Ethics Discussion at PEA Soup: Louise Hanson’s “Moral Realism, Aesthetic Realism, and the Asymmetry Claim,” with a critical précis by Alex King


Welcome to what we expect will be a very interesting and productive discussion of Louise Hanson‘s “Moral Realism, Aesthetic Realism, and the Asymmetry Claim.” The paper is published in the most recent edition of Ethics, and is available here. Alex King has kindly agreed to contribute a critical précis, and it appears immediately below. Please join in the discussion!

Alex King writes:

Louise Hanson’s excellent paper “Moral Realism, Aesthetic Realism, and the Asymmetry Claim” argues against the common thought that moral realism is more plausible or defensible than aesthetic realism. It is this thought that she dubs the asymmetry claim. She points out five prima facie attractive ways to defend the asymmetry claim, rejecting each of them in turn. But her aim in the paper is not to argue for aesthetic realism; instead, she aims to shift the burden of proof from those who endorse symmetry to those who endorse asymmetry. Ultimately, according to Hanson, moral theory enjoys a disproportionately strong claim to realism, and she argues that we should either take aesthetic realism more seriously than we currently do or else take moral realism less seriously (with the strong implication that we should go the former route).

In what follows, I will give an overview of the paper, including a brief description of each of the five proposed defenses of asymmetry. I will examine the second in detail and present some critical comments. I am extremely sympathetic to Hanson’s project of defending aesthetic realism – indeed I’ve endorsed a similar symmetry claim in the past – so most of my critical comments will be presented with an eye to strengthening her position, rather than vindicating the asymmetry claim.

Hanson discusses five seemingly attractive reasons one might endorse asymmetry. I reproduce them here, verbatim:

DEPENDENCE: Beauty depends on sensuous properties, such as colors and sounds, which are themselves mind-dependent. Moral goodness, on the other hand, does not depend on mind-dependent properties.

PLEASURE: Beauty depends constitutively on pleasure in a way that is incompatible with realism, but this is not the case with moral goodness.

DESCRIPTIONS: You can make a moral judgment on the basis of an accurate, non-moral description. This is not the case for aesthetic judgments […].

ACQUAINTANCE: To judge something beautiful, you need to see it for yourself, but to judge something morally good or bad, you don’t.

PRINCIPLES: One way to judge the moral status of the action is to apply principles, but you can never come to a view on whether something is beautiful by applying principles.

It’s first important to note that Hanson characterizes the realism/antirealism distinction as falling across mind-independence lines. Realism about some domain, for her, is the claim that statements in that domain aim to state facts that are robustly mind-independent, even when it comes to variously idealized observers. For her, then, all response-dependence theories count as antirealist.

To clarify what she means here, it’s useful to look at her argument regarding DEPENDENCE. If true, DEPENDENCE provides a very direct way of supporting moral realism alongside aesthetic antirealism. Because beauty is mind-dependent, and mind-dependence is incompatible with realism, we must deny aesthetic realism. Hanson rightly disposes of this view in short order, pointing out the now-common distinction between mind-independence (in itself not a problem for realism) and stance-independence. DEPENDENCE need not rely on the objectionable sort of mind-dependence. And it’s not obvious how DEPENDENCE, or some claim like it, would rely on the objectionable kind. At the very least, the burden of detailing that account rests with the asymmetry theorist.

On to PLEASURE. Here Hanson tackles a very prominent idea in the history of aesthetics, which she calls Hedonic Response-Dependence (HRD) about beauty. According to such a view, beauty is a dispositional trait of objects to produce some kind of distinctively aesthetic pleasure in observers, traditionally one marked by disinterestedness, given that certain conditions are met. (Like all response-dependence theories, exactly which conditions must be met varies across different versions of the view.) She rejects the argument from HRD to aesthetic antirealism on the grounds that it is question begging: built into HRD is a form of aesthetic antirealism. So at least we need an argument to support HRD.

But maybe we can get a defense of HRD via DESCRIPTIONS, ACQUAINTANCE, or PRINCIPLES. Hanson presents each of these as potential grounds for a view of aesthetic judgment compatible with HRD, namely, a view on which aesthetic judgments essentially involve affective responses. Generally, these arguments take the form of inferences to the best explanation. The general strategy goes like this (my numbering differs slightly from Hanson’s):


P2: The best explanation of P1 is that aesthetic judgments essentially involve affective responses.

C1: So aesthetic judgments do essentially involve affective responses.

This conclusion can then be parlayed into a second argument defending the asymmetry claim:

P3: Aesthetic judgments essentially involve affective responses (and moral judgments don’t).
(Note that this is C1 with an added claim about moral judgment.)

P4: Realism about a domain is incompatible with judgments in that domain essentially involving affective responses.

C2: Aesthetic realism is untenable in a way that moral realism isn’t.

Because HRD is one way of endorsing C1, each of the three disanalogies in P1 can be used to provide independent support for a view like HRD (and thus as partial support for P3).

As for P3 itself, Hanson provides only provisional reason to doubt its obviousness. Her main arguments don’t directly tackle the latter argument. Rather, her aim is to offer betterexplanations in each of the three cases, and thereby undermine P2. I won’t address those arguments here, though those interested in the debates about moral and aesthetic testimony and the acquaintance principle would do well to see what she has to say.

The dialectic of the paper is a bit delicate, so it’s worth being a bit more explicit. Each of the five above disanalogies is not itself exactly a defense of asymmetry. Each of the five submits a point of contrast between the moral and aesthetic domains. Each contrast is then used to support morality’s stronger claim to realism. In other words, each in its own way embodies the spirit of the asymmetry claim, i.e., that a stronger case can be made for moral realism than for aesthetic realism. The reason it’s important to be careful about this is because, as Hanson sometimes notes, one might accept the suggested difference between morality and aesthetics, but reject that it grounds the differential plausibility of realism across the two domains.

