New Bearings in Esthetics and Art Criticism

A Study in Semantics and Evaluation

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OBJECTIVISM                                               95
'Ode on a Grecian Urn/ Another critic prefers the latter poem to the former. Even here the tacit assumption is that one or the other must be right." 2 Analogous points of view are expressed in Matthew Arnold's references to the "real estimate," in Delacroix' search for the "true merit," and in Ruskin's belief in the "right judgment" and "true verdict" of a work of art.
Let us agree that the cornerstone for such objectivism is philosophical or ethical, in that every interpretation of value is inevitably affected by metaphysical and epistemological convictions. This view, to be sure, has been acutely questioned by writers who hold that esthetic doctrines should in no way depend upon solutions of metaphysical problems but should rather be discovered by the "scientific method." Any empirical nominalist would of course agree; yet this contention rests upon assumptions, which are also my assumptions, of the validity of the scientific method as opposed to the uncertain and relative character of metaphysical theory. But, even if esthetic experience can be scientifically analyzed and explained, evaluation of this experience cannot be independent of one's basic philosophical and ethical convictions. In Tolstoy's simple words: "The estimation of the value of art . . . depends on men's perception of the meaning of life; depends on what they hold to be the good and the evil of life." 3 Thus a philosophical belief in absolutes will impel a critic toward a thoroughgoing objectivism.4
2.  The Meaning of Beauty, p. 207.
3.  Leo Tolstoy, What Is Art? (The World's Classics), p. 127. Aylmer Maude, trans.
4.  This sentence has been challenged, in correspondence, by Professor Philip Wheelwright who believes that "the hope of the world rests on those who do accept an absolute of some sort but do not accept dogmatic absolutism." It would be most interesting to have a full explanation of this sort of absolutism. It would be of great interest to know specifically and in detail how it differs from both the objectivism and relativism discussed in this essay. My belief is that the absolutes desired by Wheelwright are those which are only personally binding and which would be equally advocated by the