Talons Philosophy

An Open Online Highschool Philosophy Course


The Aesthetic Experience™ is when you can sing every single part to Rose Gold by Pentatonix at once -Benedict Mendes

Aesthetics. It’s a word that, before the philosophy unit in this class, I didn’t have a lot of experience with. It was, for me, associated with heavily filtered images of snow on Tumblr blogs and “oddly satisfying” videos of bath bombs, but after learning more about this topic in the philosophical sense it became infinitely more interesting.

So, the question here is, what is my personal aesthetic. Well, as it turns out that’s a pretty good (and complicated) question. As you might have seen in Katie Crompton’s post (shout out) I was a part of her aesthetics photo shoot, and in that we were asked to choose the first word that came into our head when we heard the term “beauty”. My word was “Flow”, and here’s the picture:

Photo creds to Katie Crompton (Ignore the fact that I look like I have just unashamedly killed someone)

Now, it was pretty difficult to find a single word that encompassed what I found to be aesthetically pleasing, but I feel like this does it some justice. The reason I picked “Flow” is that I find any kind of art most pleasing when each part of the art piece meaningfully and effectively leads to the next. It keeps you enticed into continuing to immerse yourself into the art piece, whatever it may be. Pieces of art that are disconcerting and jarring take you away from the actual art and back into the real world, which for me devalues the experiment. It’s almost like the way we view the world is completely different from the way we view art, and that they can be separated from each other which leads to authentic aesthetic experiences. Which leads me to a more clear definition of what is aesthetic to me, an experience that evokes emotion and keeps you immersed and attentive which can be appreciated separately from the “real” world around you. As for the purpose of art, it can be whatever the artist intends it to be, but it can also be whatever the observer wants it to be. These two things are not mutually exclusive, as it can satisfy both the purposes that the observer and the artist have for it at the same time. This means art is extremely diverse, and also that art cannot be objectively judged because everyone will experience different emotions when exposed to it.


This can be boiled down to “art must make you feel something, must keep your attention, and must be considered separately from everything else”. This view is similar to Kant’s view that art is autonomous and should not be judged in comparison to anything else, which I agree with. Comparing pieces of art to anything else is not doing the piece itself justice, because they were not created (usually) to be compared to anything. In terms of art being valued by how it captures your attention, this is supported by the paper “The Aesthetic Experience” that we read by Colin Leath, in which he states that “Concentration is the only universal defining characteristic of aesthetic experience”. I perhaps would not fully agree with it being the only universal characteristic, but I would agree with it being an extremely significant part of one’s experience with art.


Now, how does all this tie in with my winter break experiences? Well, not over winter break, but a tiny bit before, I went to see the annual Vancouver Symphony Orchestra Christmas Concert and it was absolutely fantastic. I was amazed by the quality of the players in the orchestra, and of course of the singers in the choir as well. The music was of course excellent, but what elevated the entire experience even more was that the transitions between pieces were smooth and kept the audience enthralled. The host was Christopher Gaze, an amazing actor and artistic director, and also apparently an exceptional host. Between each song he would read short Christmas stories, or excerpts from them and they seemed to pair together with the music so well that the experience was never truly interrupted. There was never a moment in which I was detached from the experience and more invested in the real world rather than the music, it was a truly satisfying experience. Also, as an additional note, the VSO actually played the same arrangement of “Sleigh Ride” as our school did last year, of course they absolutely obliterated us, but there’s something very satisfying (at least I think) in hearing a professional group play a piece you have played before, because it’s almost like “wow that could be me one day”.


But that pretty much sums up what I think about aesthetics and the way I approach it. It’s something I could talk about forever really, but there has to be a limit somewhere. I will leave you with one of my favourite songs, as per the title, Rose Gold by Pentatonix:




Attention: Millennials May Not Be Self-Obsessed Robots – Katie Crompton

We’ve all heard the stereotypes of millennials. That we are vain slaves for social media who only find joy in amounts of followers we have or likes we get, but guess what, we are humans too! I know, crazy right? It’s these stereotypes that sparked the idea for this project. For my aesthetic experience, I decided to explore how my generation defines beauty and how the presence of social media has changed that definition. I have always been fascinated by beauty standards and how different people define beauty and I thought this would be the perfect opportunity to explore this concept while also using my creative side and taking a series of portraits that attempt to portray that idea.

