“A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” I have been reading an introductory text on Aesthetics with short chapters on philosophers known for their work on the topic. Some are interesting, some not. One is obtuse to the point of comedy; another shows more command of the obvious even than I have. All are male, go figure.
Some raise the curious issue as to whether there is a theoretical difference aesthetically between the beauty found in nature and that found in art. Again, obviously there is but what is it? In essence one is based in perception and one is through symbolization, but can natural beauty be sensed without symbolic capacity?
Is the beauty of a rose initiated by a bee’s appreciation of color and nectar? Does a bird look at this year’s nest as particularly well done? Does a dolphin thrill with the pirouette it makes or one by its pod mate? Does a bonobo gaze at the sunlight through the trees? Does any animal but a human look at backlit clouds over the ocean with an appreciation of its beauty? We know that male bird songs vary in their power to elicit mating responses by the female but how does this feel?
Symbols carry meaning; they have import, they have significance and this is based upon the empathic sense of our own and of another’s mind. The name of something is something special. In some religions the name of god must not be uttered or should not be uttered except in special circumstances. Representations of god are specially restricted as well. In some science fiction/fantasy stories, to know the name of something is to have power over it. And biologically the power of symbolization transforms sentience into consciousness.
Aesthetics, as surveyed in my text, seems closely aligned in modern times with art appreciation and criticism, thus focusing on the aesthetic feelings derived from input. Some think that the artist’s intent is important, so some attention is paid to aesthetic output. The difference between natural beauty and art is rather obvious in the latter, but the appreciation, the feeling engendered by beauty, traced from eyes and ears to consciously experiencing the aesthetic, would also seem different. If we could watch brain activity as we viewed a natural beauty or a painting, we would see differences, and these would reflect our brain’s symbolic ability. What else is this woman smiling about, eh?