New Bearings in Esthetics and Art Criticism

A Study in Semantics and Evaluation

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138                                PROBLEMS IN EVALUATION
Foerster, John Crowe Ransom, and W. H. Auden are clearly set forth. Granted that the different critical approaches of these writers may up to a point result in collaboration rather than rivalry, nonetheless certain basic conflicts among their principles, e.g., the opposed views of Foerster and Ransom as to the place and importance of ethical standards in criticism, can only be satisfactorily accounted for by relativist theory. Such disagreements are irreconcilable and cannot be sensibly explained by absolutism. Yet three of these critics, blinded perhaps by "metaphysical cobwebs," appear to be absolutists; each one apparently holds that he is revealing the proper, decisive, and true function of criticism.
The second example which ignores the possible salutary effect of psychological relativism is T. S. Eliot's comment upon Classicism and Romanticism: "Either one attitude is better than the other, or else it is indifferent. But how can such a choice be indifferent?" 8S This dilemma is of course inescapable for the absolutist: one "of the two antithetical views" must, for him, be "right." Relativism teaches, on the contrary, that the relative value of both views is neither indifferent, nor eternal and intrinsic, but is dependent upon the temperament of the experiencing individual. Therefore when the experiences and appraisals of judicious critics diverge, why conclude that one or the other is wrong rather than that each is accurately describing his own experience and that the valuable experiences of equally sensitive individuals necessarily differ in fundamental ways? Were this position more widely accepted, traces of humility might filter through the irritating arrogance of the usual esthetic treatise which so often appears more like a case history than a reasoned argument. Rare, indeed, in writings upon art and beauty, is the humility expressed in a remark by Roger Fry: " 'I feel so infinitely less confident about anything I have to
88. Selected Essays, p. 17.