Monday, March 17, 2008

Subjectivism

In my recent talk, I shared that postmodernism involves a subjective understanding of truth and of goodness (morality), and demonstrated the falsity of that understanding. I also suggested to my audience--composed mostly or entirely of Christians--that each of them had allowed such subjectivity to creep into their own understanding of these things. Time did not permit, but if any were unconvinced that they were influenced by subjectivity, I could have raised another issue...

Beauty.

Virtually everyone I know would uncritically accept the idea that "Beauty is in the eye of the beholder," that while truth and goodness may be objective, beauty is a subjective kind of thing.

And yet it has not always been understood thus. It used to be that truth, goodness, and beauty were each considered objective things, laws of the universe against which one could not argue. Indeed, it used to be that the goal of a liberal arts education was to create gentlemen and ladies by training men and women to discern between good and bad, right and wrong, beautiful and ugly.

And whenever a culture loses its sense of an objective foundation for truth, goodness, and beauty, it is beauty that is the first to be viewed subjectively.

7 comments:

Nate B said...

Rick,
Thanks for the post and also for your presentation. I was there and found it to be an interesting and thought-provoking presentation of your understandings on postmodernism. As one who is passionately seeking to live out the way of Jesus and the message of Jesus in an increasingly postmodern world and to share the message of the kingdom in a way that the world I live in will hear it... I am very interested in these kinds of discussions.

I'm wondering about what you are saying here... Beauty, should it be objective or is it ok to allow this to slip into subjective understanding? I am not sure that I am clear on what you mean with that... Also, if it is ok for beauty to slip into the subjective, which I think is absolutely inevitable.

I like how you say that everyone is subjective in a number of ways. Not that subjectivity "creeps" in though... is it not natural that we all see the world differently? Perhaps its less of a creeping and more of a state of being that we cannot avoid.

I would love to continue a dialog with you. Here... my blog... maybe even coffee or tea if you're up for it. Got together with Mike last week. Good times, for sure.

Nate B said...

To amend the partial question in my last comment:
"If it is ok for beauty to slip into the subjective, which I think is absolutely inevitable, how do we stop before we get to our understanding of truth and morality?"

Rick Gerhardt said...

Nate,

Thanks for your question. I should probably clarify on the blog proper. But my point is that there IS an objective basis for beauty. I recognize how difficult it would be for me to convince anyone of this in our culture. But here's the deal... those Christians who strongly defend the existence of objective truth and of objective morality will turn around and use--with regard to beauty--the SAME sorts of arguments that others use against objective truth and morality.

At any rate, I do believe that there is an objective foundation (in God) for beauty. And yes, I'd be glad to meet with you to discuss this.

Thanks for reading.

Jennifer in OR said...

I agree, there is an objective foundation for beauty. Wow, an uncommon thought today. I think our conception of beauty is based on order, God's order that He designed into creation. When we begin to deny His hand in creation, this leads eventually to a breakdown in our thoughts about beauty - in my humble opinion. I think what Nate said about beauty "inevitably" slipping into the subjective - this is only inevitable when God's order is denied.

True, there are many, many shades of beauty, and each of us may be drawn to different of these shades. But this doesn't make beauty "subjective." It just means that I prefer one objective beauty and you prefer another.

From a fellow Central Oregon blogger - enjoying your writing!

Rick Gerhardt said...

Jennifer:

Thanks for reading. How do I find your blog?

nate b said...

So, what about, say tribes in Africa who use, for special occasions, manure in their hair as a beauty thing? We in Western America would say that is nasty!!

Is this another shade, or is this a cultural understanding of beauty? i think the same goes for music. Is all music beautiful? Is all music in God's "order?" Maybe, maybe not. How can we KNOW that? I'm not sure that I know that there is objective beauty.

bobpearson said...

Ok. i will come into this conversation with a very contrary perspective. All understanding of anything is subjective and there are no absolutes, only nuances, gray areas and temporary understandings, especially wen it comes to the major questions of life such as why are we here? etc.

The position that there is absolute truth, absolute morality and limits to beauty seem to be inherently a personal perspective and are not provable in any culture much less across cultures.

I am also able to state that I believe in God, am a followers of Jesus, and am very conversant with the Bible and with many interpretations of the Biblical witness. But my faith and my understanding of the bible have evolved, grown, expanded and become more nuanced over time.

Beauty is totally subjective. it is embedded in culture. One cultures definition of beauty is what was mostly taught in past liberal arts universities. Today a more wide ranging idea of beauty is taught that asks the individual to ask what they feel beauty is with less head analysis and more heart. Beauty is an emotional reaction not an idea.

Post modernism is more about getting back to accepting the whole person, good/bad emotions and thoughts in all and to accept the differences of people as a good creation of God.

Seeing the world in only one way is not what I have come to believe about God. God loves the rainbow of colors, ideas, thoughts, actions and perspectives of all his children, not just my way of seeing the world. Accepting others as they are and loving them into the "way of God" is what we are asked to do. Not to judge them and work to make them think like us.