Aesthetic and Moral Syllogisms
Consider the proposition “x is aesthetically better than y”: does this entail the proposition “I should engage with xin preference to y”? One might suppose so, but in fact it doesn’t, unless we add something like “other things being equal”. If x is more intellectual demanding than y and I am tired from mental exertions, I am under no aesthetic obligation to engage with x; it might give me a headache. Or I might simply not be in the mood for x and would be happier engaging with y. Or I might have engaged a lot with things like x recently and would welcome something different in y. Thus there is no valid deduction here—though if we add “other things being equal” we get closer to that (but what things exactly?). Aesthetic value does not immediately translate into a categorical imperative.
Compare “x is morally better than y”: does this entail “I should do x in preference to y”? Can I decline the invitation to do x by pointing out that I am tired or not in the mood or am bored with doing x-like things? Certainly not: I must do x instead of y, no matter what my personal circumstances (though of course I must be able to do it). This is the familiar point that moral reasons entail categorical imperatives: if x is morally better than y, I am under a strict obligation to do x not y. I can’t plead tiredness, my mood, or boredom to avoid the obligation. There is thus a sharp distinction between the aesthetic ought and the moral ought, as exemplified in these syllogisms.