Someone has scientifically established why we like beautiful art. Its because in art, what is beautiful is what our genes tell us is good for us, and what they tell us is good for us is what was good for us when we were hunter-gatherers. That’s why we like landscape painting — the mammoth gather on the plain. QED.

Put aside the point that art isn’t just about the beautiful. And put aside the point (made by Nigel Warburton, Jerry Fodor) that there’s insufficient evidence for some of the armchair evolutionary psychology going on…

My problem is the following.

Grant that Dutton is right — perhaps we like landscape paintings because the genes which make us like grassy plains once gave us a survival advantage over those which made our rivals dive back into the sea. But what kind of “because” is that!?

Surely this is the same problem as with all determinism(/reductionism). We can believe in (strict, physical) determinism all we like, and most of us would be comfortable claiming the universe is governed by physical rules (and that humans are part of the universe), but no one says “I choose the penne al’arrabiata because of the way the little cells in my brain are firing” … or “because of the current position little pieces of matter hold on the flightpaths they embarked upon at the beginning of time” [obviously I don’t study physics — insert appropriate theory]. We say “I choose the penne al’arrabiata because its cheaper” or “because its my favourite dish”. To then explain “because its my favourite dish” by the positions of those little pieces of matter on their flightpaths is to lose the point of saying “because”.

Of course, we could replace all of our “because its my favourite” language with “because of the molecules/genes” language, but that wouldn’t be explaining anything — putting an illusory language into a more scientific one — just redescribing it, replacing some sounds with others without changing anything.

(This has all been said before, better — I know)

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