I am most worried about her discussion of HRD and affective response theories. In her reply to the question-begging nature of the HRD argument, she points out two responses available to the HRD theorist. The first is to provide an independent argument for HRD. Although some arguments for HRD have been made, Hanson rightly notes that they are in very short supply. Hanson suggests and rejects three possible independent arguments, and this is why her paper at best shifts the burden onto aesthetic antirealists (and by implication, HRD and other affective response theorists). The other possible response she considers is that HRD about beauty might just be so intuitively obvious as to not require argumentative support. She denies that HRD is indeed so obvious.

But her support for this claim strikes me as a bit odd. HRD about beauty is a massively dominant theory in the history of aesthetics. And arguments in defense of the view are very few and far between. These two facts taken together suggest that the view actually does enjoy a great deal of intuitive strength. If it didn’t, then you’d think it wouldn’t be so widespread, there would be plentiful arguments against it, and those arguments would have generated more arguments in support of it. The fact of its dominance and lack of explicit argumentative support suggests that it really is quite a natural thing to think about beauty.

Of course we might try to explain its largely unquestioned dominance in other ways. Perhaps, for instance, it is dominant in Western aesthetics but not as much outside of that, so perhaps it manifests widespread cultural assumptions. (I’m not sure whether this is true.) The point is that, even if one doesn’t buy into HRD (or an affective response theory), it seems mistaken to deny that it’s an intuitive and attractive view. Better to attempt an argument against it.

At one point, Hanson does something like this. As a way to counter the alleged obviousness of P3, the claim that aesthetic judgments essentially involve affective responses while moral judgments don’t, she examines the following potentially Moore-paradoxical sentences:

(1) It’s true but I don’t believe it.

(2) It’s beautiful but I don’t like it.

(3) It’s morally good but I don’t approve of it.

The first is the canonical Moore-paradoxical sentence. It’s not crucial that we see either (2) or (3) as fully Moore paradoxical. What Hanson wants us to see is that, if P3 were true, we should find that (2) sounds worse than (3), since judgments about beauty essentially involve affective responses, and moral judgments don’t. But that isn’t what we find. Instead, we find that (2) sounds much better than (3). We utter sentences like (2) all the time; we constantly overhear people saying things like this in museums or about good-but-difficult novels.

But I think that this argument isn’t as strong as it seems.

For one, notice that the more descriptive the property in the first conjunct of the Moore-paradoxical sentence, the more natural and non-paradoxical the sentence sounds. So, for example, “It’s delicious but I don’t like it” sounds sort of bad, while “It’s inventive but I don’t like it” or “It’s crunchy but I don’t like it” sounds completely fine. Here, Hanson’s focus on beauty as the relevant aesthetic analog of truth and (moral) goodness becomes important. ‘Beauty’ is sometimes used as a thick aesthetic term, to describe one way – but not the only way – for things to be aesthetically good. If ‘beauty’ is partially descriptive, then it may provide unearned support for her case here.

I should say, there’s some disagreement about whether beauty is a thick or thin term. And it gets used in both ways, which further complicates the question. You might think that twelve-tone music is very good, but not at all beautiful – in fact, quite ugly. On the other hand, you might think that ugliness is not incompatible with beauty. There’s a sort of beauty in certain ugliness. … And so on. Because of this snag, I suspect we will get more accurate intuitions if we use a notion like aesthetic goodness rather than beauty.

If we substitute aesthetic goodness for beauty in (2), we get:

(2a) It’s aesthetically good but I don’t like it.

To my ear, this sounds worse than (2). It still might not sound all that bad, though. But here’s another worry: liking isn’t the appropriate analog of belief and (moral) approval. Those who endorse HRD don’t claim that the relevant hedonic response is one of liking. Rather, it’s traditionally a certain sort of (often disinterested) pleasure. I mean, I like Taco Bell, but I wouldn’t say I get disinterested pleasure out of it. If we make the corresponding changes, we get:

(2b) It’s aesthetically good but I don’t feel any pleasure in experiencing it.

Really? No pleasure at all? This sounds worse than (2a), although admittedly its somewhat awkward phrasing makes it a little hard to judge. (Maybe we don’t hear it in museums, but for other reasons than its potential Moore paradoxicality.) But I think we can get past the awkwardness and see that it does sound worse than (2a). At this point, we might think that (2b) is starting to sound about as bad as (3), and maybe even worse.

Notice, too, that even if we had stuck with beauty, we would have:

(2c) It’s beautiful but I don’t feel any pleasure in experiencing it.

This also sounds bad.

It’s easy to get lost in the weeds here. The point is that P3 predicts that (2) will sound worse, i.e. more Moore-paradoxical, than (3), because aesthetic judgments, and not moral ones, essentially involve affective responses. Hanson wants the predictions that P3 makes to come out false, which is why she argues that (2) sounds better than (3). (It would serve her purposes, though not as well, if they sounded equally good.) But it’s not clear, I think, that a suitably refined version of (2), namely (2b) or (2c), sounds better than (3). I think, indeed, that it may sound worse to many people.

So an improved version of (2) makes Hanson’s Moore paradox argument look much less convincing. Though her argument, strictly speaking, doesn’t depend on its success, I still think it would be better if there were a way to cut off the problem at its root, namely, somewhere in the second argumentabove (P3, P4, and C2). Otherwise, the temptation to aesthetic antirealism spreads and one has to go through rejecting each positive argument for HRD or affective response theories. Better to try to show that, even if HRD or some affective response theory were true, this wouldn’t undermine aesthetic realism. But since Hanson’s argument is that each of these candidate asymmetries between the moral and the aesthetic domains either is mistaken or else doesn’t support aesthetic antirealism, one has the sinking feeling that someone could come along with a really compelling disanalogy or a really compelling argument for an affective response theory that might undermine the whole thing. But such is the nature, I suppose, of a burden-shifting argument.

