SMPT Notes: Joseph Lowell

Joseph Lowell was a philosopher I wasn’t familiar with at all. He was speaking on creation, artisanship and creation ex nihilo. However the fundamental topic he was after was aesthetics. I didn’t take as many notes first because I’ll fully confess I know only enough about the philosophy of aesthetics to be dangerous. There’s a lot I’m ignorant of. Second because most of Lowell’s approach was via process theology and Whitehead. While there’s a lot in Whitehead I agree with, overall I just don’t buy his system. I do acknowledge he’s been really a significant influence in many thinkers like Blake Ostler. I confess I just have problems with Whitehead. That said we had some fantastic discussions in the Q&A. I really hope to read more from Joseph.

A lot of the talk was a primer on Whitehead to situate things. The basic idea is that for any entity the whole is more than the sum of its parts. He appealed to G. E. Moore on this point as well (although Moore applied it primarily to ethics as I recall). This means that in an act of creation as organization there’s always a gap between the thing created and its parts.

Aesthetics ends up being tied to how the consciousness of a thing plus the thing itself is more than just the consciousness and the thing. That ‘gap’ in creation allows aesthetics to be more.

He then ties this to value noted that our bodies plus creation is an unique synthesis. Looking at the infinite universe there are an infinite number of entities that can be combined with each other in an infinite number of ways, each combination producing something new. Yet not all are of the same value. Because of this whole being more than the sum of its parts value can’t be seen as merely functional.

Lowell then went to a part that I confess I didn’t fully understand despite asking a few questions about it. This is almost certainly my fault due to not being as familiar with Whitehead on aesthetics. He wants to say that there is a certain memesis (copying or memory) in creation. That is when we create artfully we are copying Christ’s creations in some way. To create in a Christlike fashion is to create beauty. If I have him right (and I may not) the degree of value in a creation is tied to how closely it resembles a Christian creation.

I brought up the classic Platonic conception of aesthetics where beauty is tied to nemesis and representing beauty. That is to the degree art manifests the forms it is beautiful. This is then tied to the Good because for Plato (and many others) the Beautiful and the Good are one. So you are ultimately always copying the forms.

He didn’t really like this idea, primarily because of the types of art Plato devalues. I actually agree with him there – Plato devalue practical arts in a way I just can’t agree with. It’s interesting contrasting Plato’s conception of art with say the Zen Buddhist conception of art which can be manifest in such practical things as a tea ceremony, archery, calligraphy or martial arts. However it seems to me he misses that essential element of getting closer to the good in Plato. The question then becomes is good art is mimicking in varying degrees Christ’s creation, what makes Christ’s creation good? He fully admitted he didn’t have a good answer for that.

I think someone, maybe Lowell, pointed to the previous session with Brown as a possible solution. That’s an interesting approach since Brown had an infinite regress of Gods in an essentially hierarchal genealogy as grounding being. In that case what grounds aesthetics as valuable or good is an essential regress of Gods. So we copy Christ’s creation. He copy’s the Father’s creation who copies his Father’s creation and so on. I confess I don’t find that satisfactory for a variety of reasons. But again, I’m pretty ignorant here.