New Bearings in Esthetics and Art Criticism

A Study in Semantics and Evaluation

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RELATIVISM                                               135
Now neither of the above theories is false, according to relativism, since each presents general conceptions which underlie intelligible, sincere, and intelligent explanations of important experiences. Untruths appear only when critics contend that theirs is the only correct or true way of observing and appraising art. Knowing that Coomaraswamy is an objectivism one should expect his assertion that the "true philosophy of art is always and everywhere the same"; yet surprisingly enough this is also the explicit or implicit attitude of many a scientific empiricist. Because this attitude is widespread, we find in criticism today the prevalent spectacle of the intellectual-moral critic blasting the opinions of his formalistic adversary as being superficial or even "unintelligible, " while the latter retorts that "the moralistic view of art is the immoral recourse of thinkers with moral axes to grind" 84 who are incapable of "pure" esthetic responses. Against such polemics the less prejudiced mind will decide that "nothing is more certain amid uncertainty than that the inability to appreciate, in due fashion and measure, what others appreciatein fact, to enter sympathetically into the minds of our fellowsis a disability, something to be ashamed of rather than to be boasted about";85 and the less prejudiced mind will suggest that basically different standards among expert critics are inevitable because of fundamental philosophical and psychological differences, i.e., what Hume called "the different humours of particular men." 86 In other words, there exist a number of conflicting yet genuinely
84.  J. C. Ransom, "Ubiquitous Moralists/' The Kenyan Review, Winter,
i94i> P- 99-
85.  Kellett, Fashion in Literature, pp. 79-80.
86.  Unfortunately, as J. S. Mill observed, "Metaphysicians . . . while they have busied themselves for two thousand years, more or less, about the few universal laws of human nature, have strangely neglected the analysis of its diversities" ("Thoughts on Poetry and Its Varieties," English Critical Essays [The World's Classics], p. 416).