Generalities are not only necessary in language but helpful in scientific and philosophical discussion. Where generalities get us in trouble, though, is when we forget to give any kind of examples whatsoever, and so have nothing really concrete to base our generalities on, as well as nothing concrete to verify our theoretical talk. The following is a discussion of essences.
What are the essences of things? or Do things have essences? First of all, what do these questions mean? What is an essence? It is the indispensable characteristic of a thing, or that which is necessary for something to be what it is. What is indispensable many be a plurality of characteristics, or it may be just one. And even if there are more than one essence, it may be possible and appropriate to declare one of these essences the essential essence. This, I assume, would be that one most comprehensive characteristic immanent in the thing which is both necessary and sufficient for one to call that thing by the name of that thing.
It is necessary that `tables' have the capacity of having other things placed on it. A table should also be at least mostly flat on top. These are necessary conditions, and I will venture to say sufficient conditions, for something to be thought of as a table. I would not deny that someone in the world could think of a "table" without these characteristics, but they are not thinking about `tables' in the right way. Now, here someone might reply that I'm making some kind of value statement as to what is the right kind of table vs. the wrong kind of table. No, not at all. I am saying there is a correct use of the word `table', and this correct use of the word is tied to what tables are meant to do. These may be all sorts of tables having different material compositions or different shapes or made in different ways, and this is fine, but something/ shape which cannot be used to place things on is Not a table. Of course this doesn't mean one has to actually place things on it. It doesn't have to be in use. Neither is it necessary that the making of such a shape, whether by nature or human work, be intended for the placement of things on, for it could be by accident that something comes to be a table. Another type of objection arises in the form of miniature, decorative tables. These "tables" do not satisfy the necessary conditions; but that is because they are precisely "miniature tables", an art-piece not intended to be used as a table but only to imitate a table. It would not be called or known as a table, however miniature, if it did not imitate the necessary shape of those things having the functional capacity of tables. I propose, then, that tables have a necessary and sufficient condition, which is really a capacity, for them to Be tables, and this is the essence of table.
I propose that any simple artifact can be analysed in this way. Let me scan my room here for some further verification. I'm typing on a keyboard hooked into a word-processor. I could describe the color and shape of this and how the wires go, or that it is plugged into a electrical wall outlet, or I could open it up and show the parts, etc. But none of this is essential. Other word-processors might be described differently. But what is essential, what is necessary, and ultimately sufficient, is in its capacity to perform certain tasks. My word-processor is ancient and cannot do nearly all what others can do, but it fulfills a minimum functional capacity which is what qualifies it as a word-processor. However complex one can be in describing the plurality of these instruments available, there must be such a minimum requirement of a necessary capacity, which is sufficient. Then the critic replies with examples of broken word-processors: they do not have this word-processing capacity. Yes, but they are broken capacities. First of all, I wasn't speaking of broken word-processors, and second, if I were, there wouldn't be any sense to calling them word-processors if they had not once been running or are intended to be run again. And for imitated or toy word-processors, my arguments are already stated.
Let me look around again, though not implying that I could exhaust all possible examples. I see my radio. Well, radios have the capacity to tune into radio stations and play music or conversation, etc. And there are my curtains. They protect my privacy, or they keep the light out, or the heat in, or they keep me from looking out. But what if they are open. Yes, they are still curtains but only because they have the above capacities. Then one questions which of the capacities stated is the essential, necessary and sufficient one? To keep light out or to keep people fro seeing in, or one of the others. These are the kind of trick questions philosopher's thrive on. My answer can be more simple than one might first think. Curtains have the capacity to conceal something from sight or shut out/shut in some property such as light, sound, heat, or draft. They are usually about windows but not always, and they could be made of any kind of material. So again, the most simple functional capacity holds as the essential defining characteristic or what it is meant to perform. I look out the window and I see a house, a fence, a street, telephone lines, a clothes line, a chimney. And all of these man-made things have some functional reason for their being. They each perform some kind of basic function, and this is their essence, without which they would not be what we call them to be. Again, That function may not be at work always, but still the capacity is there, or at least some purpose is or was intended. In the cases where no such purpose was or is intended, we might call these decorations. That chimney might not even have a hole in it, or that clothes line might be merely for looks. Then, either the chimney is not really a chimney, or it is intended to merely look like a chimney, in which case it has the usual shape that chimneys have to further their intended ends. The same can be said of the clothes line, almost word for word. I think I have made my point as well as I can.
