Difference of Moral and Esthetic Value

Stephen Boydstun's picture
Submitted by Stephen Boydstun on Sun, 2007-04-15 13:57

What is the difference between the morally valuable and the esthetically valuable?

Rand wrote that art "serves no practical, material end, but is an end in itself; it serves no purpose other than contemplation." That, anyway, is the phenomenology. Beneath the surface, however, "art does have a purpose and does serve a human need; only it is not a material need, but a need of man's consciousness. Art is inextricably tied to man's survival---not to his physical survival, but to that on which his physical survival depends: to the preservation and survival of his consciousness" (P-E A).

Like ethics, according to Rand, art is important in human life. Art is a certain way of making concrete certain of our abstract metaphysical views. It brings those abstract concepts to the perceptual level of consciousness and "allows one to grasp them directly, as if they were concretes." That is why art is important in human life.

Rand conceived of ethical values as those that "guide man's choices and actions that determine the purpose and the course of his life" (OE). Is the esthetically valuable a species of the ethically valuable? Vice versa? Are they two non-subsuming species of value required by conceptual beings? What are their differentia?

( categories: )

Morality speaks more loudly than that.

Ptgymatic's picture

I think a reasoned moral code is more robust than what is suggested in your examples, Stephen. While small choices are not always subject to moral guidance, large ones actually are, if the person works through the issue thoroughly.

Opting to die rather than accept a donated kidney due to the fear or distaste of no longer being the individual one was before is not reasonable. The dogma that human bodies must "be kept separate," is not logically related to valuing individualism, it is, in fact, a spurious example of individualism, a counterfeit individualism, which becomes clear when one considers that it would cost the individual his life.

If a person doesn't gamble, because the experience of winning and losing money by mere chance is incongruous with their work ethic, fine. But if they regard their moral code as objective, they will hold that it applies generally, and they will disapprove of others' gambling. There are a lot of gamblers out there who deserve disapproving, but not all, as far as I can see. So this "esthetic/pious" expression leads the holder of the view to accept, and, presumably, express, improper moral judgments regarding others.

I would argue against a principle of "earthly piety," as anything but a trivial expression of sense of life, in which case it is just an expression of sense of life. It is not only artworks that can express one's sense of life.

On philosophical grounds, I think it is a mistake to crowd the realm of ethics with varying touch-stones. Sort of like government regulations that implicitly undercut the authority of the constitution, the adequacy of morality to guide all but trivial choices and decisions shouldn't be diminished. (Not that I imagine that is your intention.)

The area that I see accepting what you are calling earthly piety involves decisions on the order of dressing and decorating, naming children, and pets, boats, etc. In these sorts of things, we are, I think, building aesthetic markers into the world around us. Those markers work aesthetically to make immediate reality, perceptibly, what it should be, and thus to strengthen the impression that our world is good, life if good, "my life is right," etc.

So, I would argue that where aesthetics seem to offer guidance, it is merely the guidance of the philosophical precepts expressed in specific art that is doing the guiding. The ways in which different lives are differently good are both philosophically and aesthetically negligible.


Earthly Piety

Stephen Boydstun's picture

Between the rational morality of life right for all human beings and the esthetics of art or design, there lie arenas of action whose reflective guides are variable. Certain of these just beyond rational morality might be called arenas of earthly piety.

An example would be a decision to refrain from hunting animals for enjoyment of making kills. That decision could be made to symbolize and harmonize ones actions with the inherent value of animal life (cf.). The contrary decision might also be made, consistent with moral guides, composing other harmonies more important for other persons. Another example would be a decision to refrain from gambling money for sport; abstinence might symbolize and harmonize with the attitude towards money expressed by Rand’s fictional character Francisco. A third example would be a decision not to participate in organ-donation programs. One might accept an organ from a pig or ape, but not from a human. That human bodies be kept naturally separate, each entirely its own vis-à-vis other humans, might symbolize and harmonize with the morally significant circumstance that every individual is an end in himself.

In all these cases, there are competing possible harmonies that could be symbolized in the alternate choice of action. In all these cases, the decision is not settled by purely moral guides. Esthetics can supplement moral criteria for choice of action in ways related to moral criteria such that a determinate policy and pattern of life is reached, one that is good, but not uniquely good.