The Process

The first step to this project was getting people on board. By doing this I made this survey (feel free to fill it out if you feel like it and have some time to kill) and sent it to multiple Facebook groups (mainly to theatre kids because we don’t shy away from opportunities to be in front of a camera) and asked people to fill it out. The most important question on the survey was “what is the first word that comes to mind when someone says the word, ‘beauty?” The word they chose would ultimately be painted on their face for the photos. I ended up getting 25 responses to the survey and 12 people split between 2 days who were available to take part in a photo shoot. I had a backdrop and lights set up and an array of baked goods I used as payment and bribery. I’m very proud of the finished product. The photos have not been retouched as I feel like it would create a barrier and defeat the purpose of this project. Anyway, here is a slide show of the finished photos!!

(There’s no sound because I’m boring and didn’t have time…yay)

The Outcome

From doing this project, I have come to the conclusion that my generation generally views beauty as something completely unrelated to someone’s physical appearance. Words like individual, compassion, internal, unique, and kindness were extremely prevalent. These are the words of some people who chose to give some additional comments regarding beauty at the end of the survey:

“Learning to believe you are beautiful is more important than getting told you are beautiful.” – Hira Lalani

“I am a firm believer that beauty begins at the heart, for traits such as compassion and kindness truly reveal one’s beauty and take precedence over physical appearance.” – Waleed Hakeem

“Beauty isn’t something you can necessarily see through the means of Instagram or Snapchat; beauty defines a person as a whole – not just their appearance.” – Claire Lundin

Though there was the common theme of beauty not solely being a physical thing, physical beauty still seems to be something of great importance. When asked “on a scale of 1-10, how important is physical appearance to you?”, 28% of people said 6 and another 28% said 7. Though physical beauty may not be the most important thing to our generation, it still has a fairly large impact on our daily lives. Then social media comes into the picture. One of the questions on the survey was, “on a scale of 1-10, how much do you care about how many likes you get/followers you have?” If we go with the stereotypes, the average answers would expectedly be anywhere from an 8 to a 10. In actuality, the majority of people (24%) said 4, hence the introduction. Social media has become a gigantic part of every day life, but that doesn’t mean it has made us more narcissistic. It has changed society a great deal, but not necessarily in the terrible, revolutionary way that older generations may see it.

Okay, how the heck does this relate to philosophy?

Because I am dealing with a large group of people, it’s impossible to say my whole generation’s view is just like *insert philosophers name here*, and the majority of the answers that I got on the survey don’t really connect to any particular philosopher we have talked about anyway. If we’re to generalize how this generation sees beauty from my findings, we could say that we believe that internal beauty is much more valuable than physical beauty, but this isn’t really what the philosophers we have studied talk about. They mainly talk about art and beauty in the physical sense. There is one particular question that creates a connection to a couple of the philosophers we have talked about. As i stated before, the most important question in the survey is “what is the first word that comes to mind when someone says the word, “beauty?”, which is why this is the one that I wanted to have a visual representation of. Even though 25 people filled out this survey, there was only one word that was repeated. The vast majority of people all had a different answer. This supports Descartes ideas of beauty being in the eye of the beholder and this quote from Hume found on this page on the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

“Beauty is no quality in things themselves: It exists merely in the mind which contemplates them; and each mind perceives a different beauty. One person may even perceive deformity, where another is sensible of beauty; and every individual ought to acquiesce in his own sentiment, without pretending to regulate those of others.” (Hume 1757, 136)

All in all, this project showed me how beauty is subjective and that it comes from the heart (I know, super cheesy, but it’s my truth). If you have kind and welcoming personality, you will be seen as beautiful by many. Also, millennials are 100% not robots.

Worldle representing all the words people said came to their mind when they thought of beauty



Would You Like To Hear Me Stumble Over My Words Over A Bad-Quality Recording? Here You Go!

Here is said recording for all your listening pleasures.