consider something more difficult. Games. Now, obviously
material things we call games do not all resemble each other.
are board games, dice games, card games. Board games are
on or with boards, dice games with dice, and card games all
cards in common. Yet what is essential to `games' in general
be some more general condition. There are sports games. Some
are played, some are watched, some are solitary activities.
are competitive, some are not. Some are completely by
while others involve total skill. Some games are even
rigged. So, games not only might look
different, but they
different kinds of interaction. A game might be a serious
of courage or skill, or it might be completely frivolous,
or in jest. Some games have a definite goal, while others
not. Some are amusing, some are not. It would appear there is
in common to all games.
Let's look more carefully. Is
a common material form? No. Is there always a goal? I think
may be, but for now let's say this is not necessary. Is
always competition? Certainly not always with others, but
may be a kind of inner challenge, though this does not seem
be even necessary for silly, aim-less kind of games. What we
come to, and it is not necessary to go farther, is that there
different kinds of games, not only in material composition but
in how they are played: some are competitive, some silly,
amusing, some seriously dull, some aim-less. OK.
something common to all games, that is, if we are using the
comprehensibly. All games are necessarily played. If I
say that I or someone or something is playing or can play
game, then it isn't really a game. When I say play I do not
imply fun, nor a non-serious, or make-belive activity.
is meant by `play' is that there is more than one possible
of which the player is responsible for choosing or making,
these moves must obey some primary rules or boundaries of
possibilities. So; a game must
necessarily imply or make
basic set of rules and it must give the player some
for making different moves. Notice also that a `game'
a player is meaningless. This does not mean that my
game in the closet is not a game until it is played. I
argue this, but it is not necessary, though it must be true
poker is not a game without players - that poker does not
reside in some "possible world" within my cards in the
just waiting to be played. But whether or not the game is
a game when it is actually being played, is a question I will
in either way, because I need only claim that something is
game if it has the capacity to be played as a game. Though some
are needed, these rules cannot be stringently tight as to
no "play" of possible moves. Even "ring-around-the-rosy",
has no evident goal, except maybe to be fun, could not be a
if the "players" were demanded to move in a strict fashion.
Hitler, or the military sergeant, ordering children (or
to skip in a certain fashion. This is not a game! It's a
or a dance practice. And it's not not-a-game just because
is not amusing to the players, especially if there are under
threat, but the reason it is not a game is because there
no "play of moves".
What about the game of business, which could also be called by its functional name of the game of making money, or shall we say the game of serving consumers for some compensation? Why would I call this a game? Obviously such a use of the word `game' in this context was originally a kind of metaphor, or an association of some feature of games (as those things/activities known as such at that time). If I had never heard the statement that business is a game, I could only make sense of this by already knowing `something' essential about games that I do know. Now, I might think the statement refers to business as amusing or just frivolous, but that is not necessarily the meaning, though it could be, because these are not the essential, necessary features of games in general (just possible ones, of certain kinds of games). What makes business a game, or what makes the metaphor of game ultimately meaningful in the context of business, is that business is played in the same essential manner that all games are played. Not necessarily competitive, nor necessarily amusingly, but in the essential sense of there being possible moves to be made, and at least in this case, and in the case of all games if we were to impose a more rigid definition, there is an aim to the game with consequential better or worse practical moves. The case of `the game of life' could be seen a like manner.
that I have brought out the notion of a more rigid
possible. I think all games also necessarily have
and that those so-called exceptions to this rule of use
not rightly be called games. I do not have to claim such a
in order to back up my former arguments, which only
to there being at least some rule or necessary condition
all things being what they are known to be. I only claim here
one could make a more strict necessary requirement in the
use of `game'. This particular addition, that all games have
aim or goal to be played `for', would only really rule out a
strange aberrations of games. But then again, maybe even such
game as `ring-around-the-rosy' has the aim for children of being
orderly, social and amusing activity. The aim here may not
competition toward the winning of some end, but the aim
be amusement itself. Even the game of life is not a `game' if
is not implied here some immanent goal, whether it be
enjoyment or mere survival. People just do not state
things, or such metaphors, without these implied meanings.
