Picture a snow-covered mountain in Polynesia. It rises majestically above a prosaic village, dwarfing the tiki huts and placing the mundane cares of its denizens in perspective by way of a sort of implicit pictorial reproach, so imposing are its lofty crags and cloudy pinnacles. Just so this Web page rises above cyberspace, tacitly chiding its Netizens for their want of taste in their own digital reading fare.


April 2017

The Theory of Aesthetic Relativity

Proposed: that ugliness is in the eyes (and nose) of the beholder

I just had a terrible thought: What if beauty and ugliness were truly relative, in the Einsteinian sense that there is no one fixed standard of beauty in the universe. Instead, beauty can be definitively defined only in a given reference frame (read "by a specific species"). In other words, the 'slave's offal' of which Hamlet speaks could look and smell like daisies, provided only that the sensing mechanism of a given species was so constructed as to make it appear so.

Before you pooh-pooh the idea, you must ask yourself: What is the ontological nature of "ugliness." Indeed, is there an ontological nature of such a quality? Surely a wallowing pig does not consider mud to be ugly; surely a lumbering bullock is not repelled by the occasional cow paddy. Why not? Because they have not been either physiologically or psychologically equipped to make that judgment.

Take me, for instance. I can't imagine a critter any more disgusting than a cockroach -- indeed, I'm wincing even as I type this -- but speaking philosophically, we must ask ourselves: is the roach's (to us) prima facie ugliness a case of simple (relative) ugliness, or is it Ugliness writ large: i.e., does the entomological eyesore possess some quality or qualities that inherently stamp it as ugly for all time, regardless of the psychological or physiological makeup of the intelligent being that claps eyes on it? Or can we not imagine some self-reflecting species who possess a different or expanded set of sense organs, such that the cockroach strikes them as (Lord help us...) cute???

Well, go ahead: talk amongst yourselves! (Yes, this WILL be on the test, folks!)

THIS POST FOR DUMMIES: What Brian is really askin' (ya numbskull) is: "Is there an ontological basis for ugliness or is it a contingently determined quality?" The human being's visceral disgust for certain creatures and substances would suggest the former while the scarab beetle's blithe acceptance of dung would suggest the latter. Get it NOW, dum-dum? (Honestly!)

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Copyright 2017, Brian Quass quass@quass.com (follow on Twitter)