Functional Beauty

Stephen Boydstun's picture

Functional Beauty (Oxford 2008)

Glenn Parsons and Allen Carlson


From the publisher:

“Glenn Parsons and Allen Carlson offer an in-depth philosophical study of the relationship between function and aesthetic value, breaking with the philosophical tradition of seeing the two as separate.

“They begin by developing and defending, in a general way, the concept of Functional Beauty, exploring how the role of function in aesthetic appreciation has been treated by some notable thinkers in the history of aesthetics. They then consider the relationship to Functional Beauty of certain views in current aesthetic thought, especially what we call 'cognitively rich' approaches to the aesthetic appreciation of both art and nature. Turning to work on the nature of function in the philosophy of science, they argue that this line of enquiry can help solve certain philosophical problems that have been raised for the idea that knowledge of function plays an important role in aesthetic appreciation.

“Although philosophical discussions of aesthetic appreciation tend to focus largely and sometimes almost exclusively on artworks, the range of aesthetic appreciation is, of course, much larger. Not simply art, but also nature, architecture, and even more mundane, everyday things--cars, tools, clothing, furniture, and sports--are objects of frequent and enthusiastic aesthetic appreciation. Accordingly, in the second half of the book, Glenn Parsons and Allen Carlson consider the place and importance of Functional Beauty in the aesthetic appreciation of a broad range of different kinds of things. The final chapters explore Functional Beauty in nature and the natural environment, in architecture and the built environment, in everyday artifacts, events, and activities, and finally in art and the art world. In each case,Parsons and Carlson argue that Functional Beauty illuminates our aesthetic experiences and helps to address various theoretical issues raised by these different objects of appreciation.”

Author Meets Critics

Stephen Boydstun's picture

Berys Gaut’s book Art, Emotions, and Ethics  will be the topic of an Author-Meets-Critics session at the Pacific Division Meeting of the American Philosophical Association.

The meeting will be held in Vancouver at the Westin Bayshore. This session will on April 9at 1:00–4:00p.m.

Chair: Joshua Johnston (University of British Columbia)

Critics: Noel Carroll (CUNY – Graduate School); Andrew McGonigal (Leeds and Cornell); Elisabeth Schellekens (Durham)

Author: Berys Gaut (St. Andrews)


The session of the Ayn Rand Society will be that evening. 

I don't disagree, Leonid

Ptgymatic's picture

Harmony is fundamental, necessary. I was looking more for what you might call the sufficient quality(Drunk.

= Mindy


Leonid's picture

" If harmonic richness were the sine qua non of great music, we'd all be organ enthusiasts,"

And I never claimed that. I only said that harmony, scale is a backbone, foundation of music, any music. The quality of art is different matter. Congruity doesn't make art great, but without it wouldn't be any art at all. (Unless you qualify as art mindless smears, chaotic sounds of atonal music and postmodern poetry.)
"It's like a way to isolate ourselves from the world--we produce something unreal and then stare at it, why? Re-making the world?"- this is most important question which one may ask in regard to art. Why, indeed, people produced art in prehistoric times, maybe even before they learned language? "Art is a selective re-creation of reality according to an artist’s metaphysical value-judgments. Man’s profound need of art lies in the fact that his cognitive faculty is conceptual, i.e., that he acquires knowledge by means of abstractions, and needs the power to bring his widest metaphysical abstractions into his immediate, perceptual awareness. Art fulfills this need: by means of a selective re-creation, it concretizes man’s fundamental view of himself and of existence. It tells man, in effect, which aspects of his experience are to be regarded as essential, significant, and important. In this sense, art teaches man how to use his consciousness. It conditions or stylizes man’s consciousness by conveying to him a certain way of looking at existence." (Ayn Rand “Art and Cognition,” The Romantic Manifesto, 45.)
Your analogy with sexual experience is not incidental. Man needs art to survive qua Man.

I agree, Leonid

Ptgymatic's picture

But what about music that is harmonic, but not great? If harmonic richness were the sine qua non of great music, we'd all be organ enthusiasts, which I, for one, am not. Dull and tiresome music can have dense and impeccable harmony, that is, it can consist in moving chords with unblemished structure, yet fail to be interesting, much less satisfying.