And this is the painting I mention:

View post on imgur.com



Katherine: my mom said to stop saying gay to everything so this post is a hetero™ post

Normally, I’m not always a big believer in honesty. but I’ll be honest here: the Aesthetics unit was the most confusing thing I’ve ever experienced. Maybe it was because I was expecting it to be easy; Epistemology and Metaphysics sound waaaaaay out of my league, but Aesthetics? I think about that stuff everyday. Should be easy!

It Was Not Easy.

To start, it took me awhile to come up with my own definition of aesthetics, or what I think an aesthetic experience is. To start, here are some of my beliefs: I believe that you cannot fully tell you are having an aesthetic experience until it is over. It would take away from the moment. In paying direct attention to what you are doing, it break the experience. Two things that really intrigued me were concentration and distance. The idea that staring at a pretty sky or a field of flowers and being distant from it, not overly concentrating but just taking the peace and thinking it is pretty,w as totally new. Contrast that to the idea that an aesthetic experience requires complete immersion, all of one’s focus and concentration, and you can understand why I was confused for a while.

Both distraction and complete concentration bring you a kind of peace. Distraction and distance take your brain away and give it peace, and complete concentration removes all distractions and also leaves a kind of peace. Even the experience of say, bungee jumping, or seeing a rock concert, could be considered peaceful while exciting. It’s pretty hard to think of grocery lists while you are bungee jumping, and an exciting rock concert leave you fully immersed in the music. Either way, they are freeing your mind from distraction.

Does that make sense? No? Too bad, we’re moving on.

Old White Dudes Weigh In: Plato

Let me say this: Plato is one of my least favorite philosophers. Ever since the whole concept of “Plato’s Forms” came into this class, he’s lost me. But I was googling aesthetics, I learned something funny about him: while to him, beauty is one of the greatest goods, and art is one of the greatest dangers. As I had always thought of them as the two major parts of aesthetics, I couldn’t understand why he had such differing opinions on them.

Art and beauty are both subjective. There is no way around it. Everyone’s’ pinions on art and beauty are influenced by their environment, their upbringing, their exposure to the world. You can argue that there are some things that are “universally beautiful”, but I contest that. There will always be someone who disagrees.

Beauty, at its base, is something “pleasing to the eye”, something that fires off positive synapses in your brain. Why do people sometimes say “beautiful disasters” and the like? Because you can find beauty in something being destroyed. Watch a fire roar over a forest, or watch a tornado sweep through a town; devastating, but with form, and precision, and clean lines.

Old (usually) White Dudes Weigh In: Confucius

Of all the philosophers, I’m quite fond of Confucius his opinions on art and beauty are quite similar to mine: they are highly important to society. He always emphasized the role of the arts and humanities, especially music and poetry, in helping human nature and bringing us back to the essentials of philosophy.

Now, I also tend to believe that an aesthetic experience is also a state of mind. You can look at something while in a bad mood and purposely find it ugly. Take one of my aesthetic experiences for example: putting on makeup. (Yes, I know how that sounds lemme explain) If I look at myself in the mirror while im in a bad mood, all I see are my flaws. I can pick apart every part of my face and find ways to hate myself. As I put on makeup, I can see myself as trying to hide how I look because I hate it, I can hate how the makeup looks on me, there are an infinite number of ways to make this a shitty and un-aesthetic time for me. But when I concentrated, looked at myself in the mirror and tried to find all the things I liked about myself, I could make the things I hated into, you guessed it, aesthetic experiences. As I paid close attention to what I was doing with the makeup, thinking of art and beauty and deeply concentrating (hey, I connected it to the paragraph above!), I found an aesthetic experience.

Art can be beautiful, but can Beauty be art?

Can you turn any experience into an Aesthetic Experience if you try?

Can you answer any of my other thousands of questions that I won’t post here but I might comment them because theya re bugging me????




