Swing Out New Hampshire

Just a notice that I’ll be at swing dance camp in New Hampshire until Monday. There’s nothing like being surrounded by nature and good companions. I probably won’t post any updates before I get back, though I may throw up a few interesting links on Google+.


A view of the lake at Camp Wicosuta

Here’s my class’s performance from camp last year. I’m in the front row, all the way on the left.



Filed under Blog matters, Dancing

11 responses to “Swing Out New Hampshire

  1. Hi there. It’s pretty sweet.
    Since we had a brief exchange on the objectivity or subjectivity of moral values, I’m now curious to know what you think of esthetic values. Are those objective in your view, or is the beautiful like the good, a matter of subjective preference?
    Kudos for the dancing.

    • Thank you!

      So you’re asking about statements like “This painting is beautiful”? Clearly anyone who says this does so because the painting evokes an emotional reaction in them. It’s an objective fact that that person thinks the painting is beautiful. But of course it’s not a fact that the painting is itself beautiful; that statement would be falsified by all the people who disagree!

      • Yes, I meant the beauty of a painting, a dance, a song, etc… As a theist I believe that God’s existence secures that there are at least some objective esthetic values, just like there are objective moral values. Your view is internally consistent with atheism, I was just wondering if given your artistic bent you may be more open to the existence of objective beauty than you are of objective right and wrong.
        Just on a side note, if objective esthetic values do exist, the existence of people who disagree no more falsifies the objective truth that your dance is beautiful, than the existence of flat earthers falsifies the objective truth that the earth is round. The question must be resolved on other considerations.

      • …I was just wondering if given your artistic bent you may be more open to the existence of objective beauty than you are of objective right and wrong.

        I’m open to the existence of anything that can be shown to exist; that is what rationalism is. The existence of a supernatural being is not, at least, a contradiction of terms. The existence of objective beauty, however, is. Beauty is defined as “a combination of qualities, such as shape, color, or form, that pleases the aesthetic senses.” By definition, anything which does not please my aesthetic senses is not beautiful.

  2. The definition of beauty you quote only entails subjectivism of esthetics if one presupposes the non-existence of a privileged observer whose “esthetic senses” ground objective beauty. I do not mean at all to offer here an argument for the existence of objective esthetic values, but do you see that their “dismissal by definition” is begging the question? You did not pick up on my previous point, do you agree that if objective esthetic truths exist, they are not undermined by the existence of people who deny them? Finally, I am not sure what is meant by “rationalist” in your post. Does it refer to people like me (and probably just about everybody) who are among other things “open to the existence of anything that can be shown to exist”? Or do you mean to say that a rationalist believes ONLY “what can be shown to exist”? If the latter, what qualifies as “shown to exist?” I apologize if my questions are too many, I don’t mean to drown you in them, only to understand where you come from in your reflections on such things, and what philosophical presuppositions we may not share as we approach the table.
    Blessings, Guillaume.

    • If at any point you ask too many questions, I shall simply have to say “I don’t have time to answer these!” But we have not gotten there yet, so it’s not a problem.

      First, “rationalist” applies to only those who believe in things that can be shown to exist. In other words, things that have evidence for their existence. The alternative is to believe in something for no reason, or no good reason. If you don’t believe in something because you were rationally convinced, then you believe in it because you were raised to, or because you’re delusional, or because you want to – and none of those are good reasons. Not if you’re going to go around and say that these things are true. Truth is not a matter of what you want or what your society says or what your subjective experiences tell you – it’s a matter of what can be rationally defended. Rationalism is just the state of having acknowledged this.

      do you agree that if objective esthetic truths exist, they are not undermined by the existence of people who deny them?

      That said, I haven’t “defined objective beauty out of existence.” I gave you the dictionary definition of beauty, the definition that we all use when we talk about it. We call something “beautiful” when it aesthetically appeals to us. That is a fact. So it’s odd that you would argue for some other definition that doesn’t fit the way we ever use the word. Furthermore, I don’t see how a definition of “objective beauty” could be both meaningful and useful. But if you’d like to provide a definition, go ahead.

      • Thank you for your precisions. By this definition of rationalist, I don’t think you want to claim to be one. There are plenty of things in life for which we have no evidence, but that we are rational to believe. They’re called properly basic beliefs. One typical example is the existence of the outside world, and how you know that you’re not a brain in a vat of chemicals, being stimulated to feel and think the way you do. You have no evidence to discriminate between the two hypotheses, but you are still perfectly rational to believe there is no vat and the world is real. Some philosophers have argued that belief in God may be justified like that even in the absence of good arguments. Now mind you, I believe there are very good arguments for the existence of God, but for our immediate purpose, it’s enough to say that you shouldn’t only believe things which can be proven. I also suspect that this requirement is self refuting, because I’m not sure it passes its own test: do we really have evidence for the fact that we should only believe that for which we have evidence?
        As to objective beauty, I don’t offer an alternate definition, yours is perfect, it’s the judgment that something is esthetically pleasing. I simply hold the additional belief that some of those judgements are objective and grounded in the esthetic senses of a privileged observer, namely God. It is a simple claim that some things are truly beautiful even when some people find them ugly, they are simply mistaken. Just like I caim there are things that are morally wrong even when some people disagree they are, they are simply mistaken. And again, I don’t mean to offer here arguments for the existence of objective esthetic values, only to maintain that their existence is possible, and not excluded by your fine definition, as long as one does not presuppose the non-existence of God. Fair enough?