I think "harmony" in the more general, aesthetic sense goes beyond similarity or "fit." It isn't essentially congruity that makes art great, I don't think. I keep trying to get something out of the concept of consumption in regards to art, but I can't lay out what, other than the obvious, I mean. I've an inkling that the production of art is tied in also. It's like a way to isolate ourselves from the world--we produce something unreal and then stare at it, why? Re-making the world? There's almost a sexual aspect of its self-absorption. I wrap me in my sounds...the subject and the object, lovers, the isolation lovers require. This huge need to simply be alone together, that's selective, but more, it is as if the object, (the person) cannot be known against the background of everyday life. It's as if our perceptions of the loved cannot take place except in isolation...and art does the same thing, tearing the best that can be seen, and heard, away from the unrulable world, and delivering it to a canvas or concert hall where it can be alone and we can be alone with it.

To quote Jack Skellington, "What does it mean, what does it mean?! "


Leonid's picture

"I find "harmony" too simple and common a trait to satisfy me as an account of the beauty of beauty."
But harmony, musical scale is a backbone of any tune. Without it there is no music, just chaotic collection of sounds

The Hay-wain

Ptgymatic's picture

A different aspect of this wonderful painting impresses me:

The sky is huge and the clouds mountainous, the trees massive and full, the field expands out of sight, the river is broad, overflowing, while the horses are large and strong, the wagon, and especially its wheels are full-sized, even the day itself is in its fullness...would you term all of that harmony? It is an abstract commonality of the things portrayed... Is that too concrete a similarity to qualify as aesthetic "harmony?" But that certainly doesn't exhaust the picture, not physically, perceptually, or, especially, aesthetically! The play of light you pointed out is a whole other approach to the "virtues" of the picture. Then, presumably, there is some higher level of integration of those and other "harmonies" of the picture.   

Coming from a background more of music than visual art, I find "harmony" too simple and common a trait to satisfy me as an account of the beauty of beauty. I have to find out if I can broaden my concept, or settle on something else. "Harmony" doesn't seem to speak to the depths of a thing.       

- Mindy


Leonid's picture

sees the roots of objective values in our biological natures. Value is a teleological concept"
Beauty is teleological concept too. On the very basic level of pleasure-pain mechanism pleasant percepts associated with the good and unpleasant with the bad, unhealthy. On the more general level beauty associated whith harmony which implicates an order ( like musical scale or golden section) which is analogue of the good, while chaos, disorder is analogue of the bad-disease, disaster (literary-displacement of stars, bad luck). So, the connection between aesthetical and ethical values is inherent to the human biology and language.

Ibn al-Haytham on Perception of Similarity and Harmony

Stephen Boydstun's picture

This note continues the note Similarity and Harmony.

Ibn al-Haytham was born in Basra in about A.D. 965. Around 1021 he immigrated to Cairo, where he lived in a tent outside the Azhar mosque. There he studied, taught, and wrote.

He wrote on mathematics, astronomy, logic, and metaphysics. His earlier compositions include commentaries on the natural and epistemological works of Aristotle. After 1028 Ibn al-Haythm focused his compositions on the scientific and mathematical. Many of these later works concern optics, the most comprehensive of which was Book of Optics (Kitāb al-Manānir), which includes an elaborate account of visual perception.

This work was translated into Latin (De Aspctibus [A]) in about 1200. It greatly affected the development of optics in the Latin West from Roger Bacon to Johannes Kepler. De Aspectibus fostered emergence of the Perspectivist model of visual perception during the second half of the thirteenth century, and Alhacen’s ideas about light, perception, and esthetics may have ratified certain techniques of Renaissance painting (Smith 2001, lxxxii–xcii, civ–xii; Summers 1987).

In Alhacen’s theory of visual perception, there are 22 visible properties inhering in bodies (A 438). Color and light (luminance) are perceived in bodies. Likewise, the other visible properties—such as shape, spatial distribution, size, continuity, and motion—are perceived in bodies. Alhacen writes that the sense of sight “also perceives similarities and differences among colors, as well as similarities and differences among lights. So too, it perceives similarities among shapes, and spatial distributions, and motions” (A 429).

Similarity is not perceived in the brute sensation stage of vision, but higher up the chain of sensory processing. “Since sight perceives the individuals by means of forms coming to the eye from the two individuals, it therefore perceives the similarity of the two individuals on the basis of the similarity of the two forms reaching from the form [of each of those individuals] to the eye. . . . The similarity of the two forms consists in their agreement in some respect. Therefore, the similarity of the two forms will only be perceived through a comparison of one to the other and from a perception of what it is in virtue of which they are similar. . . . Sight cannot perceive the similarity of the two forms unless it compares one to the other. Likewise, sight perceives the difference between two different forms by a comparison of one to the other” (A 429–30).