Someone call the aesthetic police, I’m having a meltdown by: Ashlee Ahn

Summer of 2016, it was a crisis. An endless internal agony that couldn’t be traced back to its origin and this is what I call the “Aesthetic Meltdown 1.0”. I went on to delete all my pictures on Instagram because I didn’t consider them to be, “aesthetically pleasing”. I couldn’t grasp what beauty was, I couldn’t narrow down a single, “theme” that would define me in a visual aspect. I went on to find the answer in Google. “How to make Instagram photos aesthetic”, “Aesthetic themes” and my questions were all focused on finding a single answer, but my question now is, “Was that the right approach?”. Was I searching for a personal answer, by asking no one, but me? My days spent crying and purchasing photo editing apps from the App store are now nothing, but regret, yet one thing I did surmount is that such agony stemmed from my false approach: I tried to limit my aesthetic and definition of beauty into one defining feature.

In order to find my aesthetic, I tried to create my personal definition of aesthetics. The dictionary definition of aesthetics is: an adjective, concerned with beauty or the appreciation of beauty. This definition gives off an underlying message that there exists a universal definition of beauty, but like 16th century philosopher, Descartes argued, isn’t beauty in the eye of the beholder? Being the visually driven and avid photographer I am, I decided that a way to approach such dilemma was to find a correlation between all the photos that I took which I quite appreciated. Back then, my answer was something among the lines of, “they all seem to have a similar level of brightness and a reoccurring hue in its tint”.

Looking back at all the photos and now (hopefully) having a broader view of aesthetics, I believe that such photos were able to bring me back to the emotion in which I felt then, because there is a distinct similarity within the experience I had when taking them. The photos do not exist to be a beauty of its own, in the external world this may be true, but to me it’s a personal memorial that links me back to the emotions I once felt. The amount of contentment it brings me, I believe, has a direct relation to the beauty of the moment I shared with my loved ones in beautiful places. Like how aesthetics in Buddhism, the Zen art possesses central values of, “simplicity, the spirituality of the ordinary, and genuineness of heart”; they put the focal point on the mind of the maker much more than its finished product.  In the end, the emphasis lies much on the nostalgia it manages to bring me, more than the way it’s edited.

I define aesthetics to be a choice; an aesthetic experience is highly dependent on the mindset of one. I previously focused on the physicality and the theme of the photographs I took when in reality, what was evoking me was the emotions it induced in me. An aesthetic experience was defined as a, “pleasurable and desirable experience” that is “[characterised] by a concentration originating in the organism causing it to perceive its environment” by Colin Leath, which I go in parallel to, with the addition of there being a definite intention. If anything that is “pleasurable and desirable” with there being absolute no intention to cause change, then it can be personally labelled as an, “aesthetic experience”. I will add on to such argument with some personal experiences I had over the winter break. I interned at a law firm located in Downtown for a week, and such experience was life changing. I got to meet highly educated people, broaden my perspective, and of course, enjoy the mesmerizing view of Robson on the 28th floor every day; that exact experience I would never trade for anything, nor do I wish it would have been any different. However, regarding the level of concentration and pleasure there was, I do not regard this to be an, “aesthetic experience”, because I believe there was no intention within me to seek a form of tangible and or, visually appealing factor. My intention was to grow as a person and to make lasting connections in the field of career I was interested in, not to create visually appealing keystones of what I considered to be, “beautiful”. To me, aesthetic, or an aesthetic experience can only exist when there is that internal consent; an agreement to either create beauty from an average “it”, or the pursuit of beauty.

Thinking back to my trip to Victoria with our close family friends, or one of the many photo shoots I went with my pals, I believe it is a perfect example of when my intention was the core of the aesthetic experience. I remember those moments to be the way they are today, because of my purpose to grasp beauty and make it last with my camera; with such purpose there was an absence of willingness to change the situation, and my emotions I still commit to memory. The Japanese philosophy, mono no aware: pathos of the awareness of surroundings; there is depth with their cultural appreciation towards the gratitude towards the moment. In addition to such belief, the intention of the experience when coexisting with the awareness of the environment is the distinction between what is an aesthetic experience versus a simply happy moment.

So why couldn’t I settle on one single defining theme of beauty? Because of the unconscious definition I had of aesthetics, or an aesthetic experience, I struggled to restrict my emotions into one physicality. My emotions, opinions, thoughts, style, and everything about me was constantly evolving and there was no way that my definition of beauty or what I consider to be beautiful to stay the same as well. Just like how the classical Japanese philosophy has a paradigm of our reality to be a constant change (Buddhist expression: impermanence), there was no stable answer to the broad question.