But I have still not yet made my point here, which has to do with the possible contradiction between right use of language and found use of language. What are we asking in this study? Surely, the point to be made about such things, or words of reference, is not merely to empirically discover all the many ways people use a given word. To argue against my claim that all games have such and such in common by giving me unusual examples of contradictory uses is not an argument against me. If you say that there is this game which cannot be played, or which does not have any rules whatsoever, nor any choices; then I must ask you why in hell do you call it a game? Of course certain possible characteristics of games have been associated with other activities and so the word `game' has been used metaphorically, as in "stop making a game of this!" which really means "stop making fun of it".
There may be many people who use words incorrectly, just as there are many "street philosophers" walking around Santa Cruz mumbling nonsense. If I have no chance of knowing what you are talking about, or no possibility of rightly interpreting what you mean or imply by statements, then language just doesn't make sense or is not functioning correctly. How else can I know what implications come with your use of the word `game', or how else can I at all understand your metaphorical use of the word, if there is not at least some standard analytical meaning and/or empirical paradigm? Again, I am not interested here in all the uses that idiots or mental patients might use of the word. But on the other hand, I am not merely interested in selling what I think is the right use and somehow indoctrinating people in this way. What I'm interested in is the genealogy of these things or words, or in what is their root intention. Artifacts, such as tables, word-processors, curtains, fences, houses, etc, do have intentionally functional uses and here is where their meaning or essence belong. Games are a bit different than things, because they refer more to the kind of activity involved than the physical object. Life, business, conversation, can all be games, as well as cards, football, or monopoly, but all these must be playable for them to be coherently called games. One conclusion here is that word-uses Should, in order to be com-sensical, have some general rules of use, though not so tight as to disallow any creative play of metaphor or extended, associative use.
Then, the question might arise as to the sufficiency of such essential definitions or rules of use. Obviously, just because I describe something as having the capacity for placing things on, does not necessarily mean it is a table. That is, the given functional definition here is not sufficient for a thing to always be a table. And yet, in one sense it IS sufficient, as well as necessary. It is NOT sufficient of a condition that I Must call this thing-in-question a table, but it IS sufficient of a condition that I Could call this a table. The sufficient condition should not be confused with a necessary consequence; it makes a possible consequence sufficient but not necessary. The same applies to games. Any activity that satisfies my essential requirements for games - which is that it has the capacity to be played, meaning that different moves are possible for the player within the boundaries of some known rules - IS sufficient to be called a game, but not necessarily required to be called such. Communication or social interaction games, such as "family games", can be seen as games because they generally satisfy the requirement. This does not necessarily imply that they are "fun" or "healthy" or "functional" or "disfunctional". There are different kinds of family games (which themselves are different kinds of games) and each of these may have its own particular defining psychological characteristics, such as "disfunctional" (which is quite a generalization in itself, like neurotic), or "manipulative", or "placating".
descriptive word is a type of generalization. Tables,
curtains, and fences are less general than games,
nonetheless speak of general kinds, of which there are most
many sub-kinds or different kinds of those things. Thus,
is a family of sorts. But this is not what Wittgenstein had
mind. His family with "family resemblances" does not
have any one characteristic in common, but can claim
some members share some characteristics while others share
ones, and there is plenty of possible overlap, but there is
definite way to classify these sub-groups because of the
of overlap. This sounds appealing in the face of many
words having multiple uses. But, though the theory has some
it is found to be mostly incorrect by my arguments. I have
made valid and empirically correct arguments that
must, by definition, have essential functional
Such "phenomenological artifacts", for lack of a better word, such as `games' must necessarily, by correct definition, involve or imply a kind of activity and often a kind of attitude. Any use of the word which does not is not a meaningful use of the word, even if it's a metaphor. Give me an example as an argument! And yet, this "essence" of all games, which should not be thought of as some kind of ingredient (which Wittgenstein and Quine seem to think I have to commit to here) since it is not a `something' within these things, whether tables or games, but is a necessary [functional] relation between activity and substance.