The final visual sensor of forms reaching into the hollow of the optic nerve (A 439–40) possesses a faculty of discrimination (similar to Aristotle’s common sensibility), which, in the stream of visual sensation, accomplishes the perception of differences, similarities, and recognition. Perception of transparency also requires this faculty. To perceive the transparency of gem stones, they must be held to the light. Perception of transparency requires perception that the light behind the stone is different from the visible stone and this distinction within perception arises from a type of instant judgment based on defining features, not on detailed examination of a form and overt syllogistic deduction (A 430–33, 502–3).

Sight’s “faculty of discrimination does not proceed by juxtaposing and ordering premises in the way that an argument based on terms does, for its conclusion will not be based on words or on the arrangement of premises. . . . The faculty of discrimination grasps the conclusion without needing words and without an arrangement of premises or an arrangement of words” (A 433).

One of the 22 visible properties is beauty. One is ugliness. Alhacen writes that every one of the other 20 properties has examples of its own beauty, and, conjoined with each other, they may have further beauty. In all cases, beauty is perceived by sight only through perceiving forms of visible objects and the visible characteristics of which those objects consist (A 504, 507).

“To create beauty means to dispose the soul in such a way as to perceive that what is seen is a beautiful object.” Color creates beauty, “for any bright color, such as green, rose-red, or the like, will appear beautiful to sight, and sight delights in them. . . . Shape, as well, creates beauty, and it is for this reason that the moon and the beautiful forms of people, as well as of several animals, trees, and plants appear beautiful” (A 504–5). Similarity and difference, these visible properties, too, create beauty in many forms of beautiful object (A 506–7).

“If you investigate beautiful forms in every type of visible object, you will find that a conjunction of particular characteristics in the forms create kinds of beauty in them that one characteristic does not create by itself. And, for the most part, beauty is created only through a conjunction of such characteristics” (A 508). Furthermore, beauty is created by proportionality or harmony. Different shapes, when joined or juxtaposed with each other, may or may not be proportionate, and so, may or may not be beautiful. The same goes for different sizes or different spatial distributions (A 508–9).

“When you examine the beautiful forms of every kind of visible object, you will find that proportionality creates beauty more than any other characteristic on its own or, for that matter, any conjunction [of characteristics] on its own. Moreover, when the expressions of beauty created by particular characteristics in combination are examined, it will be found that the beauty that appears through their combinations appears only because of the proportionality of those characteristics that are combined with each other. . . . Beauty therefore is [ultimately contingent] upon particular characteristics alone, but its perfection comes from the proportionality or harmony that obtains among particular characteristics” (A 509–10).

Beauty is perceived, as one might anticipate by now in Alhacen’s account, by the same faculty of sight that perceives similarity and difference, by sight’s faculty of discrimination (A 510).


Smith, A.M. 2001. Alhacen’s Theory of Vision. Two volumes. American Philosophical Society.

Summers, D. 1987. The Judgment of Sense: Renaissance Naturalism and the Rise of Aesthetics. Cambridge University Press.


Stephen Boydstun's picture

In her book Ayn Rand's Normative Ethics, Tara Smith notes that Berys Gaut

“sees the roots of objective values in our biological natures. Value is a teleological concept, he reasons, and for living organisms, the teleological is biological. ‘Trees can have good roots because trees have goals, specified by their nature, and good roots are those which help achieve these goals’. It is human beings’ physical and psychological needs that establish the nature and requirements of our flourishing.*

*Gaut, pp. 185, 178, 184–85, 186, emphasis added.” (p.3)

Berys Gaut

Stephen Boydstun's picture

Art, Emotion and Ethics

Berys Gaut (Oxford 2007)

From the back cover: 

"Art, Emotion and Ethics is a systematic investigation of the relation of art to morality . . . . Berys Gaut explores the various positions that have been taken in this debate and argues that an artwork is always aesthetically flawed insofar as it possesses a moral defect that is aesthetically relevant. Three main arguments are developed for this view; these involve showing how moral goodness is itself a kind of beauty, that artworks can teach us about morality and that this is under certain conditions an aesthetic merit in them, and that our emotional responses to works of art are properly guided in part by moral considerations.

