Beauty, a Road to the Truth?
In this chapter I give a naturalistic-cum-formal analysis of the relation between beauty, empirical success, and truth. The analysis is based on the one hand on a hypothetical variant of the so-called ‘mere-exposure effect’ which has been more or less established in experimental psychology regarding exposure-affect relationships in general and aesthetic appreciation in particular. It was initiated by Robert Zajonc (Attitudinal effects of mere exposure. J Pers Soc Psychol Monogr Suppl 9:1–27, 1968). On the other hand it is based on the formal theory of truthlikeness and truth approximation as presented in my From instrumentalism to constructive realism (2000).
The analysis supports the findings of James McAllister in his beautiful Beauty and revolution in science (1996), by explaining and justifying them. First, scientists are essentially right in regarding aesthetic criteria useful for empirical progress and even for truth approximation, provided they conceive of them as less hard than empirical criteria. Second, the aesthetic criteria of the time, the ‘aesthetic canon’, may well be based on ‘aesthetic induction’ regarding non-empirical features of paradigms of successful theories which scientists have come to appreciate as beautiful. Third, aesthetic criteria can play a crucial, schismatic role in scientific revolutions. Since they may well be wrong, they may, in the hands of aesthetic conservatives, retard empirical progress and hence truth approximation, but this does not happen in the hands of aesthetically flexible, ‘revolutionary’ scientists.
KeywordsBeauty Road to the truth Aesthetic features Truth approximation Mere-exposure effect Aesthetic induction Aesthetic canon Revolutionary science
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