Once we have established the foundation or root meaning of all games, or anything for that matter, we can then look at the different kinds of games, and see what essential characteristics each of these kinds have in common, or if there is only one example of the type then let's see what necessary characteristic it possess. There are board games, card games, computer games, family games, business games, and there is even the game of life (however vague this is). I think that at least one essential characteristic of each kind here is obvious, that is, board games all involve boards and the game of life necessarily involves life. So, each kind of kind has its own defining characteristics, just as the balding members of the family all have the balding capacity. No one could deny there being some requirements of each set. Yes, there are different kinds of coffee mugs: tall ones, short ones, glass ones, ceramic ones, etc. These are the different kinds, or sub-categories, of "coffee mugs", all of which must have the capacity to hold coffee, and all of which must either be intended to be used this way or are used this way in spite of whatever it was originally intended to be used for. The more I say about this coffee mug the more you know and the better you can make right categorial connections with other mugs. The more general description about all coffee mugs may not help you know very much, except that it is a coffee mug that I speak about. Again, people may use words vaguely, or we might say that some words have ambiguous meanings implied, and these ambiguities can only be cleared up through some means beyond the word/sign itself. One can agree with Wittgenstein that any general definition is not sufficient to know exactly what one means. But how obvious! The general meaning is general. It's a start. Now, in order to understand the more specific kind of coffee mug, or the more specific kind of game, one needs to know more specifics! And if this is not spelled out explicitly in the discourse, then I have to interpret it by the context of the whole discourse, or by the context of the question which originated the discourse. Lastly, I want to take a more difficult example, that of art, in order to clarify my answer to certain misunderstandings and problems. I will claim for now that all art has an essential, necessary characteristic of having the capacity to be experienced aesthetically. I claim that it is not art if there is not at least one experiencer, whether it be the observer, listener, critic, or artist herself, who could have an aesthetic experience given some minimum contemplation on the so-called art piece. This is the minimum necessary requirement. But the problem here is in the sufficiency of the definition. I claim the above to be a necessary condition. I also claim that it is sufficient, in the sense that if an experiencer DOES have an aesthetic experience then the object in question must be art, or a "work of art", no matter what the original intention was, or whether it is thought by everyone else to be just a tractor. One problem here is that all I can now claim about this piece of work is that it stimulates an aesthetic experience for one person, so all I can say is that it is art to him but not to everyone else. That's fine to say, but not if we are looking for a more universal agreement about art. Of course, that may be all we CAN rightly say about art, that nothing is art for everyone, or each has their own experience as to what is or is not art. Our wish is to say more though. But even if I can say more, or if I can better universalize the answer, I still can NOT deny anyone's claim about some piece of work stimulating an aesthetic experience about it. I certainly cannot say that person is Wrong, or fooling himself, though I can question what he means by "aesthetic experience" and decide if this is the same as what I mean.
To base an essential definition on vague subjective experiences seems almost fruitless, since no one could ever be proven wrong. Also, the recognition of art would always be posterior to the aesthetic experience, such that any given piece would not be art until it stimulated an aesthetic response, for how else can one for sure know that it is capable of doing so until it shows that it can! Thus, the problems with my first trial definition seem to great to be workable. But before moving on I shall make the minor claim that if one has an aesthetic experience in view of a given work-piece, then there is at least some aesthetic aspect to that piece. This drops the claim of the presence of art, but retains the validation of the experiencer. Now, let's move on.
Let's try to tie the aesthetic experience to the other end. Now, I claim that a work-piece is art if and only if it is intended to stimulate an aesthetic experience. Maybe you reply that my definition still rests too heavily on this vague notion of aesthetic experience. But I claim this to be unavoidable. Isn't the aesthetic experience a fundamental intention or purpose of art? So you reply that not all art is intended for such an experience, let alone capable of stimulating such an experience. And I counter that it SHOULD. Let's first deal with this kind of disagreement. For the time being let's set aside the question of whether or not the intention of aesthetic experience is a sufficient condition for art.