One way for the symmetry theorist to address the second argument is to deny P4, that realism about a domain is incompatible with judgments in that domain essentially involving affective responses. Hanson notes but does not discuss this possibility. But this strikes me as a promising path. Those who endorse motivational internalism and moral realism, for example, may well want to deny P4. Such a view can even concede that (3) sounds bad, while also thinking that this is compatible with realism. But of course a similar combination of views is available to the aesthetic realist, even one who thinks that (2), (2a), (2b) or (2c) sounds bad. And my hunch is that even better arguments could be made against P4. So while I think that Hanson has done the symmetry theorist a great service with this paper, the real win would be to somehow reject the second argument rather than the first.



  1. I shared both Alex’s sympathy with the paper overall and his doubts about the Moore’s Paradox argument. As well as the problem with the MP argument that Alex points out, I worried that Hanson’s thought was something like: If aesthetic properties are mind-dependent, then we should be able to generate an analogue of Moore Paradoxical absurdity in cases in which one asserts that one possesses the relevant attitude but denies the existence of the aesthetic property. I worried about this because I think it’s too strong.

    It would make it too easy to generate analogues of Moore-paradoxical absurdity – we would just need to be ignorant about what grounds what (or what’s identical to what, depending on how the aesthetic mind-dependence view is being understood – as a view about identity or a view about grounds). Moore-paradoxical absurdity requires a different kind of connection; perhaps a conceptual connection (at minimum). But the mind-dependent view of aesthetic properties doesn’t require that. So I’m not sure that Moore- paradoxical test quite works either.

  2. Hi everyone! The paper is great and Alex’s critical précis is great too – so great that she covered what my comment was going to cover. So, I’ll just pile on a little bit more with respect to the sentiment expressed in the précis about whether “it’s beautiful but I don’t like it” sounds weird.

    One way to escape the weirdness without vindicating the point in the paper is to read the sentence as saying something like this: “people generally take it to be beautiful, but I don’t like it.” I think this is what people often mean (perhaps unconsciously) when they say something like “it’s beautiful but I don’t like it.” What they’re saying is that, according to prevailing standards of judgment, the thing is beautiful, but beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and in their case, there’s nothing in their eye. So for instance Alex is right to bring up museums in this context, because these are cases where it’s assumed that quite a few people find something beautiful – otherwise, why would it be in the museum? So if one finds something in a museum lacking in beauty, one would be remiss to mention this without first acknowledging that one is an outlier. Otherwise one risks looking like a philistine who doesn’t understand that they’re going against the grain. (Consider: it’s barely if at all a blunder to dislike what most others like. It’s much more of a blunder to suggest that something is entirely unlikeable when many people like it. So we want to ward off the appearance of this blunder by making it clear that we know something is taken to be beautiful, but we disagree.)

    To test my hypothesis that “it’s beautiful but I don’t like it” is (perhaps unconsciously) elliptical for “other people find it beautiful, but I don’t like it,” try this other sentence on for size: “I find it extremely beautiful, and in fact it is unquestionably the most beautiful painting, no, the most beautiful THING I have ever seen, but I don’t like it.” I don’t know about everyone else, but that sounds SUPER weird to me, about as weird as your favorite Moorean sentence. Doubly so if we swap out “I don’t like it” and replace it with “I don’t feel any pleasure in experiencing it” as the précis helpfully suggests.

    My proposal conflicts with Chris Cowie’s. His suggests speakers make an unknowing mistake. Mine suggests they make a (perhaps unconscious) elision that avoids the mistake. His is much more straightforward, and as a general point it seems right. Mine, I think, is correct about this datum, although I admit I am perhaps an outlier here. To at least explain, if not to defend, my view, here’s a personal anecdote by way of explaining the “unconscious” part:

    I’ve suggested that speakers are maybe unconscious about what they’re doing when they say “it’s beautiful and I don’t like it” but mean “other people think it’s beautiful and I disagree.” What’s this bit about the unconscious? The idea is that we say all sorts of stuff like this without thinking too clearly about it, but if forced to defend these statements, we would have recourse to my suggested gloss. I recently watched a Hitchcock movie titled “Shadow of a Doubt.” It’s Hitchcock’s favorite of his own films, and it’s widely considered a masterpiece, but I didn’t enjoy it one bit. I can certainly see myself saying to someone “it’s a masterpiece, but I didn’t enjoy it” without that sounding weird. Why? Because I know I’m talking about what other people think. In this instance I’m conscious of what I’m doing, because I’ve just read an article and a précis and written hundreds of words on the topic. However, before any of this ever came about, I think I would’ve said the same thing without in my mind clearly knowing exactly what I meant. So the suggestion is that most people are like this, at least until you call attention to how weird the sentence sounds if we don’t read the first part as being about what people generally think.


    Notice that my hypothesis also fits in pretty well with the thesis that aesthetic and moral judgments differ in that anti-realism makes sense for the former and not the latter. This is for two reasons.

    First, I’ve suggested that if the sentence “it’s beautiful but I don’t like it” sounds okay, it’s in virtue of an unstated premise according to which something’s being beautiful is relative to judgments of individuals, and the first part of the sentence refers to judgments of others while the second part refers to my own judgments. So, we’ve got aesthetic anti-realism.

    Second, “it’s morally good but I don’t approve of it” isn’t something we would read as elliptical for “other people think it’s morally good, but I don’t approve of it,” because we shouldn’t be in the business of making different moral judgments than others. Morality isn’t in the eye of the beholder. So, we’ve got moral realism.

