Re: Rules in the arts

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Posted by R. John Howe on January 30, 1999 at 04:39:02:

In Reply to: Re: Rules in the arts posted by Marvin Amstey on January 29, 1999 at 09:26:48:

Dear folks -

The only thing I would object to in what Yon and Marvin have said here is that they seem to suggest that if the rules we have at a given moment are not sufficient for all the distinctions we want to make and if they are not universally agreed to, that this points to some disabling inadequacy in the notion of a rule itself.

The fact that the rules we have at a given moment may not explain everything we want to explain may mean only that there are additional rules to discover. Alexander and Salingaros seem to claim that the rules they have discovered are necessary conditions of aesthetic quality but do not, I think, claim that they are sufficient.

And the fact that a given set of rules may be rejected from time to time is not an indicator that rules are inadequate for the distinctions we want to make and the qualities we want to recognize. It is, for me at least, only an indication that rules are socially determined, not hardwired in our minds, and given this we would expect them to vary from one experience context to another. It suggests a limitation on them: there may be no agree way to adjudicate between the different rules thrown up by different experiential cultures, but this problem does not point to any inadequacy in what rules are: guides for making decisions and recognitions WITHIN a given cultural community.

The only thing not permitted by the current notion of a rule would be a set of them articulated by someone that only he/she could understand. Karl Polyani, a philosopher, in his book "Personal Knowledge" has suggested that "private languages" (in which private rules might be stated) may be in principle possible but has not been able to demonstrate that thesis.

Unless private languages are possible, it is hard to see what the act of recognizing genius could be, excepting an instance of socially-derived rule application.

I would be interested to hear Yon or Marvin or anyone else describe what they think the recognition of genius is if it is not rule-governed. On what alternative basis do we do this?


R. John Howe

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