With my previous definition of aesthetics being on the final product, I failed to understand one of the main attributes that existed in all of my work: my fullest intent of longing to seek beauty, as well as the emotions I felt in that very moment. The Buddha once said that what you feel, you attract; aesthetic experience is a state of mind in which the person can conquer with the right approach.

(You probably don’t care, but if you were wondering, this is the very reason as to why I never post on my main Instagram account).

((all original photos, by me!))



“Beauty is how you feel inside, and it reflects in your eyes. It is not something physical.” ― Sophia Loren

Why are we drawn to aesthetics? After researching I believe some truth can be found in “beauty is in the eye of the beholder”. Yet many could insist that there is a difference between good/bad taste,that there is something defective about the aesthetic enjoyments of one who claims that the music of one Britney Spears is of a higher quality than Beethoven. At the very least, we must consider the possibility of aesthetic development (improvement in one’s taste), as a direct correlation of experience or lack there of. We have all had the “epiphany” experience of finding and appreciating aesthetic qualities to which we were previously blind. “Practice makes perfect,” for the audience as well as the performer. But with progress comes an ideal; not just any change will do, it must be change in the right direction.

In order to avoid subjectivism, it need only be the case that some perspectives are formally superior to others, thus paving the way for idealization. We may then secure objectivity by noting that our actual opinions may not aline those we would hold under idealization. If reality could grant individual ideality without convergence, this means that aesthetic values are both objective and relative.

Not all that related but interesting: Last night I sat down and watched a video called “Cat Poem”, in short it describes how great cats are as well as the science behind why people find them so lovable and cute. To sum up what was said; cats have evolved to be adopted by us (their meows even have evolved to imitate a human baby crying so we have the need to give them attention! Behind aesthetics lies a variety of scientific, psychological, and human nature entities but in conclusion “cats have lil squishy paws” so we love them.



Beau·ty: a combination of qualities that pleases the aesthetic senses…

Beauty: noun (plural beauties)

[MASS NOUN] A combination of qualities, such as shape, colour, or form, that pleases the aesthetic senses, especially the sight: ‘I was struck by her beauty’ or ‘an area of outstanding natural beauty’


But why does beauty exist? What’s the point of marveling at a Gogh masterpiece or a orchestration by Beethoven?

“Starry Night Over the Rhone”

To paraphrase Auden, beauty makes nothing happen. Unlike our more primal indulgences, the pleasure of witnessing beauty doesn’t ensure that we consume calories or procreate. Rather, the only thing beauty guarantees is that we’ll stare for too long at something aesthetically pleasing. I tend to view beauty as a branch of curiosity that exists only in response to sensation, not just input information. It’s the click that happens when we glance at something and, even though we can’t explain why, want to see more. But here’s something I learnt in my time researching today: the hook of beauty, like the hook of curiosity, is a response to an incompleteness within us. It’s what happens when we can’t help but feel something missing, when there’s a unresolved gap. Like when a puzzle is almost complete, but you can’t find the last piece. In relevance to this sense I’d like to quote Edgar Allen Poe: “Beauty of whatever kind, in it’s supreme development, invariably excites the sensitive soul to tears.”

Violino Sonata No. 1

Although the aesthetic emotion might have begun as a cognitive signal telling us to keep on looking, because there is a pattern here that we can figure it out; it’s a sort of a hunch, a response to complexity that isn’t incomprehensible. Although we can’t quite decipher the purpose behind this sensation – and it doesn’t matter if the sensation is a painting or a symphony – the beauty keeps us from looking away, tickling the parts of our brains that give us pleasure. Like curiosity, beauty is a motivational force, an emotional reaction not to the perfect or the complete, but to the imperfect and incomplete. We know just enough to know that we want to know more; there is something here, we just don’t what. That’s why we use the word: beautiful.



The Experience of Beauty

 Three fundamental questions:

  1. What can I know?
  2. What ought I do?
  3. What can I hope for?

And one, into which every other question flows: What is man?