    I think this point is perhaps “lost in the weeds” in the way Alex warns against, so it might not be worth anything. But it’s perhaps a little suggestive.

  3. I worry that we’re taking Moore’s paradox far afield here. (1) isn’t the Moore-paradoxical sentence, though it’s close. The addition of a truth predication seems to make a difference here since I don’t find (1) nearly that problematic. Likewise, nearly none of the rest strike me as Moore-paradoxical.

    In sympathy to Chris’s point, I think what’s required for Moore paradoxicality is that my assertion (or whatever speech act) *commits* me to having (and commits me to reflectively intending that I’m interpreted as having) a particular attitude. (This is the Bach-Harnish treatment of expression, common in the speech act community, and one I endorse myself in a couple of pieces on moore’s paradox and expression.)

    That’s why ordinary assertion gives rise to Moore’s paradox—when I say ”it’s raining”, I commit myself to believing that it’s raining and I commit myself to reflexively intending that others can so interpret me as so believing. But that’s far stronger than just it being essential to my judging that P that I have attitude A. What’s necessary is that it’s crucial that when I assert or (publicly) judge that P, others are entitled to treat me as having attitude A and, more importantly, to treat me as having done something really weird if I bald-facedly fail to have that attitude.

    All this is to say that if affective responses are only essentially involved, but not part of what we’re expressing (in the Bach Harnish way), when we make a aesthetic judgment, then the Moore’s paradox test isn’t effective. What’s would close the gap is arguing that essential involvement implies that it’s part of what we’re expressing. But I’m not sure that’s true (though I’m not sure it’s false either!)

  4. Thank you very much to PEA Soup for organising this discussion, and to Alex for such an excellent précis!

    Alex raises many interesting points here, which I take it fall into three categories of objection:

    (1) Objections to the material on Hedonic Response-Dependence
    (2) Objections to the material on Moore’s Paradox
    (3) Some proposed alternative strategies for arguing against the asymmetry claim.

    I’ll try to respond to each. I’ll post them one at a time.

    (1) Objections to the material on Hedonic Response-Dependence (HRD) about beauty
    (sorry in advance, I’ve just realised this is long!)

    In the paper, I argue that HRD about beauty is not obvious enough to not require argument. Alex suggests that perhaps it is. She offers the following reason:

    ‘HRD about beauty is a massively dominant theory in the history of aesthetics. And arguments in defense of the view are very few and far between. These two facts taken together suggest that the view actually does enjoy a great deal of intuitive strength’

    I think this is a very interesting point. It’s also a far-reaching one. If Alex is right, this would be a problem not just for my argument against HRD, but for my whole strategy in this paper. Not just HRD, but the asymmetry claim itself, Is widely held, without argument. So if Alex is right that a view’s being widely held without argument is good evidence that it is intuitively plausible enough to not require argument, then it looks like we have evidence that the asymmetry claim is intuitively plausible enough not to require argument. And this means that my strategy of trying to show that all the plausible arguments for asymmetry fail, isn’t going to be enough to pose a problem for asymmetry. The burden of proof would be on those, like me, who want to argue against asymmetry. And those who accept asymmetry don’t need to do anything until some compelling argument against it comes up.

    However, I’m not sure I agree. Here’s why.

    First, I think it’s worth emphasising the following distinction, between saying:

    (i) HRD is not intuitively plausible enough to not require argument – it’s not so intuitively plausible that it’s the default view, such that anyone who denies it owes an argument.

    and saying

    (ii) HRD has no intuitive support – in the sense that it’s really hard to understand why anyone would accept it

    Alex says ‘The point is that, even if one doesn’t buy into HRD (or an affective response theory), it seems mistaken to deny that it’s an intuitive and attractive view’.

    This sounds to me most compelling when it is read in the (ii) sense – namely that it seems mistaken to deny that HRD about beauty has some intuitive support, it has some appeal.

    But this is something I can accept. All I need to defend is (i) – that HRD about beauty is not so intuitive that it requires no argument, and not so intuitive that those who deny HRD must supply arguments justifying their rejection of it.

    Back to Alex’s point that: ‘HRD about beauty is a massively dominant theory in the history of aesthetics. And arguments in defense of the view are very few and far between. These two facts taken together suggest that the view actually does enjoy a great deal of intuitive strength’

    This too can be read in a (i) way and a (ii) way:

    (i) If a thesis is widely accepted without argument, then this suggests it has some intuitive support


    (ii) If a thesis is widely accepted without argument, then this suggests it is intuitive enough to not require argument.

    It would clearly be a worry for me if (ii) were true. So let me say a bit about why I am not convinced that it is.

    I take it that the claim is that the former is evidence for the latter. Widespread acceptance of a thesis T without argument is evidence for T’s being intuitive enough to not require argument. I think the evidence is supposed to take the form of inference to the best explanation. The best explanation for why lots of people accept the thesis, and so few arguments have been made for it, is that people find it very intuitive.

    But I think it’s not at all clear that this is the best explanation. In general, lots of other factors can explain why a thesis is widely held by academic philosophers, or by people more generally. Sociological factors such as :

    – fashions
    – prominent philosophers saying it.

    And other factors such as:

    – confusion between it and a distinct thesis, which is v intuitive,
    – an argument that people are so convinced by that they never explicitly make it

    I think a better test of whether a given thesis is intuitive enough to enjoy default status of this kind, is to look directly at the thesis, and consider how intuitive it is. Would it be really weird to deny it? Does it look self-evident? After all, isn’t there something strange (at least in standard cases) about trying to find out whether a thesis is intuitively plausible by anything other than considering it oneself?

