Travel & Leisure magazine recently released a survey concluding that “Philadelphia is home to the least attractive people in the United States.” Defending this cruel and implausible judgment, a survey organizer said “We were asking people to vote on attractiveness, not unattractiveness. Travel & Leisure editors believe there are a lot of attractive people in Philadelphia.”
Can someone rank-order attractiveness, and then plead that any unattractive results are mere byproducts of a contest that should only concentrate on winners? I’ll admit that my last post too easily assumed that appearance-improvement is likely to degenerate into positional competition. But I still think surveys like T&L’s inevitably result in losers as well as winners. And I think one needs to prove the widespreadness of a quite rarified aesthetic theory to convincingly demonstrate the opposite–even outside the confines of a ranking survey.
As I recall from an Alain de Botton book, Plato and Kant had divergent aesthetic theories. (And I hope the philosophers out there forgive me for citing a popularization I read years ago.) Kant suggested that a judgment of beauty had to participate both in the objective and the subjective:
Running through Kant’s various characterizations of judgments of beauty is a basic dichotomy between two apparently opposed sets of features. On the one hand, judgments of beauty are based on feeling, they do not depend on subsuming the object under a concept (in particular, the concept of an end which such an object is supposed to satisfy), and they cannot be proved. This combination of features seems to suggest that judgments of beauty should be assimilated to judgments of the agreeable. On the other hand, however, judgments of beauty are unlike judgments of the agreeable in not involving desire for the object; more importantly and centrally, they make a normative claim to everyone’s agreement. These features seem to suggest that they should be assimilated, instead, to objective cognitive judgments.
By contrast, Plato’s position was far more objective . . .