Lebenskünstler

Scott Stroud’s “John Dewey and the Artful Life: Pragmatism, Aesthetics, and Morality” – Chapter Four (part 1)

Posted in Uncategorized by Randall Szott on 11/11/2014

…Dewey’s aesthetics resists this move [the separation of aesthetic and moral value], however, noting that such a result is the consequence of the accidental separation of art from life, and not a feature of art itself…

A certain way of experiencing an object with a certain sort of **attention** and **absorption** characterizes what Dewey labels “aesthetic experience.” The question now becomes, can such a way of experiencing a situation or object (be it a work of art or a nonintentional skyline) be morally valuable or cultivating? In other words, is such an experience **merely** aesthetic, or does it connect in some close way to moral betterment?

…[Dewey’s aesthetics supports] that aesthetic experience **is** an experience of moral cultivation insofar as it **is** an experience of attention to one’s situation and the relationships in which one is embedded.

The important point I want to emphasize here, however, is that moral cultivation ought to end with the agent being optimally adjusted to his or her environment; this means expressing his or her impulses, habits, and so forth in a sustainable, meaningful, and effective fashion in light of the present situation (environment). Dewey translates this point into the idiom of judgment (and with it, conscious direction of practical activity) by defining right actions as those that “tend to expand, invigorate, harmonize, and in general organize the self.” Moral cultivation of the self involves a revealing of that self and its capacities in a certain situation, but it also deals with better or worse ways to **express** impulse in action. Creating a character that expresses impulses that are well adjusted to other impulses and the agent’s environment is vital to moral activity for Dewey, as actions flow from an agent’s character, and both are evoked and formed in light of some prevailing environment. Self-expression is the expression of the self we ought to be – the harmonized system of impulses given meaning in light of our present environment.

…The endpoint of moral cultivation, progressive adjustment, is not a set of certain actions that are morally worthy or a specific virtue that is mandatory, but instead involves the “development of character, a certain spirit and method of conduct.” Thus, **any** activity can have moral value insofar as **any** activity can affect one’s character and serve as the forming ground of the aforementioned spirit and method of conduct. Like the putative category of moral activities, Dewey holds that there is no delineated realm of moral value (and objects that posses it) because of the wide nature of character and the ways it can be developed

…character involves a certain **way** (spirit or method) of going about action…Thus, moral cultivation involves the development of attentiveness to one’s present situation…first, attention is vital because the moral situation is fundamentally a present situation, and second, because the ends and implicated goals of moral activity always occupy a present situation.

…The more important claim Dewey is making is that the development of the individual **is** the development of the community, and vice versa…

[Dewey] “happiness, reasonableness, virtue, perfecting are on the contrary parts of the present significance of present action. Memory of the past, observation of the present, foresight of the future are indispensable. But they are indispensable **to** a present liberation, an enriching growth of action.” It is this aspect of presentness that will be foregrounded by the aesthetic.

…Aesthetic experience is a **way** that experience can be…[it] can encompass most of life, and that life becomes the “supreme art” that one is to master. Speaking on this connection of aesthetic experience (as related to artistic production) to the activities of life, [Dewey] states “Living itself is the supreme art; it requires fineness of touch; skill and thoroughness of workmanship; susceptible response and delicate adjustment to a situation apart from reflective analysis; instinctive perception of the proper harmonies of act and act, of man and man [sic].” Art is important to moral matters largely because it is (commonly) connected to a type of experience that is called “aesthetic.”

…there are ways we can **skillfully make** most activities of our lives aesthetic, and therefore artful…

…Dewey’s notion of the aesthetic experience and the work of art is separate from the art object itself. The painting is not the work of art; the latter requires interaction with the viewer to become a work of art. Thus, aesthetic experience is an integral part of something truly being a work of art. The suppressed premise, of course, is that the honorific title of “art” is to be applied to those situations and objects that have value for us. Dewey could have gone with the common notion of art (the museum conception), but he instead begins with the commitment to ordinary value and naturalism in aesthetic theory. He therefore must link what is really art to the interaction with those whom the value affects- humans with their interests and needs. The art object, like other environmental forces, challenges the human in its givenness; the human then interacts with the object and what it offers in terms of material for experience, often adding their own interpretation and meaning to it, to produce the work of art through this interactive experience.

…[Dewey describes] science as a reflective method to instruct other on how they can have a similar experience with those aspects of reality described in the data…

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