    Maybe that’s a bit strong… Here’s one more thought on this. I take it that evidence is defeasible. Even if widespread acceptance of T without argument is evidence that T is intuitive enough to not require argument, there are possible defeaters. One possible defeater of that initial evidence would be:

    looking at T and noticing that it doesn’t look self-evident, or awkward to deny, or any of those things.

  5. (2) Alex’s Objections to the material on Moore’s Paradox

    Alex gives two arguments

    In the first argument, she points out that ‘the more descriptive the property in the first conjunct of the Moore-paradoxical sentence, the more natural and non-paradoxical the sentence sounds.’

    Add to this the further claim that ‘beautiful’ is sometimes used as a thick aesthetic term, ‘to describe one way – but not the only way – for things to be aesthetically good.’

    And it starts to look as though maybe the fact that [2] doesn’t sound bad is coming from the fact that ‘beautiful’ has descriptive content.

    I’m not sure what I think about this. I guess I’m not convinced that ‘beautiful’ is ever used as a thick aesthetic term,* and maybe more to the point, I don’t think that – even if it is sometimes used that way – you have to have in mind one of those uses, in order to hear [2] as sounding OK.

    *Maybe I need to hear more about what aesthetic goodness is, and why think that beauty is one way among many for something to be aesthetically good. What would be some other ways for something to be aesthetically good?

  6. Alex’s second argument about Moore paradox discussion is that even if my original sentence

    [2] It’s beautiful but I don’t like it

    sounds fine, that doesn’t show that there isn’t *some* affective response that it constitutively involved in finding something beautiful – it only shows that, if there is, it’s not liking. Maybe it’s *feeling pleasure in experiencing* the thing. Alex suggests that:

    [2c] it’s beautiful but I don’t feel any pleasure in experiencing it

    might sound bad in a way that would support the affective model.

    I’m not sure I agree. I think my issue is that I’m not sure that we can get past the awkwardness. There’s something tricky about testing for pretheoretic intuitions by using sentences that include philosophical terms of art. I think the construction ‘pleasure in experiencing [something]’ has this status in aesthetics. It seems to me that any sense among philosophers that [2c] sounds bad might well be tracking the fact that many philosophers accept the affective model of aesthetic judgement, rather than being evidence of its pretheoretic intuitiveness.

  7. Hi Chris, Danny, and Jack! Thank you for your super interesting comments! I will have a think and try and reply to them soon…

  8. Just one more thought on Alex’s second argument about MP stuff, above. Another reason I think that philosophers’ hearing [2c] as bad might be evidence only of philosophical consensus on the affective model, rather than pretheoretic intuition (but one you might well take with a pinch of salt) is this: I don’t hear [2c] as bad. I know, I know, I would say that, wouldn’t I? So maybe this argument isn’t going to convince others. I guess by its very nature it’s not going to convince anyone who belongs to the group I’m claiming exists – namely people who (i) are part of the consensus in favour of the affective model of aesthetic judgement, and (ii) have the intuition that 2c is bad because of their philosophical views.

  9. Hi Chris,

    Thanks for your comment! I agree that if my thought was that:

    ‘If aesthetic properties are mind-dependent, then we should be able to generate an analogue of Moore Paradoxical absurdity in cases in which one asserts that one possesses the relevant attitude but denies the existence of the aesthetic property.’

    then that wouldn’t work for the reasons you describe.

    But my thought is different from the one you describe. I’m taking the MP stuff as a test of whether the affective model of aesthetic judgement is obviously true, not as a test of whether aesthetic mind-dependence is true. So my thought differs from the one you describe in two ways: first, the target is different – the target is the epistemic claim that aesthetic *judgement* essentially involves affective responses. It’s not supposed to say anything directly about the metaphysical claim that aesthetic *properties* are mind-dependent. A second difference is that the kind of argumentative move I’m making is less ambitious than the one you describe. It’s not supposed to be a knockdown argument, but only a burden-of-proof-shifting move. My thought was not that the considerations about MP stuff show that the affective model is *false*, but only that they cast doubt on the thought that it is *obviously* true.

    Maybe you think this is still too strong. Let me know!

  10. Hi Jack,

    Thank you for your comment and apologies for the slow reply. I wanted to read your paper on Moore’s paradox before responding. And I’m glad I did – great paper!

    I’m not totally sure what I think about this but here are some initial thoughts.

    I take it that you are saying the following:

    Suppose that some affective response R is constitutively involved in judging that P – that’s not sufficient to predict that it would sound bad/odd to say (the relevant instance of the schema):

    ‘P but I don’t have R’

    Call this claim INSUFFICIENCY. (And call the claim that it would be sufficient SUFFICIENCY).

    Why do I think you’re committed to INSUFFICIENCY? Because INSUFFICIENCY would need to be true in order for it to be the case that ‘if affective responses are only essentially involved, *but not part of what we’re expressing* (in the Bach Harnish way), when we make a aesthetic judgment, then the Moore’s paradox test isn’t effective.’

    I think I remain to be convinced of INSUFFICIENCY, but you might think that in any case I need to say more in support of SUFFICIENCY.

    Have I been assuming SUFFICIENCY? I’m not sure I have. I think what I have been assuming is that if *it’s OBVIOUSLY true* that some affective response R is constitutively involved in judging that P, then *that* would be sufficient to predict that it would sound bad/odd to say (the relevant instance of the schema):

    ‘P but I don’t have R’

    OK so where does that leave things? I guess if it’s true that the *only* way for that to sound odd is if a commitment to R were *part of what we express when we say that P*, I’m still in trouble. But then I’m not sure I see any reason to accept that thesis.

  11. Hi Danny,

    Thanks for your comment!

    So the first point, I take it, is that relativist semantics for beauty would explain the datum that

    It’s beautiful but I don’t like it

    sounds fine.

    And that in contrast, the fact that

    It’s morally good but I don’t approve of it

    sounds bad, suggests that relativist semantics are not plausible for morality.