Basically, the contemplation and the production of beauty depend exclusively upon characteristics that only man possesses and that thus allow him to be ontologically distinguished from all other beings which differ from him.
We judge beauty beginning from the feeling of what is agreeable and disagreeable.
And the representation of feeling can be sorted in:

that of ‘pleasant’(simple animal), that of ‘good’(rational being), that of ‘beautiful’(only human).
The experience of beauty originates from freedom.

The beauty of work of art

This shows itself to have characteristics which do not permit going back to a mechanistic model of comprehension, in both of its internal organization and in the means of production.

What in the work of art contrast to its mechanistic reduction is constituted by man characteristics, which place it in an intermediary position between the human techno-practical production, on the one hand,     and the way in which nature produces the organized beings, on the other.

One must be aware that it is art, and not nature.

The basis for the originality and the beauty of the work of art are the inventions or ideations, which Kant calls ‘aesthetic ideas’ are not in control, as to their origins, of the artist who brings them into being.
What the source might be upon which these prerogatives of the work of art depend, Kant’s answer may seem disarming in its simplicity: at the origin of the creation of beauty there is a particular proportion, in which the power of the imagination and the discipline of the intellect play freely with each other.
In man there is an original accord between three heterogenous faculties:

  1. Imagination as the faculty of intuitions
  2. Intellect as the faculty of rules.
  3. Reason as the faculty of ideas.

The other aspect which takes the work of art away from a physico-deterministic consideration is constituted by that complex of characteristics which makes it related to the beings organized by nature.
In the work, considered as whole:

  • Every part is bound to every other part in such a way as to be mutually each to other the cause and effect of their form;
  • Furthermore, every part of the work exists only through all of the others and its existence makes sense inasmuch as it is in view of the others and of the whole

Neural Correlates of Beauty:

A number of researches have demonstrated that every pronouncement of an aesthetic judgement corresponded to the activation of a set of specific cerebral areas (the medial orbito-frontal cortex, the anterior cingulate, the parietal cortex and the motor cortex), operating interconnectedly, even though their quotients of activity were differentiated according to the type of experience.

Nevertheless it is wise to ask:

  • Is this side of research, in addition to being recognized as necessary, sufficient enough to explain the artistic phenomenon?
  • Is the process of naturalization or, the mechanistic understanding capable of exhausting the entire realm of the experience of beauty?

Experts, which are critically attentive, generalized the mind-brain relationship concerns into the following:

Those which are initially presented as neurally ‘correlated’, as substratums or ‘involved’ neural processes, ‘subtended’ or ‘associated’ with the of beauty, are transformed insensitively or with brusque passages (with no forewarning as with those of the authors) into neural processes that ‘generate’ aesthetic judgment, ‘determine the creation’ of the work of art, ‘originate’ the fundamental properties of the conscious experience of the beautiful.



To sum up, a free use of the cognitive faculties is the specific experience of freedom which is the basis of the work of art and that, opening the access to the beautiful, allows for the actuation of a way of being that only man can experience.





The Beauty of Art


Art is aesthetically pleasing, comes in many forms and is subjective.
One person may find this photograph that I took in the spring aesthetically pleasing.

However, another person may feel this painting by Ruth Harris to be more pleasing.




Both works of art are of similar subjects and yet they can be viewed in very different ways and can produce different emotional responses, proving that aesthetics is a very broad, very subjective field.



Aesthetics and Symmetry

Which face is the most aesthetically pleasing?

Julian Wolkenstein’s “Symmetrical Portraits” project (click on for a closer look)

Which face is most aesthetically pleasing? Human nature tells us that we would not pick the face on the far right, which is asymmetrical. Facial symmetry is associated with beauty and is aesthetically pleasing to look at. Even babies are more attracted to and will look longer at people with more symmetrical faces than others. So why is symmetry so beautiful?

On a biological level, there are many reasons why humans are attracted to more symmetrical faces. Facial symmetry is associated with stronger genes and a healthy well-being. Asymmetry on the other hand, indicates aging and stress. Therefore, on an evolutionary scale, being attracted to those with symmetrical faces would help humans procreate with those who can create even stronger genes.

Even though facial symmetry is considered most aesthetic, when looking at completely symmetrical faces, humans feel that they are freakish and abnormal. Closely symmetrical faces are considered the most attractive.