"Art, Emotion and Ethics also contains detailed interpretations of a wide range of artworks, including Rembrandt's Bathsheba and Nabokov's Lolita, which show that ethical criticism can yield rich and plausible accounts of individual works. Gaut develops a new theory of the nature of aesthetic value, explores how art can teach us about the world and what we morally ought to do by guiding our imaginings, and argues that we can have genuine emotions towards people and events that we know are merely fictional."

Larrisa & Michael

Stephen Boydstun's picture

Thanks for these contributions!

Moral value and Esthetic Value

Leonid's picture


Hi Stephen. Thankyou for starting this thread, the questions you have posed are very interesting and complicated and we will probably require a very lengthly discussion about this issue in order to come to any definitive answers. This field interests me particularly because I study history of art and make art from time to time, and I believe, as Rand did, that ARt is intrinsically linked to philosophy, whether in explicit or implicit terms.

Before I saying anything about esthetics and beauty, I want to discuss art-making as such, the reason behind art making and the process of art-making -therein lie the issues of sense of life, value, morality and philosophical outlook because, as you have quoted, art is, properly, the concretization of abstract ideas - intellectual and emotional (good art has both in my opinion). When one selectively recreates the elements of reality , one (self-evidently) chooses, whether consciously or subconscious, what it is he wants to depict and why, in other words, what is important for the artist to depict. From this one can infer two things: 1) the artist is projecting something about his psycho-epistemology (and we can discuss that in essentials, without turning into armchair psychologists), and (2) the artist is projecting/communicating something about (but not necesarily the entire system of) his values. By making art, the artist himself is posing a metaphysical value-judgement, not simply about what is beautiful or what is good, but, I think, first and foremost, what is important or essential to man's life. When you apply this idea to questions of beauty, goodness or harmony, you end up formulating such questions as : what is essentially important in this artwork, good or evil, beauty or ugliness, hope or devastation? You as the spectator of an artwork, when you make such simple decisions as whether or not you like some artwork or style, are posing these fundamentally philosophical metaphysical value-judgements, in response to the value-judgements that the artist presents you with. Obviously, those questions and judgements become more complicated than either-or's when you're faced with the Mona Lisa or Bosch's Pergatory panel, but those complicated issues are the result of the philosophical or pre-philosophical standpoint, or sense of life, that the artist holds.

I hope that this answers some of your questions, and please keep posting on this issue!

Larissa ( Leonid's daughter)

Stephen, Again thanks for

Newberry's picture


Again thanks for posting this. I skimmed the thread twice and read through it all once. I do short circuit when a writing goes from abstraction to abstraction, I am then begging to see pictures! Smiling

You do seem to be tying method, the how, with the end, the subject (in art the subject is what the work is, not the viewer–when I read philosophy I have to reverse that!) You touched on harmony, beauty, action/movement. Are you pointing out, or heading to, that art has a specific nature to uplift the soul?

I know this is how I experience and create art. I also know that people totally freak out at the thought, and assume that anyone who thinks such a thing is a fascist. Hahhahahah, silly people.

Rand mentions that art is about love of existence. And she explicitly demonstrates in her characters that there are specific moments in time, that are ultimate experiences, moments reached. Classic moment of Dagny coming to in Galt’s arms in the valley.

I know there are lots of people who flow in and out of trillions of moments, never quite knowing which one of them identifies their character or soul. And there are others that know, with certainty and clarity, that a look, an event, a thought–is exactly that unrepeatable moment that defines their life.

Some years ago I did a casual survey, online, with some objectivist and art groups. I asked several questions but two specifically had amazing results. The questions were: have you ever been passionately in love? And have you ever been passionately in love with an artwork? An overwhelming majority of respondents answered either "yes" to both or "no" to both.

I thought, shit, the ones who never felt love better start experiencing museums, novels, and CD’s. The art works don’t talk back or walk away from you–so you can do all your romantic experimenting with art and find your way to love through that. And, once something clicks and hits home, and it will, you are ready for the moving target.Smiling

I actually have a point to all my rambling. I think that art is a beacon. It hails and guides you to come and experience a moment worth living for. Once you experience that, it stores itself away in your soul, it is as if, it expands the scope of your soul. And, sincerely, I think that is the phenomenon of art.