    Two things I want to say about this

    (1) All of this is compatible with the discussion of Moore-paradoxical sentences in my paper. What I’m saying there is that the fact that

    It’s beautiful but I don’t like it

    doesn’t sounds bad, is a reason to doubt that the affective model of aesthetic judgement is *obviously* true. It’s a reason to think that those who accept the affective model of aesthetic judgement, owe some argument for it. That point, taken on its own, is compatible with the kind of relativist semantics you describe.

    (2) I think one of the ways in which your point is interesting is that it may constitute a starting point for an argument for the asymmetry claim. i.e. forget the stuff about the affective model; if the best explanation for the cases above is that relativist semantics is much more plausible for beauty than for morality, then this may be a promising starting premise for an argument for the asymmetry claim. Obviously much is going to depend on how the details are filled in. I’d be interested to see a fleshing out of this argument.

    I also think your example of

    “I find it extremely beautiful, and in fact it is unquestionably the most beautiful painting, no, the most beautiful THING I have ever seen, but I don’t like it.”

    is very interesting.

    I wondered – do you think that what’s doing the work is the change from ‘it’s beautiful’ to ‘I find it beautiful’, or the change from ‘it’s beautiful’ to ‘it’s the most beautiful thing I have ever seen’?

    In any case, I am not sure what I want to say about this one. I’m tempted to maintain that this isn’t so bad… But here’s the thing. Even if it does sound bad, all I need is for it not to sound worse than its moral analogue,

    which I take it would be

    “I find it extremely [morally good], and in fact it is unquestionably the most [morally good] thing I have ever [come across], but I don’t approve of it.”

    To me that sounds worse. But more to the point, it definitely doesn’t sound *less bad*.

  12. Hi Louise,

    Fair! So I agree that there’s a bit of wiggle room here and I don’t think that the only way for these kind of claims to sound odd is the commitment-frustrating route. What I think is that that’s the way for the distinctive oddness characteristic of Moore’s paradox to come about.

    It might be that these claims sound odd for another reason…and, actually, I’m sympathetic to the idea that if some affective judgment is obviously constitutively part of judging that P, then we should expect some oddness when we make the kind of assertions under dispute. But it’s not necessarily the same kind of oddness as in ”p, but I don’t believe that p”, where it feels like the speaker is contradicting themselves, even though we can see that what they said could be true.

    So what matters here is whether or not the obvioused up version of sufficiency is itself plausible (as well as what we mean by ‘obvious’, blah blah.) As I said, I’m rather sympathetic! But I want to think more about it.

    Thanks for the response.

  13. Thanks for the reply Louise! On your two points:

    (1) I don’t think I have anything to add in reply to this point that Alex didn’t already say in her original comment. I don’t know if I’m convinced by your reply to her that philosophers already have too much invested in “pleasure in experiencing something” for us to judge whether something like “it’s extremely beautiful but I take no pleasure in experiencing something” is or isn’t weird. This is doubly the cases if we ask the person to clarify and they say “I don’t just mean that other people find it beautiful, I mean that I find it beautiful, but it gives me no pleasure.” Perhaps it’s time to poll the laity somehow!

    (2) You’re right to press on what’s doing the work – the “I find it beautiful” or “it’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.” To make the point more clear I should strike “I find it beautiful” or change it to “I admit that it’s beautiful” or something similar.

    You’re also very right to point out the moral analogue which stands in need of evaluation vis a vis what sounds weirder. I should have gone ahead and done the evaluation, which I omitted for length reasons. I had in mind something like this: I have trouble judging how weird “it’s extremely morally good, in fact the most morally good thing I’ve ever seen, but I don’t approve of it” is supposed to sound. So much of what is bound up in ‘approval’ (in the lay sense) seems clearly non-moral, so many (lay) people take explicit talk of morality in thin terms (‘moral’) rather than thick terms (‘brutal’, ‘kind’) to be kind of offputting, etc. that I almost don’t know what to say.

    Suffice it to say that although my thoughts are kind of jumbled here, it wouldn’t surprise me if I met someone who says that “I find it extremely beautiful but I don’t like it” sounds way weirder than “I find it extremely moral but I don’t approve of it.” I’ve met people with proto-“Moral Saints”-ian inclinations who are downright SUSPICIOUS of things described as overly ‘moral,’ such that OF COURSE they wouldn’t want to approve of those very moral things! Maybe here, too, a poll of the laity is called for…

    Moving to the more general point about whether this is the grounds for an independent argument for the asymmetry thesis, you’re right about that – one reason I feared my comment was maybe getting lost in the weeds is that perhaps this all works better if we just lift it out of the “how obvious is the affective view” context. I reject the asymmetry thesis, but if I wanted to defend it, I think I’d take this route.

  14. Hi Danny!

    Do you think that the suspicion of moral saints case you describe could really be a case of people using ‘moral’ to mean ‘thought to be moral by many’? (i.e. analogous to your initial example with ‘beautiful’ being used to mean ‘thought to be beautiful by many’.)

    But maybe that’s missing the point. If the intuition is genuinely proto-moral-saints-ian, then it would not be a suspicion of mainstream moral judgements, but rather a suspicion of an outlook that takes the moral to be the only/the most important/the overriding consideration in play in how to live our live.

    In which case the thought would be:

    it’s possible to not approve of something one finds to be moral because it’s possible to think approval tracks *what you think should be done* in a general, not specifically moral sense, RATHER than tracking the moral.

    It’s an interesting question whether this view has metaethical implications about the relationship between moral properties and affective responses (or about the relation between moral judgements and affective responses)

    (e.g. no affective response can be constitutively linked to moral goodness/badness/or no affective response can be an essential component of a moral judgement)

    or whether its implications just place constraints on which affective responses can play that role (e.g. maybe approval can’t, but maybe others could).

