J. Bender

In Stecker and Gracyk, Aesthetics Today (2010) 

This document is a summary of Bender. 
My personal comments are in red. 

The issue here is realism. Bender thinks realism about aesthetic features is doubtful. (Realism is the position that when we say that something as having a property, our sentence is true if and only if there really are such features of objects. In this context, the claim that "Duchamp's Bicycle Wheel is visually balanced" is false if "balance" is not a real property of the object.)  

Bender's argument is meant to apply to any artwork that has a perceptual element, that is, that involves sensory experience.

The argument is this: If we are supposed to be able to have the same experiences of the aesthetic dimension of an artwork, then it must be possible for people to have the same perceptual experience when interacting with it. However, people cannot have the same perceptual experiences, so the aesthetic properties of artworks cannot be treated as real properties about which we can agree.

Food and drink has an aesthetic dimension, so Bender uses them to make his general point.

Consider these facts about human sense perception:

Normally, people can smell the difference between an orange and a lemon. However, the RANGE in ability from worst to best is four-thousandfold. (If we were talking about the range of pricing for staplers at Amazon.com, we would find that they range from $12 to $48,000 in price.)

  • All people become measurably less sensitive to tastes and smells as they age, with a noticeable decrease after the age of 40.

  • One third of all people cannot taste phenylthiourea, which tastes very bitter. People who can taste it have very different food preferences than people who cannot. (Smoking and drinking coffee reduce your ability to taste it.)

  • One in four people find bitter tastes to be super-bitter, and it ruins the taste of food that 75% of people do not find bitter.

Focus on wine-tasting. Bottles of wine wiht faulty corks taste bad (something like mold). However, many people simply cannot taste the chemical, TCA, that makes it taste bad.

Is a bottle of wine bitter if it contains phenylthiourea? Does it taste like cardboard if 25% of people cannot taste the TCA?

This is not a question about SENSIBLITIES (a question of what you prefer). No one prefers the taste of phenylthiourea or TCA. This is a question of whether you're SENSITIVE to them.

Bender is proposing that sensory properties are not real properties of objects if some people can't sense them, while others super-sense them.

If people have different sensitivities to perceptual features of things, then they also have different sensitivities to their aesthetic properties. Therefore, aesthetic properties are not objectively real properties of things: there is no FACT about an object's visual balance.

 Compare: Juan looks at a painting and is super-sensitive to smeared edges of painted areas; they ruin a work for him if they are smeared. Juanita didn't used to care, because she liked the energy of less controlled painting. But now she prefers less energetic work, and smeared edges are now a problem in a way that they weren't before her attitudinal sensibility changed.

Where perceptual sensitivities differ, there can be no fact about a works' aesthetic character, because the same object will produce unavoidable differences in experience for different people.

We can't blame people for not seeing the visual balance of a painting (e.g., "You ought to be able to see it") if we cannot hold them responsible for their sensitivities. (Does it make sense to say that a pile of rotting garbage smells great, because dogs think it smells great?)

TURNING TO ART: People with extreme pitch-sensitivity cannot enjoy music that other people find good. People with sensitivity to balance cannot enjoy paintings that other people regard as pleasantly balanced.

                        Last updated Feb.21, 2011