Hey Stephen, Delighted to

Newberry's picture

Hey Stephen,

Delighted to see this. Alexander's link is nice to read. Not sure I could sit through listening to the others, I did my Kantian duty sometime ago. hahahahah, I am glad I did, but I wouldn't recommend Kant to anyone who wasn't insane and wanted to stay that way, or had a professional need to know!

I will follow this up but I think aesthetic value means quite different things to artists and philosophers. In art the aesthetic value is all about the how and the what is off limits--each artist free to do their own thing.

 Anyway...I got a model coming and I am going to play with dancing shadows.


Alexander Nehamas 


Esthetic Judgment

Stephen Boydstun's picture

On November 9th and 10th at New York University, there will be a conference on the topic:

 The Nature and Significance of Esthetic Judgments

There will be four sessions on historical figures—Hume, Kant, Hegel, and Nietzsche—and a fifth session on contemporary treatments of the issue. Registration prior to 5:00 pm November 2nd is required. Contact the Philosophy Department at (212) 998-8320. 

November 9th 


Hume Speaker: Peter Kivy

Commentator: Paul Guyer 


Kant Speaker: Richard Moran

Commentator: Rebecca Kukla 

November 10th 


Hegel Speaker: Robert Pippin

Commentator: Angelica Nuzzo


Nietzsche Speaker: Sebastian Gardner

Commentator: Bernard Reginster 


Contemporary Philosophy Speakers:

Noel Carroll

Alexander Nehamas 

Do not fail to click on that last entry!

Damn, looks like a good discussion

Chris Cathcart's picture

Can't get embroiled in it just at the moment, though. Gotta go do a work-out. I've got a body to get beautiful, after all! Smiling

Harmony, Unity, and Integration

Stephen Boydstun's picture

In this thread, the generalized sense of the term harmony is covered by one of the definitions in American Heritage Dictionary:

harmony – The pleasing interaction or appropriate combination of the elements in a whole.

I want to recommend highly an essay that displays the profound and pervasive presence of harmony in Rand’s ethics. The author does not use the term harmony; rather he speaks of unity and integration in human living. Harmony is here.

This is the 1993 essay “A Philosophy for Living on Earth” by Peter Saint-André in Objectivity V1N6, which can be read at www.objectivty-archive.com.

Harmony and Measurement

Stephen Boydstun's picture

“So we need to know the relations of intellectual harmonies to those given in perception, parallel the relations of intellectual similarities to those given in perception.” That is a proposal from the note Similarity and Harmony.

Recall that in Rand’s developed view, as in my own:

“All concretes, whether physical or mental, have measurable relations to other concretes. Every concrete thing—whether an entity, attribute, relation, event, motion, locomotion, action, or activity of consciousness—is measurable.

“Cognitive systems are measurement systems. Perceptual systems measure, and the conceptual faculty measures.” (From the Introduction of my “Universals and Measurement” in V5N2 of The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies)

Similarities directly perceived are measured by perceptual systems. Those measurements are being discovered scientifically, becoming conceptually known. What we are calling intellectual similarities are not those directly perceived, rather, they are similarities that can only be discerned conceptually. These, too, are explicable in terms of measurements.

I expect harmonies given directly in perception (all of them, not only acoustical harmonies) to be measured in the perceptual process. I expect an expanding scientific discovery of those measurements. The mathematical relations between the structures of measurement in the perception of similarities and the structures of measurement in the perception of harmonies may very well turn out to be the same as the mathematical relations between the measurement structures appropriate to intellectual similarities and those appropriate to intellectual harmonies.

Even without completion of the mathematical part of the conceptual analysis of esthetic value and moral value, there is surely extensive analysis we have yet to do in answering the question: What is the difference between the morally valuable and the esthetically valuable?

Speaking of Harmony (and Mathematics):

“There were small houses on the ledges of the hill before him, flowing down to the bottom. He knew that the ledges had not been touched, that no artifice had altered the unplanned beauty of the graded steps. . . .