    I guess I think it would be surprising, if it turned out that this moral-saints-ian view ruled out moral properties or judgements being constitutively linked to affective responses. By ‘surprising’ I mean interesting, not probably false, but all the same, a lot is going to depend on how the argument for this goes.

  15. What about those cases where one gradually acquires a particular taste, or a particular moral stance? These may of the form “others find X beautiful/moral, and I can see why they might, even though currently I do not. I expect continued exposure may change my current affective response”.

  16. Louise,

    “Do you think that the suspicion of moral saints case you describe could really be a case of people using ‘moral’ to mean ‘thought to be moral by many’? (i.e. analogous to your initial example with ‘beautiful’ being used to mean ‘thought to be beautiful by many’.)”

    My thought is ‘no’ – that is, I think the idea expressed IS “genuinely proto-moral-saints-ian” as you put it. But I don’t know how plausible my thought is. To the opinion polls again, perhaps…

    I agree with you that a lot would have to go right for my view if I want it to lead to the conclusion that “this moral-saints-ian view ruled out moral properties or judgements being constitutively linked to affective responses.” One would argue that morality is a necessarily intellectual sort of thing, and that moral judgments are affective at best accidentally, and so on. I don’t think any of the various steps in that argument are particularly indefensible or that the overall chain of reasoning is clearly wrong. But, it’s hardly the most obvious or the only conclusion to draw from the data, even if we grant that I’m right about all the data. And the latter is already a stretch! Thanks for all the comments, and once again I’ll echo that the article is great!

    Also, one final question which has nothing much to do with the article (so feel free to ignore it): on the bottom of 40/top of 41 the article notes “the asymmetry claim has not before been challenged.” I know very little about this stuff, but my impression was that there are places where we can find at least implicit rejection (in, say, the account of Diatoma’s speech given by Socrates in the Symposium or in G.E. Moore or maybe in Shaftesbury) or even explicit rejection (see Moore in particular). And one might worry that the tendency of so many children’s movies to make the villains ugly and the heroes pretty rules out commitment to the asymmetry thesis. Is the point just about the asymmetry thesis very narrowly construed as a question of realism and anti-realism specifically, rather than positions which would entail the falsity of the asymmetry thesis but only derivatively on the basis of broader claims about the nature of the good? So for instance even if Moore thinks good is all of a piece, so go ahead and lump the moral and the aesthetic together, he doesn’t explicitly go after the more narrow issue of whether one can be a moral realist but an aesthetic anti-realist?

  17. Hi Danny,

    Thanks for the comments and the kind words!

    Yes I had in mind direct challenges to the asymmetry claim, rather than arguments for views that would entail its negation. I take your point, though, that there are examples of people who seem to be committed to rejecting the asymmetry claim.

    I was interested in your point about children’s films. You say ‘the tendency of so many children’s movies to make the villains ugly and the heroes pretty rules out commitment to the asymmetry thesis’.

    Is the claim that those who have this tendency (to want to present the heroes as pretty and the villains as ugly) cannot be committed to the asymmetry claim? i.e. they can’t think that realism about beauty is less plausible than realism about morality?

    I wasn’t sure why they couldn’t. Why couldn’t this be motivated by the belief that audience members – in this case children – are more likely to root for the good characters if they find them pretty? This is a belief that can be held by someone who is an aesthetic antirealist and a moral realist, no? Such a person would see this as a case where children are bad at spotting (or responding aptly to) these mind-independent phenomena of moral goodness and badness, but respond very favourably to people who they find beautiful. This looks totally compatible with, for example, subjectivism about beauty, or with response-dependence about beauty.

    Perhaps the following is an analogy. Many people are antirealists about funniness. You could imagine a moral realist who is making a film, and who believes that people tend to respond more favourably to characters who they think are funny. The filmmaker wants to make sure that the audience find the morally good characters in the film sympathetic, and tries to ensure this by making sure that the morally good characters are much funnier than the morally bad ones. This looks like a strategy this moral realist fimmaker could take even if they are antirealist about funniness.

    Let me know if I’ve misunderstood your point.

  18. Hi Louise
    “What do you take these kinds of case to show?”

    Well, that acquaintance is not incorrigible, and that there are meta-cognitive like judgements that can be seen as consistent with realism: “X really is beautiful, based either on the testimony of others or on reasoning based on aesthetic principles I hold to, so I currently lack the appropriate perceptions to recognize this. From previous experience I know I can grow to enjoy things like X”.

    As to symmetry – “I was originally not impressed by arguments for veganism, but on further acquaintance I am convinced they are making a real point”.

  19. Hi David,

    I’m not totally sure I follow, so do let me know if I’ve missed the point.

    Is the thought that our aesthetic judgements can change over time, and what this change tracks is a change in affective responses such as enjoyment, liking, etc.? And that if this is right, it suggests there might be something to the affective model of aesthetic judgement after all?

    And then is the idea that this could be used in an argument for affective asymmetry if it also turns out that when our moral judgements change over time it is down to something cognitive changing, rather than something affective changing – such as *becoming convinced* of something?

    What do I think about this as an argument for affective asymmetry (the view that the affective model is more plausible for aesthetic judgement than it is for moral judgement)?

    I think I’d need to see why we should accept that changes in aesthetic judgement are always a matter of changes in affective response, and that changes in moral judgement are not.

    I could imagine someone claiming of *both* kinds of evaluative judgement that a change in the relevant judgement is always a matter of a change in affective response, and I could also imagine someone denying this thesis. And I can see that there are arguments that can be made each way. But the challenge would be to find some argument for taking the first view about changes in moral judgement, and the second about changes in aesthetic judgement.

