Sunday, April 06, 2008

Thou Shalt Not Kill People Who Like Bach

In his widely-acclaimed book All God's Children and Blue Suede Shoes, Ken Myers argues for objectivity with respect to our standards for evaluating various forms of art. He writes:
"In an age of egalitarianism and relativism, it is easier than ever to regard matters of taste as wholly private and personal. I like Bach, you like Bon Jovi, praise the Lord anyhow. But is aesthetic judgment purely a subjective and neutral matter? Is 'beauty' exclusively in the eye of the beholder? Is something 'beautiful' just because I like it, or does it have some objective quality rooted in creation that allows me to recognize that it is beautiful?"
There is no doubt that there are objective standards rooted in creation. For example, just about every culture we know about thinks that murder is wrong. Despite the fact that they have no access to special revelation, the works of God's moral law are written upon their hearts, enabling them to recognize that moral standard without needing to be taught it.

Assuming that "thou shalt not kill" is a fair example, it would seem that in order for the argument for objective standards to be at all meaningful, the standard in question must be one that most people can recognize by virtue of natural law. After all, we have a label for those morally color-blind people who fail to see such standards: we call them "sociopaths."

Some questions that proponents of Myers's view need to answer, then, include:

1). If standards for music are as rooted in creation as standards for morality, then are those who fail to like Bach as culpable as those who fail to not kill people who like Bach?

2). Is it simply a coincidence that the objectively good forms of artistic expression by people like Beethoven, Shakespeare, and Rembrandt are almost all produced by white, western Europeans? Are there any Oriental, African, or Middle-Eastern contributions to the canon of the objectively beautiful?

3). Why is the overt expression of violence repudiated when produced by "homeys," but it is the bedrock of the "western canon" when produced by Homer?

4). Do you think Mona Lisa is beautiful? Not the painting, but the actual woman in it (you know, the one with no eyebrows).

5). How, pray tell, can I get my hands on a copy of the rulebook that lists the universally-applicable criteria for beauty?