“The houses were of plain field stones—like the rocks jutting from the green hillsides—and of glass, great sheets of glass used as if the sun were invited to complete the structures, sunlight becoming part of the masonry. There were many houses, they were small, they were cut off from one another, and no two of them were alike. But they were like variations on a single theme, like a symphony played by an inexhaustible imagination, and one could still hear the laughter of the force that had been let loose on them, as if that force had run, unrestrained, challenging itself to be spent, but had never reached its end. Music, he thought, the promise of the music he had invoked, the sense of it made real—there it was before his eyes—he did not see it—he heard it in chords—he thought that there was a common language of thought, sight and sound—was it mathematics?” (The Fountainhead, pp. 544–45)

> the title or painter of

PhilipC's picture

> the title or painter of the painting that Rand uses as an example of Realism - the one where the woman has a cold sore? Is it an actual painting?

Claudia, good question. If it is, I would like to know as well. My assumption was that her "if you saw" meant she was creating a hypothetical but it could be that the name of an actual such painting simply was not included.

Harmony and Integrity

Stephen Boydstun's picture

The Fountainhead

Gail to Dominique:

“You’re so beautiful, Dominique. It’s such a lovely accident on God’s part that there’s one person who matches inside and out.

“Do you know what you’re actually in love with? Integrity. The impossible. The clean, consistent, reasonable, self-faithful, the all-of-one-style, like a work of art. That’s the only field where it can be found—art. But you want it in the flesh. You’re in love with it.” (532)

“I know a woman who’s never held to one conviction for three days running, but when I told her she had no integrity, she got very tight-lipped and said her idea of integrity wasn’t mine; it seems she’d never stolen money.” (534)

Toohey to Keating on how to rule the soul of another:

“Set him in reverse—and his own mechanism will do your work for you. . . . Kill his aspiration and his integrity. . . . Kill integrity by internal corruption. Use it against itself. Direct it toward a goal destructive of all integrity. Preach selflessness. Tell man that he must live for others. . . . [Because his constitution makes that ideal impossible to attain,] man realizes that he’s incapable of what he’s accepted as the noblest virtue. . . . To preserve one’s integrity is a hard battle. Why preserve that which one knows to be corrupt already?” (690)

Harmony enters within and between Rand’s conceptions of biological integrity, psychological integrity, and ethical integrity. Harmony plays a role in her concept of and argument for rational ethical egoism.

See also the factor of harmony in Rand’s statement of the moral virtue of integrity in Atlas Shrugged (p.1011). A fine discussion of Rand’s virtue of integrity is chapter 7 of Tara Smith’s Ayn Rand’s Normative Ethics (2006).

Can any one tell me..

Olivia's picture

the title or painter of the painting that Rand uses as an example of Realism - the one where the woman has a cold sore? Is it an actual painting?

Similarity and Harmony

Stephen Boydstun's picture

Thanks for bringing those pertinent excerpts before us, Joe.

Here is a sample of recent work on responses to art: David Freedberg. (Jan 08 Postscript: See also Neuroarthistory by John Onians.)


Similarity and Harmony

Concerning the harmonies that constitute the beautiful, are they given in perception just as similarities are given in perception? Certainly the acoustic harmonies in musical chords are simply given in human perception. Are other types of harmony perceptually given in the esthetically valuable experience? It is harmony in this more general sense that is at work in a beautiful melody or dance or painting.

Rand distinguished between cognitive abstractions, which identify facts, and normative abstractions, which evaluate facts. Cognitive abstractions are formed from the varying degrees of similarity (or difference) between items given in perception. Not only are some similarities given in perception, some comparative degrees of those similarities are given in perception. I submit that the harmonious appearance of a well-styled automobile is an evaluative perception, simply given in human perception.

Rand took normative abstractions to be the epistemological foundation of morality and art, cognitive abstractions to be the epistemological foundation of science. Normative abstractions such as goodness and beauty, I say, rest partly on evaluative perceptions, such as pleasures and directly perceived harmonies, in addition to perceptually given similarities and comparative similarities.

In addition to similarities given in perception, we have similarities (and comparative degrees of similarity) discerned abstractly. Let me follow Rand’s terminology and call the latter intellectual similarities. Perceptual similarities can come to be grasped intellectually, of course, but we reserve the name intellectual similarities for similarities that are not given directly in perception.

It is the intellectual harmonies that may bear not only on esthetic evaluations, but on ethical ones. So we need to know the relations of intellectual harmonies to those given in perception, parallel the relations of intellectual similarities to those given in perception.