I want to make it clear that I am NOT interested in finding what is common to all those worked pieces which anyone, whether the artists, the critics or audience, CAN or DO call art. That's just an empirical finding. They could be wrong, misguided, or just aesthetically blind! I would want to know WHY they found such kinds of pieces artistic. When I ask for the essence of art, I am not asking for a kind of botanical study. The normative question cannot be eliminated here. Almost necessarily implied in my question is the question of what is good art. What am I going to allow to be called by the Name of Art? Just like the question of what is a table, or any artifact, what kind of thing does the word `art' refer to is just to imply why we use that word, or what the word is Intended to denote. Art is not an accidental occurrence; there is some intention behind it. In the creation of art there is some aim intended, whether it be for an audience or just the artist. So, we need to discover this essential aim or intention, and this shall be the measuring rod of value; and in general it shall be the necessary measuring rod of art itself.
Now we can ask if aesthetic experience IS what art should intend. Again, asking what art DOES intend, or what is the common intention of all art, is to beg the question into a circularity, because we are then studying so-called art-pieces (classified as art by whom?) to find what is art. But then one might question my valuing the normative over the descriptive. What qualifies me to tell others what is art? And what if my normative definition excludes much of what is commonly called art? These are good questions. First, my claim of art-essence is not founded upon my own reputation, nor long-lived experience, but it is founded upon logic and experience, and all I can hope is to convince others. Second, if my definition did exclude too much so-called art, then I think it is too rigid for practical purposes. What we ideally want is a definition which is not too inclusive as to include all candidates, just as it would become meaningless to allow all intended actions into the defined class of "moral acts". To say that a piece is artistic, or that a work is art, should, for language sake, not just be equal to saying that all pieces are artistic or that all works are [fundamentally, down deep] art. Then again, we do not want a definition too exclusive as to exclude most candidates, because then we might just need to classify all those failed candidates into some other named set. Now we can see that what we want is to say as much about the art ideal as possible without saying too much. We certainly are not looking for a definition of the "best kind of art". What we want is the minimum requirement for art, the essence, the absolute necessary and sufficient and nothing else. Then from here we can make further value claims as to what is good art, better art, or great art.
Now back to my revised claim, that something is art only if it is intended to evoke an aesthetic experience. This seems to vague in light of what I just said. This would mean that all candidates of art be recognized as art. Maybe in this case vagueness is best, and here we find a respect for the creator's intentions and feelings. Let's say a small child is attempting to communicate some feelings via painting. He is satisfied upon completion and hands it to me. Should I declare to the kid that this is NOT art! Sorry kid but this is not good enough to be even called art, let alone good art. In fact, if we did want to consider highly the common usage of the word `art' I think the general meaning would be basically my claim, or at least the claim that art is art if it is intended to be art. But the definition that art is art if intended to be art is the kind of folk-style ambiguity and circularity that philosophy is supposed to clear away. This kind of thinking began when some parent or teacher handed you some paper and crayons and said, "Now `we' are going to do art". Philosophy surely wants to progress beyond this. So at least my tying art into the intention of aesthetic experience is a progression. It doesn't seem to be a great step forward, and yet many aestheticians would think it is too rigid. "Woo, let's not go That far." Well then, how far can you go; that art is art if it is called art? Nominalism just doesn't say much.