      • Re: rationalism: You bring up the issue of “things that could be true even though we would have no way of ever knowing.” Yes, it could very well be that we are living in the Matrix, or that our consciousnesses are just programs running on a computer. It could also be that magic gnomes live at the center of the earth, and we are unable to detect them. But we’ll never know, and going through life wondering if these things are true accomplishes exactly… nothing. So rationalists (indeed, most people) do not worry about it.

        And be careful with your words – no one said anything about “proof.” We cannot prove anything with 100% certainty. But we can adduce evidence beyond a reasonable doubt. There is evidence for electrons and dinosaurs and plate tectonics. There is no evidence for magical gnomes or magical fathers.

        do we really have evidence for the fact that we should only believe that for which we have evidence?
        Again, who said “should?” I didn’t. I only said that if you don’t have evidence for something, there’s no reason to think it’s true.

        Re: beauty: You are writing nonsense at this point. Your statement that “…some of those judgements are objective and grounded in the esthetic senses of a privileged observer” doesn’t mean anything. I have asked you multiple times what it means for an aesthetic judgement to be objective, and you have no answer. You just repeat your claim. And now I have a second question for you – what does it mean for a judgement to be “grounded in the aesthetic sense” of someone else?

  3. I am not suggesting for a second that we should “be worried” about living in the matrix or the existence of gnomes, read my argument again, I contended that it is false that you only believe that for which you have evidence (or that you should). I offered those obvious counter-examples as proof that some things are rational to believe even without a shred of evidence. You do not (nor could you) have any evidence in favor of the existence of the outside world, and yet we of course both agree that you are rational to believe there is neither vat nor matrix. My point stands. In any case, I do believe there is good evidence for the existence of God, I merely maintain they are not necessary for warranted knowledge.

    You then reproach me to not answer your requests for explanation of objective beauty, but I answered each time, you just dismiss my explanation as “meaningless”. Since there is no obvious contradiction in my explanation, if you want to claim that it is meaningless, then the burden of proof shifts to your shoulders and you need to provide a reason why “beauty” and “objective”, two words whose meaning we agree on, cannot be meaningfully put together. Why is it that “this dance is beautiful” cannot be an objective truth? In my worldview, it would mean that your dance passes some criteria of beauty that are objective, and qualify your dance as beautiful, even if some people disagree on that fact, they are then simply mistaken, just like the flat earther is mistaken about the objective truth of the shape of the earth, itself grounded in the physical properties of the planet.
    You ask what it means for an esthetic value to be “grounded” in someone else’s (God’s) esthetic sense: it means that God’s esthetic judgement determines the truth of the esthetic value “this dance is beautiful” in such a fashion that a person who says this dance is ugly expresses a false proposition, demonstrating that his esthetic sense is out of touch with reality.
    Now again, I don’t mean to convince you of the truth of this position on esthetics, but this should be sufficient to defend its internal consistency.
    Not too much hangs on the balance about this side question, it is admittedly less weighty than your denial of the existence of God and your denial of objective moral values.
    All this to say, I think your dance above was objectively beautiful, ;-)
    Cheers, G.

    • I did not say I don’t believe I am part of the matrix. What I said was that I don’t know. And I don’t have any way of differentiating between the two hypotheses (that this reality is real, or that my brain is being tricked). But that doesn’t matter, for the purposes of living my life. I still dislike pain and enjoy pleasure, and I still want to be happy, free, and healthy. These are things I can work for, and doing so is the only thing worth doing. None of this requires accepting any conclusions without evidence.

      You then reproach me to not answer your requests for explanation of objective beauty, but I answered each time, you just dismiss my explanation as “meaningless”.

      Yes, it is meaningless. Do you remember my definition of “beauty” that you approve of? We call something beautiful when it’s “pleasing to our aesthetic senses.” Do you know what “objective” means? It means “not influenced by personal feelings or opinions in considering and representing facts” or “not dependent on the mind for existence.” Beauty is a personal feeling, and it depends on a mind to feel it in the first place! So you’ve put two words together to create a contradiction.

      Now, in the rest of your comment you seem to be saying that what is objectively beautiful is simply that which god says is beautiful. Ok, well if I call something “beautiful” because it is pleasing to my senses, then what does it mean when god does the same? That it is pleasing to his senses? Who cares, and how is that objective? If God says that this kind of scenery is pleasing to him, what is that to me? I still prefer this. God’s opinion is just another among many.

      • Alright, let me be brief in this final post on a side topic which did not deserve much debating. I think your view of knowledge is too modest, you do know that the world is real, that is, you have warrant that it is true, even though you don’t have evidence or arguments.
        The alleged contradiction in my belief in objective beauty is resting upon an equivocation. When you say beauty is according to feelings and objectivity is not according to feelings, the “according to” is in my view epistemic for the former and ontic for the latter. An atheist is perfectly coherent to see both as ontic, but it does not make the theist who disagrees incoherent. And your final objection that if God liked something ugly it wouldn’t make it beautiful is rendered meaningless if such judgments are not contingent but grounded in God’s necessary nature, so that to ask what if God liked the ugly, is like asking if there was a square circle, would its area be the square of its side? The antecedent contains a contradiction, so the question has no meaningful answer.

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