there is nothing universalizable or normative in lustful contemplation. There is nothing in it that supports the idea that others should take the same kind of pleasure, or any kind of pleasure, in the contemplation of this [person’s] naked form.I'm not sure that I agree with this, but then how would the matter be decided? (And that is what I find most interesting about the claim.) How do we know, or how could we know, what is or is not in lustful contemplation? Getting into a lustful (but merely contemplative) state can't be the way to do philosophy, and whatever I might find in my lustful contemplation might not be in lustful contemplation as such or in general. In other words, the empirical approach might conflict in practice with the philosophical aim of the experiment, and its results might not generalize even assuming one can analyze well while genuinely in the required state. If we try some lust-free armchair analysis then Matthen seems right--there is nothing about the concept of lust that implies any universalizability or normativity. To lust is not to judge lust-worthy. Lust is animal, and animals don't judge.
Still, this seems not quite right, perhaps because it makes too sharp a distinction between us and animals, or between lust and aesthetic appreciation. Are they really so distinct? Is it possible to desire without regarding as desirable? And how different are a) desire and lust, and b) regarding as and judging to be? I recently ate some tasty wasabi trail mix, the kind of thing it is hard to stop eating. I didn't think of it as tasty-to-me or merely desired (but not necessarily desirable). Nor did I think of it as something that every rational or normal eater would like. I just liked it. And, it seems to me, the judgment (or experience) that something is tasty is quite similar to the judgment/feeling that someone is hot (to keep the wasabi theme going). It isn't normative, but it isn't non-normative either. That is, there is nothing about the contingency of my feeling this way in the experience, just as there is nothing about other people's having to feel the same way in it.
That's obscure. What I mean is that, like Homer Simpson, when I eat or lustfully contemplate a doughnut my thought is something like, "Mmmm...doughnut." It isn't, "Well, that doughnut looks good to me, but I realize that others might quite reasonably not feel the same way." Nor is it, "What a doughnut! All must want it on pain of irrationality." But if anything I think it's closer to the latter than it is to the former. And lust is like hunger.
Some experiences do have a sense of contingency about them, especially when we're not quite sure what we think or how we feel. I like marmite, but I can see how other people might not. And this is related to (but not the same thing as) the fact that I don't like it very much. When I really like something a lot I do tend to think that you would have to be mad not to like it. So that is normative, although of course I can understand that tastes differ, especially when it comes to sexuality (less so with food, I think). Most obviously, if you don't share my view of someone's attractiveness I will be less likely to think you insane if your sex or sexual orientation is not the same as mine. But there is still something theoretical or intellectual about such recognition (or acceptance) of other's rationality. My mouth tells me the trail mix tastes good. My brain tells me your mileage may vary.
Then Matthen says this:
Enjoying food is not enough for the application of aesthetic epithets; indeed it is irrelevant. To make a “judgement of taste”about food, you have to judge that it has qualities, which might be related to the flavour experience, that ought to give anybody pleasure independently of enjoying the flavour.I can make no sense of this. So here's the same thing with more context:
it is certainly possible that persons are beautiful, but only if the pleasure of contemplating them transcends sexual preference and desire.
Similarly for food and wine. Enjoying food is not enough for the application of aesthetic epithets; indeed it is irrelevant. To make a “judgement of taste”about food, you have to judge that it has qualities, which might be related to the flavour experience, that ought to give anybody pleasure independently of enjoying the flavour. It’s certainly possible that terms like beautiful (or their domain-specific counterparts) can be attributed to food, but it requires considerations quite different to the sort that food critics usually employ.Now food can look nice or have an appealing texture without tasting good. But I take Matthen to be saying that, or wanting to say something like, food can taste beautiful without this having anything to do with the enjoyability of its flavor. That's got to be wrong. If this is what he or Kant (Matthen says he has "adopted Kant's notion of beauty") thinks then it looks like a reductio of that position. Maybe I've got it wrong. Let's see.
