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02 SEPTEMBER 2014

Aesthetic disinterestedness: axiom of modern Western aesthetics

"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. During the same century many of these writers grouped what we now call the fine arts into a generally accepted set in which they were all organized by the same principles and could be compared with one another.[1] Finally, in the latter part of the century and especially in Germany, the general theory of the fine arts achieved the status of a separate discipline and, in the work of Kant, came to occupy a distinct and integral place in a philosophical system. 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.'[2]

...What might we say is the historical significance of aesthetic disinterestedness? Disinterestedness served to identify intrinsic normative experience. As first developed it was used in a moral context to help the recognition of things and actions that were good in themselves, apart from their usefulness. Thus Shaftesbury, who, along with Hutcheson and Alison, was one of the principal contributors to this view, contrasted 'the disinterested love of God,' a love pursued for its own sake, with the more common motive of serving God 'for interest merely.' The disinterested love of God has, then, value that is entirely intrinsic.[3] When applied to the experience of beauty, it denoted the same recognition of intrinsic value. There is a valid insight here, for we often find ourselves valuing a work of art for its own sake. Somehow the value of good art seems to be self-contained. The work commands respect and admiration in itself, apart from practical considerations such as monetary value, the conferring of social status, or its association with the hand of genius."

(Arnold Berleant and Ronald Hepburn, Contemporary Aesthetics)

[1] Paul Oskar Kristeller, "The Modern System of the Arts," in Renaissance Thought II (New York: Harper & Row, 1965), pp. 163-227.

[2] Immanuel Kant, Critique of Judgment (l790), Sect. 5. For an extended critical account see A. Berleant, "The Historicity of Aesthetics I," The British Journal of Aesthetics, Vol.26, No.2 (Spring 1986), 101-111; "The Historicity of Aesthetics II," The British Journal of Aesthetics, Vol.26, No.3 (Summer 1986), 195-203; and "Beyond Disinterestedness." The British Journal of Aesthetics, 34/3 (July 1994).

[3] Anthony, Earl of Shaftesbury, Characteristics, ed. Robertson (London, 1900), II, 55, 56. The definitive discussion of this history is Jerome Stolnitz, "On the Origins of 'Aesthetic Disinterestedness'," The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, XX, 2 (Winter 1961), 131-143. The history of the idea of disinterestedness continues to be debated. See my Art and Engagement, Ch. 1, esp. n. 3, pp. 215-216.

TAGS

18th centuryaesthetic disinterestednessaesthetic experienceaesthetics • Anthony Ashley-Cooper • appreciative experience • Archibald Alison • Arnold Berleantart for arts sakebeauty • British school • cognitive experience • critique of human actions • Dabney Townsend • David Hume • disinterested love • disinterested satisfaction • disinterestedness • dissatisfaction • experience of beauty • fine arts • Francis Hutcheson • George Dickie • god • human creations • Immanuel Kant • intrinsic normative experience • intrinsic value • Jerome Stolnitz • John Locke • Joseph Addison • judgement • moral experience • Paul Oskar Kristeller • practical experience • religious experience • Remy Saisselin • Ronald Hepburn • taste • usefulness • Western aesthetics

CONTRIBUTOR

Simon Perkins
02 DECEMBER 2012

University students face a constant stream of questionnaires designed to assess the standard of their courses

"I'm more bothered by the underlying assumptions about what makes good university teaching that lie behind many of these surveys. You can see them particularly clearly in the National Student Survey, and the reams of student feedback it publishes online – explicitly, so it says, to help prospective students choose a good course, and to help universities 'enhance the student learning experience'. ...

OK, I can see how at first sight that might seem obvious. Who, after all, wants to see their kids go off to university, at great expense, for a diet of dis–satisfaction? But, from where I sit, dissatisfaction and discomfort have their own, important, role to play in a good university education. We're aiming to push our students to think differently, to move out of their intellectual comfort zone, to read and discuss texts that are almost too hard for them to manage. It is, and it's meant to be, destabilizing.

At the same time, we're urging them never to be satisfied with the arguments they are presented with, never to take things on trust, always to challenge, always to see the weak points, or to want to push the argument further. Then along comes the National Survey, treats them as consumers, and asks them if they're satisfied."

(Mary Beard, BBC News, 2 December 2012)

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TAGS

2012anonymityassumptionsbureaucratic reductionchallenging conventional thinkingcomfort zoneconsumer culturecriticismcustomer satisfactiondepersonalising • destabilizing • discontent • dissatisfactionHigher Education Funding Council • honesty • Mary Beard • National Student Surveyperformativitypower without responsibilityquestionnaire • RateMyProfessor • satisfaction • satisfied consumers • satisfied students • student feedback • student learning experience • suggestions • surveysurvey form • survey-fatigue • surveysteaching • think differently • TripAdvisor • trusttrust and reliabilityundergraduateuniversityuniversity educationuniversity teaching • useful comments

CONTRIBUTOR

Phil Nodding
07 JULY 2009

Barry Schwartz: The paradox of choice

"Psychologist Barry Schwartz takes aim at a central tenet of western societies: freedom of choice. In Schwartz's estimation, choice has made us not freer but more paralyzed, not happier but more dissatisfied."

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TAGS

2005 • Barry Schwartz • challenging conventional thinkingchoiceconsumer choiceconsumer culture • cost of a choice • cost-benefit analysis • customer satisfactiondecision makingdissatisfaction • economic efficiency • expectationfreedom of choicehappinessindividual choiceindividual freedomindividualisminformation anxiety • microeconomic theory • opportunity costoverloadparadox • paralysis • Pareto efficiency • Pareto optimality • performativitypsychology • real cost • resource allocation • salad dressing • satisfaction • scarce resources • skip culture • TED Talksthe Daily Me • Vilfredo Pareto • Western societies • what I reckon

CONTRIBUTOR

Simon Perkins
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