chapter  31
16 Pages

CRITICISM

ByROGER SEAMON

Criticism in the broadest sense is a ubiquitous human activity. It is addressed to whatever people do or make, and it is an inherent part of human cultures. Some major objects of criticism are tools (artifacts with a distinctive purpose), deeds (actions judged from a moral perspective), theorems (claims about what is true), and performances such as we find in sport and art, where common abilities like balancing, running, singing and telling stories are more highly developed than utility demands. Any act or artifact may appropriately be judged on different grounds. My wearing an amber necklace to class may be assessed as a tool (‘He’ll never attract women that way’), a theorem (‘He wants to show that the correlation of jewelry with gender can be deconstructed, but that is hardly original’), a deed (‘it is immoral for a professor to use his position of authority to undermine conventional ways of distinguishing men from women’), and a performance (‘That necklace, though handsome and well-made, is much too heavy for his delicate features’). Although Plato clearly recognizes the value of the Homeric epics and tragic drama as performances, he, like many contemporary critics, also treats poems as both bad theory and bad deeds. While the determination of how to take something is, finally, up to the person criticizing, people do and make things within a context of expectation, and the person criticizing normally takes that into consideration.