Roderick Right?

Roderick Long has responded to my recent posts that responded to his recent posts. (Look, he's already linked to all of these in the post I link to above, so there's no way I'm going to link to all of them again, as I am a lazy m-f.)

Regarding the "neutrality principle" in aesthetic criticism, I suggested in my previous post that perhaps our views were really not that different. After reading Roderick's response, I believe that indeed, they are not. He writes:

Which brings us to the third explanation, namely, that “Things such as ‘insight into human nature’ are important to works of art only in that they contribute to its overall aesthetic impact, rather than being important in and of themselves.” As Gene notes, this explanation, unlike the others, is “not entirely at odds with Roderick’s explanation.” Indeed. For it just is my explanation.

As I wrote in my original post, while “insight into human nature is not in itself any sort of artistic achievement,” it may “acquire artistic relevance, and so become subject to critical appraisal, by receiving appropriate artistic expression,” since “there is no such thing as the expression apart from what is expressed.” Gene’s third explanation is not a way of defending the neutrality principle, it is a rejection of that principle.

The remaining bone of contention seems to be whether the neutrality principle is really violated when a critic takes into consideration something like an artist's "insight into human nature" in so far as it contributes to the aesthetic effect of his work. Perhaps I am simply not familiar enough with the typical formulations of the principle, but, in my view, it does not, because the critic is not taking into account such insights for their own sake -- he only regards them for their aesthetic impact. Therefore, the issue is not whether the artist has keen insights or good moral values per se, but, rather, how did those elements contribute to the aesthetics of his work. To put it another way, although it may be unlikely that an especially dull-witted take on human nature or awful moral values could be used to great aesthetic effect, if they were, then the critic, in his role as an art critic, would not be justified in lambasting the work merely because it seemed to endorse, say, necrophilia. (Of course, like any other member of society, he might knock it for weakening the social fabric or something of the sort, but then he is not acting as an art critic.)


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