Beauty, Deautomatization

The 20th century Russian Formalist literary theorist Viktor Shklovsky said that art is the deautomatization of perception. At first this seems a specialized perspective best suited to various kinds of modern art, but on deeper reflection it may apply more broadly. Most traditional art, whether representational or pattern-based, is grounded in some kind of nonordinary perception or apprehension of things.

Kant in the Critique of Judgment talks about the sense of beauty as a kind of feeling of pleasure that is disinterested, in the sense of not being determined by impulse. He says it is even our duty to regard beauty as the “special symbol” of morality. For Kant, a moral will is grounded in deautomatization of action. It makes sense that this would be supported by deautomatizations of perception. Sensitivity to Kantian beauty also helps reinforce the acquired emotional intelligence that grounds ethical development. (See also Freedom Through Deliberation?)

Freedom Through Deliberation?

All sincere deliberation cumulatively contributes to opening our minds.

Kant did not discuss Aristotle directly, but he clearly wanted to assert a stronger notion of freedom than emerges just from Aristotle’s distinction of willing from unwilling actions. This relative kind of voluntariness was not enough to ground the kind of freedom Kant was after. For Kant, as long as we are under the sway of our own internal impulses, we are not free, so a lack of external compulsion is not sufficient. But that is not the end of the matter.

“Will” for Kant turned out to be a rational, positively developed alternative to impulse, grounded in a concept (i.e., thoughtful interpretation) of law. Aristotle’s version of thoughtful interpretation in this context is deliberation. It makes sense that active deliberation would positively, incrementally contribute to deautomatizing our tendency to act or respond impulsively. So, I think the closest analogue for what Kant would call true freedom in Aristotle is action on the basis of deliberation. Everything Aristotle says about what is in effect acquired emotional intelligence is also relevant to these Kantian considerations. (See also Beauty, Deautomatization.)