Here is Matthen on Kant on judgments of beauty:
Kant said that you attribute beauty to something when you judge that it is, i.e., ought to be, an object of disinterested pleasure for everybody. His example is that of a palace. You can judge that it would give you pleasure if you lived in it. Or you may think it represents the kind of extravagance that greatly pains your socialist soul, and you judge that others should share your disapproval. But these pleasures and pains are not “disinterested.” Disinterested pleasure is independent of the palace existing. It attaches to the “mere representation.”I (think I) understand the first part of this, the idea that you can take pleasure in something's appearance without anticipating any personal benefit from it. The socialism part makes less sense to me, because surely the socialist in this case is trying to be disinterested. She judges that others ought not to approve of the palace. Perhaps the idea is that the socialist sees that the palace is beautiful but disapproves of the causal chain by which it was produced, or the effects its production is likely to have. The palace considered just in itself, as it were, might be fine from her point of view. It's the socio-economic context that makes such a palace objectionable, not anything about the palace's matter or shape. So how does this apply to people and food?
I can judge, or simply see, that someone is beautiful without wanting to have sex with them. I agree with that. So if food can be beautiful then perhaps I should be able to appreciate this without wanting to eat the food. Indeed, I might be too full to eat. But I think Matthen wants to exclude that kind of consideration. Other things being equal, considered only as food (and not as, say, poison to someone with your allergies), could you judge this food to have a beautiful flavor without at all wanting to eat it? That makes no sense to me.
But, having worked on this post on and off for several days, I think I'll leave it there. The comments thread at New APPS has some good stuff in it, but also more mystery. In comment 30 Matthen says this:
I am sure you don't think (all/any of) the following count as experiences of beauty: sexual arousal by somebody very attractive, the taste of chocolate, the soothing sound of a waterfall or surf on a beach, a warm bath. How do you think that these differ from the sight of a magnificent mountain range, the taste of coq au vin, the sound of a nightingale? I take each of the last three to be examples of beauty as opposed to mere pleasure.Most of the time I just see no difference at all between the first examples and the last ones. Sexual arousal could be different, but when you specify that this is arousal "by somebody very attractive" then I don't see how that could not include an experience of beauty, even if it also includes other things too, such as love or lust. How is chocolate different from coq au vin, unless the flavor of one is assumed to be simpler than that of the other? Why do waterfalls give mere pleasure with their sound but nightingales sound beautiful? Complexity seems to be the difference again, since waterfalls make a kind of noise whereas nightingales sing a kind of tune. But I don't accept that beauty requires complexity or order.
Then again, perhaps I'm forgetting what beauty is. How could I think that getting into a warm bath is experiencing beauty rather than mere pleasure? One problem here is that we don't have a good account of what pleasure is, which makes it hard to distinguish between it and beauty. Another problem, as Wittgenstein is reported to have said in the lectures on aesthetics, is that we actually use the word 'beauty' very little in discussing aesthetic matters. At least, I imagine that professional critics try to avoid using it. It doesn't seem to have a very clear or precise meaning.
I'm getting suspicious of the whole idea. Matthen talks about "the sight of a magnificent mountain range" as an example of beauty. I do and don't know what he means. On the one hand, this is a standard kind of idea of beauty, the kind of scene people used to put on boxes of chocolates. But does anyone look at such pictures and think "Magnificent!" or "How beautiful!"? Don't they just look cheesy? I live in a valley surrounded by mountains, and I certainly think of them as beautiful. But they aren't what I would call magnificent. Emperors are magnificent (doesn't it mean great-doing, or something along those lines?), while the Blue Ridge mountains are firry (to coin a word) and green. The Alps might be magnificent, or the Rockies. But to see something as magnificent seems to me to involve being a little bit afraid of it, while seeing it as beautiful involves a kind of love. (And then the sublime somehow combines these two, as I understand it.)
In the end I'm not sure that 'beautiful' means much more than nice to look at. And 'nice' means neither nice-for-me nor nice-for-all-right-minded-people. It means nice. The nice is good and worth protecting, of course, but should others like it? I don't really know what it would mean to say such a thing. Other things being equal, it seems good to like things. And, as lucky Jim says, nice things are nicer than nasty things. As I said a few paragraphs ago, I think I'll leave it there.