So, let's consider again my proposal that the necessary and sufficient justification of art be that it is at least intended as an aesthetic experience. Is this too inclusive or too exclusive? First, what exactly IS an aesthetic experience. Please don't say, over Wittgenstein's dead body, it is that which art evokes. What we need here is the essence of this experience, the necessary and sufficient conditions for this experience to be aesthetic. Wittgenstein might jump in and declare that there is nothing essential about all aesthetic experiences; there are just family resemblances. Well then give me some resemblances! Some will say it feels like a lump in the throat, others feel a warming in the heart centre, others get a flash in the head, others get a tingle in their genitals, for others their blood pressure rises; then again, others may not have any felt response, but only an intellectual "gratification" or understanding; and so on. If there are such a thing as family resemblances I would think they would be here. Some responses certainly resemble one another, and some responses do go together, but not always in the same grouping, and it could be this complexity of overlapping that qualifies it to be a family resemblance. But, the question arises as to why any of these responses were called aesthetic experiences in the first place! Maybe only one or a few of these responses are actually aesthetic experiences, while the others, however real we accept them to be, are another kind of experience. Come to think of it, all that we Could know is that these are different experiences, so why on earth should we lump them together in the first place and call them a "family?" Why call them all aesthetic experience? Look closely and see the problem with the family resemblance concept. I should only call them all aesthetic experiences if they DO all have something in common; otherwise I should humbly only refer to them as different kinds of general experience, grouped according to that kind of feeling or intellectual experience. So now I am left with empirical findings, describing different physiological and intellectual responses, and I am supposed to somehow tell which one or ones qualify under the title of aesthetic experience, without knowing the essence of aesthetic experience, without knowing what that experience is besides the empirical evidence before me. I am supposed to bridge the gap between empirical findings and ideal-concept, between experiences and definitions. This is truly a circular puzzle. If empiricism doesn't ultimately solve the problem, then let's try some kind of logic, though we can't go too far from experience.
I will propose that the aesthetic experience is fundamentally opposite to the practical experience. The practical experience can be defined as experiencing things or events in reference to some use. In other words, I normally experience this table as a useful thing, or my fence as useful, or my car as useful. My experience involves some kind of purposeful activity to do with these objects, or the intention to use these objects in some useful way. In this manner of experiencing, the objects of my experience are seen in the light of, in the context of, practical activity. I look at the clouds and I see potential rain with the implication that my body may get cold and wet. I am looking at things with some practical purpose directing my attention. But the aesthetic experience is fundamentally contrasted to this. Here, the practical attending of the practical experience is either suspended or just not there. Here, one looks at things for no ulterior purpose other than just viewing them for what they are. It is experience without any attending practical baggage, and without any background of purposeful activity, except maybe to just experience the uniqueness or beauty of the object. If we can speak of an intention here we should qualify it as an attitudenal intension to find what is revealed there, without thought of using this experience as information or data in one's practical activities. The aesthetic experience needs also to be contrasted with intellectual, scientific deductions and inductions. A scientific experience is different than the practical experience, because it too must suspend or do without the practical stance, in order to discover facts about things or theories about facts. The scientific stance looks at the clouds and "sees" water molecules coalescing in a certain way. The scientific experience of the Mona Lisa is a recognition of the quality of paint, or the material constitution of the painted canvas, or maybe even the historical context of the artist. So, in contrast to both practical and scientific experience, aesthetic experience is an experience wholly its own. My suggestion (or my experience) is that it is an experience of complete absorption into the visual image or into the music, without practical or scientific thought. It is when the object of experience completely fills one's consciousness, when one loses identity within it, when one is totally enraptured by the emotional evocation of that simply interpreted content. Anyways, this is merely a suggestion as to what the aesthetic experience might be about. Whether or not this is even close to what the aesthetic experience is about, that is, to what we should count as an aesthetic experience, is open to debate, for I may have merely poorly described just one kind of experience amongst a plurality of possibilities. So, given the inherent difficulty of getting at the essence of aesthetic experience, or coming to some agreement on which kind of experience IS aesthetic, my proposed definition seems too problematic. Still, I think there is something essential to be said. Am I bull-headed or what?
Without further ado, let me now suggest that art must necessarily have originality and be at least intended to communicate some idea/thought or emotion/feeling. Thus, art is a non-verbal, [written/spoken] -language-independent original form of expression, of which the word `expression' implies the intention to reveal some idea or feeling, either in conscious response to world-experience or as a creative dream or ideal from the psyche womb. This would be the necessary and sufficient condition of art, and the judgement of art's value would be the dual judgement as to 1) the value of this particular response to the world-as-manifested or of this particular vision of possible world-experience, and 2) the ability of this medium expression in the evocation of the artist's experience. Or as some might say, the judgement of both content and technique, maybe viewed both separately and together.