Finding beauty in the world with art

Flinders University philosopher Dr Tom Cochrane recently presented on his new book, The Aesthetic Value of the World (Oxford University Press), as part of a special presentation entitled ‘Beauty and the Good Life‘ in Melbourne, featuring live music by singer-songwriter Lior.

Described as “an original and psychologically grounded account of aesthetic value and the values of art,” the book analyses what makes this world good, despite the presence of suffering and moral injustice. It covers under-explored aesthetic values such as the dramatic and the comic.

Dr Cochrane says the book contains analyses of every major aesthetic value (beauty, sublimity, comedy, drama, tragedy) “plus short entries on a bunch of others (the cute, the kitsch, the uncanny, the horrific, the erotic, the furious)”.

“There are two major ideas threaded through this book: a descriptive claim and an evaluative claim. The major descriptive claim is that aesthetic values are distal versions of practical values,” says Dr Cochrane.

“A ‘distal version’ is a way in which we can get reward from things a distance- without having to practically own or consume the thing. The idea is then that every practical value (e.g. power, knowledge, social attachment) has an accompanying distal aesthetic value (e.g. sublimity, beauty, aesthetic sympathy).

“This is, to my mind, a real advance in integrating aesthetic value with the psychology of value as a whole in a way that makes sense from a naturalistic, evolutionary perspective.

“The evaluative claim, meanwhile, is that aesthetic values make the world worthwhile. That is, the entire world and everything in it can be positively aesthetically valued either individually or in combination with other things. This is, I believe, the only way in which we can have a plausibly positive vision of the universe as a whole.”

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College of Humanities Arts and Social Sciences