New Bearings in Esthetics and Art Criticism

A Study in Semantics and Evaluation

Home | About | Philosphy | Contact | Search

RELATIVISM                                              141
many a critic, that we should always be searching for absolute or universal values. For relativism recognizes and takes account of the previously mentioned fact that values are largely conditioned by and relative to specific cultural groups and periods: "When the social dimension is given its rightful place in value theory it is not difficult to see that correct value judgments are valid for the society within which they are uttered, because they express the interests of a social self." 91 But as societies widely differ, so will evaluations radically change. Thus Hume, who in fact attempted to fix a standard of taste, nonetheless saw that judgments will vary because of "the particular manners and opinions of our age and country." 92 Seen in these lights, relativist theory satisfactorily explains the large amount of diversity among expert appraisals; and relativism may now be further distinguished from both objectivism and subjectivism by the spread and duration of its validity: whereas subjective values are logically binding only for the individual and for the moment, and objective values are binding universally and eternally, relativist ones are binding for particular groups of people during a particular cultural age.
Since, however, the beliefs of a relativist are binding and valuable for himself and for particular groups of individuals, explicitly or implicitly stated criteria not only clarify specific valuings; they also present critical ideas which themselves may be revealing and enlightening to many people. For example, it seems to me possible and desirable to urge that artistic theories which are concerned exclusively with either content or form advocate standards which are inadequate as bases for the finest artistic judgments. Empirical evidence demonstrates to my satisfaction that the richest artistic experiences involve an appreciation of both content and form
91.  Eliseo Vivas, "The New Naturalism," p. 453.
92.  "Of the Standard of Taste," Essays (London, 1875), I, 280. T. H. Green and T. H. Grose, eds.