the Andes, or the frozen wastes of Antarctica?

If I had to make a case based on the logic on offer in the video, I'd be forced to say that perhaps we are attracted to inhospitable landscapes because surviving in inhospitable circumstances could be attractive to potential mates. The problem with this, beyond its glib unpersuasiveness, is that this whole style of reasoning makes the theory unfalsifiable. Any outcome whatsoever can be reduced to Darwinian principles, because everything is either beneficial or not beneficial. If it's beneficial, it's a fitness asset, and if it's not beneficial, it's an asset with the ladies.

Incidentally, I accept the theory of evolution. I just don't think that everything about human beings can be satisfyingly accounted for in Darwinian terms. I think beauty is one of those things.

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dutton + TED = great RSA piece

From Roger Scruton -

pgs 34-38 -

In the first chapter of this book I identified a state of mind - that involved in our confrontation with beauty - and a judgment that seems to be implicit in it ... But that is not the approach of the evolutionary psychologists, who argue that we can best understand our states of mind if we identify their evolutionary origins, and the contribution that they (or some earlier version of them) might have made to the reproductive strategies of our genes. In what way is an organism made more likely to pass on its genetic inheritance, by exercising its emotions over beautiful things? That scientific, or scientific-seeming, question is for many people the meaningless residue of aesthetics - the only question that now remains, concerning the nature or value of the sentiment of beauty ...

As augmented by [Geoffrey] Miller, the theory suggests that by making himself beautiful the man is doing what the peacock does when he displays his tail: he is giving a sign of his reproductive fitness, to which a woman responds as the peahen responds, claiming him (though in no way conscious that she is doing so) on behalf of her genes. Of course, human aesthetic activity is more intricate than the instinctive displays of birds. Men do not merely wear feathers and tattoos; they paint pictures, write poetry, sing songs. But all these things are signs of strength, ingenuity and prowess, and therefore reliable indices of reproductive fitness. Women are struck with awe, wonder and desire by these artistic gestures, so that Nature takes her course to the mutual triumph of the genes that carry her lasting messages.

But it is clear that strenuous activities short of artistic creation would make an equal contribution to such a genetic strategy. Hence the explanation, even if true, will not enable us to identify what is specific to the sentiment of beauty. Even if the peacock's tail and the Art of Fugue have a common ancestry, the appreciation elicited by the one is of a completely different kind from the appreciation directed at the other ... Hence, because we cannot infer that the sentiment of beauty was necessary to the process of sexual selection, we cannot use the fact of sexual selection as a conclusive explanation of the sentiment of beauty; still less as a way of deciphering what that sentiment means. Something more needs to be added, concerning the specificity of aesthetic judgment, if we are to have a clear picture of the place of beauty and our response to it in the evolution of our species. And this something more should take seriously such facts as these: that men appreciate women for their beauty just as much as, if not more than, women appreciate men; that women too are active in the production of beauty, both in art and in everyday life; that people associate beauty with their highest endeavours and aspirations, are disturbed by its absence, and regard a measure of aesthetic agreement as essential for life in society. As things stand the evolutionary psychology of beauty offers a picture of the human being and human society with the aesthetic element deprived of its specific intentionality, and dissolved in vague generalities that overlook the peculiar place of aesthetic judgment in the life of the rational agent.

Edited by Persiflage

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Ironically, both Scruton and Dutton want some sort of systematic definition of beauty and aesthetics. If some form of reasoning can be deduced or created then authority can be exerted over what is or isn't definitively beautiful. What a waste of imagination. (Although, while I may generally disagree with Dutton's logic and conclusions, I am more sympathetic to the pursuit of understanding the "why" of things.)

Personally, I think the stash of stone axes was either someone's weapons cache or maybe an early entrepreneur's (who discovered he was really good at making axes) inventory and planned on opening a store.

Joe

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