Of Aesthetics and Consequentiality

Without priceless-ness, claims to restore an independent aesthetics, negatively, that is to say, by means of denial, have re-established themselves in a general academic debate, recalling the hedonistic Utilitarianism of Bentham and Mill[i] a propos the pleasure principle[ii]. Aesthetic contemplation and pleasure are linked together by pre-Modern ideas for the good. From this perspective aesthetic pleasure is disinterested[iii], having neither dependency nor consequentiality[iv]. Aesthetic pleasure is unsullied by use, being precisely use-less and without utility, being sublimated in the good as an a-moral, a-social, a-racial, an-economic, class-less phenomenon. The good here is established a-critically, without foundation and consequentiality, it is a good for itself.

The wagon of twenty-first century global culture is pulled by a matchless philosophical troika; the three stallions of critical doubt, Marx, Nietzsche and Freud.  Capital economics; will to power and psycho-sexuality, hold up the formation of contemporary weltanschauungen [v]; they are the trivet of contemporary actuality, the triangular ground works of a political, psycho-social impression of the real. In the present, aesthetical conditions are conditions of projected psycho-social and socio-political value, consummately contextual, founded upon adopted cultural perspectives. Such perspectives are multiple, complex and partial in so far as they remain contingent upon the cultural grounds of their formation.

Claims to establish the independence of the good, beyond consequentiality, are claims constructed for themselves; self-referential, cynical and self-serving, constructed in pursuit of a reduced identity (Adorno’s use of the term). Under multinational capitalism every thing is brought to heel; every cultural object reflects a raft of values constrained to support the ubiquity of exchange.  The construction of the notion of the good beyond these terms is disingenuous, if it thinks itself true.

[i]A theory which assumes that the rightness of an action depends entirely on the amount of pleasure the action tends to produce and the amount of pain it tends to avoid.


[ii] The tendency to seek pleasure and avoid pain. In Freud’s theory, this principle rules the Id, but is at least partly repressed by the ‘reality principle’. The origin of this expression can be traced to G Th. Fechner (1801-87), who used the German equivalent Lustprinzip in the defined sense in an article published in 1848. The theory that all action is determined by the prospect of pleasure is called psychological hedonism.

The Penguin Dictionary of Philosophy ed. Thomas Mautner
ISBN 0-14-051250-0

[iii]The concept of aesthetic disinterestedness is surely one of the axioms of modern Western aesthetics, if not its central principle. Developed mainly in the eighteenth century in the writings of Alison, Shaftesbury, Addison, Hutcheson and others of the British school, the notion of disinterestedness denoted the perception of an object “for its own sake.” This central idea became the mark of a new and distinctive mode of experience called the aesthetic, a kind of experience that was distinguished from more common modes, such as practical, cognitive, moral, and religious experience. Kant’s formulation of disinterestedness is generally regarded as definitive:
“…[T]aste in the beautiful is alone a disinterested and free satisfaction; for no interest, either of sense or of reason, here forces our assent…Taste is the faculty of judging of an object or a method of representing it by an entirely disinterested satisfaction or dissatisfaction. The object of such satisfaction is called beautiful.” [1]

1. Immanuel Kant, Critique of Judgment (1790), Section 5

See also ‘An Exchange on Disinterestedness’ by Arnold Berleant and Ronald Hepburn http://www.contempaesthetics.org/pages/article.php?articleID=209

[iv]Consequentialism; the view that an agent is equally responsible for the intended consequences of an act and its unintended but foreseen consequences.

[v] n. ‘world view’; personal philosophy of life.


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