  20. Hi Leslie. The comment about children’s films was in part a joke. The thought is this: aesthetic anti-realism entails that there’s no objective standard for judgments of beauty, ugliness, etc. Moral realism entails the opposite for judgments of good and evil. So if the asymmetry thesis is true in virtue of morality and beauty being separate domains of goodness rather than the same thing, it should be surprising that all the ugly people just happen to be bad, and all the beautiful people just happen to be good.

    So, the joke is that I’m attributing the alignment of beauty and goodness/ugliness and evil to a commitment on the part of the movie creators to reflect their commitment to the view that all goodness is of a piece, and thus if someone’s morally bad they’re ugly and vice versa. But since that’s hardly the most perspicuous explanation, it’s a joke that relies on my misattributing abstruse philosophical theses to the creators of films for children (not a very funny or obvious joke, though – if it caused any confusion I apologize!).

    It wasn’t just a joke, though, since whatever their reasons (which possibly include the ones you list) it’s true that (especially in the past) filmmakers did these sorts of things. I think this practice is a crummy one for all sorts of reasons. And we might think that one way out of the crumminess is to just endorse a sort of “unity of goodness” thesis according to which the uglier someone is, the worse they are, morally speaking, which would give the creators a “pass,” in a sense, for the crummy results of this practice. I take it this is not a great response. Someone who both denies asymmetry and also endorses realism on the basis of Platonic/Moorean/whatever considerations – all goodness is of a piece, so moral realism just IS aesthetic realism and vice versa – is on the hook for a better answer. That is, if the beautiful really just IS the good, what’s wrong with making the villains ugly and the heroes pretty? That’s no more objectionable than making the villains villainous and the heroes heroic.

  21. I’ve realised that I’m not sure I’m entirely clear on what the unity thesis is. Is it:

    (i) the claim that beauty and moral goodness are exactly the same thing – there is no distinction to be drawn


    (ii) the claim that beauty is a type of moral goodness


    (iii) the claim that moral goodness is a type of beauty?

    Or something else?

    (i) seems to me to be the worst of the three (at least (ii) and (iii) allow that moral goodness and beauty can be distinguished) but I take it all three claims are pretty implausible.

    You say that someone who denies asymmetry and accepts both moral and aesthetic realism on the basis of [one of (i)-(iii)?] faces a challenge to say what’s bad about making the villains ugly and the heroes pretty. I think I agree with you, at least in the case of (i). But I think that what makes them face that challenge is their acceptance of (i) (or possibly (ii) or (iii)), *not* their acceptance of aesthetic realism, nor their denial of the asymmetry claim. And we shouldn’t be surprised that acceptance of (i) (or possibly (ii) or (iii)) gives rise to serious challenges, because each of those theses is pretty implausible.

    Is there another unity thesis that’s not so implausible on its face but still gives rise to the challenge you describe?

  22. Yes, sorry, I’ve been very sloppy in my characterization of these hypothetical people who make children’s films – this is a relic of it having been a joke originally. (ii) and (iii) are both fine as glosses of what I had in mind with Diotima, Moore, Shaftesbury, etc. (again though, I’m no expert) although I think we maybe want to add the clarification that aesthetic and moral value are not different kinds of value, but rather two aspects of value tout court. I don’t know if that sounds like (i) to you or not – I think they’re distinct, but whatever.

    In any case, (ii) and (iii) don’t entail that beautiful people are good in every other way or that ugly people are bad in every other way. The thought was just that the villains in the movies are PURELY bad and the heroes PURELY good, so if we’re giving them all the OTHER properties that fit their type, we’d better make them beautiful/ugly according to how good/bad they are.

    I am now starting to worry that whatever the unity thesis is, it’s not what I had in mind. I had in mind (ii) and (iii) as implication of the clarification I noted above. But, if those sound implausible to you, then probably I’ve mischaracterized the unity thesis, at least insofar as I’m right to attribute it to Diotima, Moore, Shaftesbury, and probably others. Let’s stick with Moore since I can track down the passage I’m thinking of (the SEP cites it):

    “It appears probable that the beautiful should be defined as that of which the admiring contemplation is good in itself. That is to say: To assert that a thing is beautiful is to assert that the cognition of it is an essential element in one of the intrinsically valuable wholes we have been discussing; so that the question, whether it is truly beautiful or not, depends upon the objective question whether the whole in question is or is not truly good, and does not depend upon the question whether it would or would not excite particular feelings in particular persons. This definition has the double recommendation that it accounts both for the apparent connection between goodness and beauty and for the no less apparent difference between these two conceptions. It appears, at first sight, to be a strange coincidence, that there should be
    two different objective predicates of value, good and beautiful, which are nevertheless so related to one another that whatever is beautiful is also good. But, if our definition be correct, the strangeness disappears; since it leaves only one unanalysable predicate of value, namely good, while beautiful, though not identical with, is to be defined by reference to this, being thus, at the same time, different from and necessarily connected with it.” (From section 121 of the Principia Ethica, I think – I no longer own any books so I’m citing a rather lackluster PDF copy.)

    And of course that “one unanalysable predicate of value” is the good involved in moral good, too (hence the open question argument and so forth). I was taking this to be the unity thesis, and also thinking that on the basis of this we can conclude (ii) and (iii), but it sounds like those strike you as wrong enough that we wouldn’t want to attribute them to Moore?

  23. Hi Louise.
    “aesthetic judgements can change over time [and] tracks…change in affective responses”

    I have a distinct sense-memory of first hearing the Beatles as a kid that includes the _sensation_ of it being jangly and discordant. I (and others) have similar experiences when listening to one style of music immediately after other styles. But I would concur with you that “fast” moral judgements may not be always dissociable into rational and emotional (priming etc experiments).

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