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Value & Beauty (Axiology)

A clear day with blooming fruit trees and a light breeze is generally considered good (unless you're a vampire). Thousands of demented monkeys running amok in the streets and saying rude things to passers-by is generally considered bad (unless you're a monkey). The goodness or badness of a thing is usually discussed in terms of its value.

The study of value (axiology) is less about ethics and more about aesthetics and beauty. Robert Pirsig's lyrical book Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance brought the discussion to a popular audience in the 1970s, and the postmodern emphasis on art and creativity is influencing renewed interest. Desire for and love of beauty is intrinsic to human nature, and has been a common topic for philosophers throughout history.

Much of this discussion revolves around art. Any attempt to define art and identify what makes it good or bad is in danger of missing the point entirely, but it is necessary to identify some art as good and some as bad. In other words, value is assigned to individual works of art depending on their merits.

Axiology can be dangerous. If we're so concerned with analyzing art that we stop enjoying it for what it is, the whole point of an inquiry into value is lost. The reason we place more or less value on art isn't just for categorical purposes—it should lead to greater appreciation for the creative endeavor and add something to our lives. The best art tells us something about God or about ourselves, and its value isn't something we can measure or quantify.

Review by C. Hollis Crossman
C. Hollis Crossman used to be a child. Now he is a husband and father, teaches adult Sunday school in his Presbyterian congregation, and likes weird stuff. He might be a mythical creature, but he's definitely not a centaur. Read more of his reviews here.

 

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