What still puzzles me is why this oppositional or adversarial nature of aesthetics, one that implicitly engages with opposites like light and dark, truth and lies, beauty and ugliness etc., is so enduring when most developed philosophies in Western nations point to this distinction being a convenient fiction, usually most convenient for the Christian church, for whom it served the purpose of conquering and focusing an entire continent of pagans. Why do our artists persist in using it, and yet our philosophers and scientists do not? Metaphor of course has great control over the passions, but if the distinction between good and evil is untrue, or at the least unrealistic, then are we justified to use it at all, let alone in art? How can we read "Beyond Good and Evil" and then listen to any occult or religiously themed music and keep a straight face?
You've posed a very interesting question here, Goluf, which I'd like to examine by dividing it into a couple of queries related to the nature of evil and the way in which evil is known. Therewith, I'll ask you to consider some of your own presuppositions in turn.
With regard to distinction between what could be said to be "polar" opposites, one would hasten to add that no symmetry is had between any given quality and what is but a privation thereof. The very nature of evil, from a certain perspective, is nothing more than privation, whether it be of goodness, beauty, or truth; thus, we can speak of such and such an evil--by speaking of meanness, ugliness, or falsehood--but can we, without falling into absurdity, speak of evil as such? In other words, if evil is a manifestation in the direction of nothingness, this nothingness is but a pole or limit which is never reached; were it to be attained (quod absit
) we would find ourselves lacking any positive qualities of which we could speak: there can therefore be no "pure evil" or "principle of evil". The nature of evil thus understood, we can reason that we come to know of evil through privative phenomena, all of which function as referents back to the qualities which they deprive. To repeat the examples above, meanness is but a deprivation of goodness, ugliness of beauty, and falsehood of truth.
One could object that the distinction between truth and falsehood is itself nonexistent; the contradiction of relativism by way of this example is made plain, however, in a consideration of the conclusion of such an utterance: if "nothing is true", then this statement, too, is false. One could further object that I am missing the point in failing to see the contingency of partial truths, to which I could reply in agreement, while noting the absolute nature of the truth of this statement, itself serving analogously, through its positive content, as affirmation of the very principle in question.
Transitioning now from ontology to cosmology, we can say that a consideration of contrasts--of which the world is as it were woven of necessity--is on the whole indispensable to art, which, traditionally understood, is the "imitation of nature in her manner of operation" (St Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, I.117.1). Without broaching a discussion of traditional philosophies of art, one could in all seriousness ask what painting would be without the antagonism of paint upon a blank surface, or music without the interplay of rhythm and melody? The answers to these questions are readily found in the works of so-called "modern art", which, in attempting to "liberate" art from what are perceived to be dogmatic stylistic restrictions, result in a deplorable impoverishment of the very idea of art
, failing to adequately represent the structure of reality: they too, become but privative phenomena, perhaps reminding the more perceptive among us, a contrario
through their ugliness, that "beauty is the splendor of the true".
Where, then, does one situate metal in the context of such discourse? The answer to such a question becomes quite interesting; prior to sharing my own perspective, I'd ask others to contemplate the preceding considerations, and posit some of their own conclusions.