JoeM's picture

Stephen: "I wonder how the pleasures of sight and the pleasures of sound go into making the various kinds of harmony that yield the beautiful, whether in nature or in art. Concerning our sense of harmony, does that same sense have a role to play in the making of one’s life and character?"

I was JUST rereading RM today, specifically the passage where Rand discusses your question (I think). Anyway, here's her ideas, they might help, I'll leave 'em to you to discuss:

"As a recreation of reality, a work of art has to be representational; its freedom of stylization is limited by the requirement of intelligibility; if it does not present an intelligible subject, it ceases to be art. On the other hand, a representational element is a detriment in the decorative arts: it is an irrelevant distraction, a clash of intentions. And although designs of little human figures or landscapes....are often used to decorate textiles or wallpaper, they are artistically inferior to the nonrepresentational designs."

"(Color harmony is a legitimate element, but only one out of many more significant elements, in the art of painting. But, in painting, colors and shapes are not treated as a decorative pattern.)"

"Visual harmony is a sensory experience and is determined primarily by physiological causes. There is a crucial difference between the perception of musical sounds and the perception of colors: the integration of musical sounds produces a new cognitive experience which is sensory-conceptual, i.e., the awareness of melody; the integration of colors does not, it conveys nothing beyond the awareness of pleasant or unpleasant relationships. Cognitively, the sensation of color qua color is of no significance because color serves an incomparably more important function: the sensation of color is the central element of the faculty of sight, it is one of the fundamental means of perceiving entities."

"...the essence of art is integration, a kind of super-integration in the sense that art deals with man's widest abstractions, his metaphysics, and thus expands the power of man's consciousness. The notion of color symphonies is a trend in the opposite direction: it is an attempt to disintegrate man's consciousness and reduce it to a pre-perceptual level by breaking up percepts into mere sensations."


Spaceplayer Sight and Sound


Stephen Boydstun's picture


Warm greetings.

Your idea that the standard of esthetic value is man’s sense of life when human life is the standard of value seems right in connection with art. At least it seems plausible as part of the reason that we experience some art as beautiful. Such would be the painting The Hay-Wain by Constable.

Here are two reservations:

  1. It seems doubtful that a sense of life had by someone holding human life as the standard of value is the only basic reason why beautiful art is beautiful.
  2. It seems doubtful that a sense of life had by someone holding human life as the standard of value is the reason why all the beautiful things in nature are beautiful.

After a few seconds of looking intently into The Hay-Wain, the sunlight begins to strengthen. It shines on the field in distance, shines through the leaves of the tree, and shines upon the pond, reflecting the sky. The play of light in the scene is one of the factors contributing to its overall feel: All is well. However, the pleasures we take in the playwork of the light seems to be itself from factors closer to our visual perceptual system itself, factors more rudimentary than one’s sense of life.

In a remark Rand made to an audience in 1976, she stated that she thought beauty to be a sense of harmony. She applied this notion of beauty to both artifacts, such as paintings, and to natural scenes. If the parts are harmonious, the resulting unit they compose is beautiful.

That seems the right track to me. A sense of harmony, I would say, is more basic than a sense of life. Then the beauty we find in the song of a bird or in the frost on the window might not involve our sense of life, only our sense of harmony. And our sense of harmony might work jointly with our sense of life in creating our experience of a painting as beautiful and esthetically valuable.

I wonder how the pleasures of sight and the pleasures of sound go into making the various kinds of harmony that yield the beautiful, whether in nature or in art. Concerning our sense of harmony, does that same sense have a role to play in the making of one’s life and character?

Ethics and esthetics

Leonid's picture

Leonid:Indeed is very close and formidable connection between these two branches of philosophy. The object-matter of ethics is to define what is valuable or good. The object-matter of esthetics is to define what is beautiful.The standart of value is man's life qua man.The standart of beauty is man's sense of life when the life is the standart of value. No anti-life stylization of reality can be percieved as beatiful or can summarize implicite sense of benevolent universe which is base of the sense of beauty.Deformity, disease, atonal music ,anti-heros or ugliness in short cannot be good or valuable or beautiful.

Not Only Art

Stephen Boydstun's picture

The esthetically valuable includes design, art, music, dance, and natural scenery. What do these have in common in their relation to human life and mind, and how is that common relation related to moral relations?

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