chapter  6
The concept of decadence
ByJosé Luis Bermúdez
Pages 20

The idea that moral considerations might usefully be employed in criticism is one that finds few supporters today. Many seem to feel that when morality and criticism meet there is only one possible outcome. The critic will indulge in a form of crude moralising, condemning some works according to criteria irrelevant either to their conception or their form, while praising others for a crude didacticism that just happens to be promoting what he wants to see promoted. There are, of course, plenty of examples of such deplorable tendencies. But they barely scratch the surface of the complex interdependencies between the realm of the moral and the realm of the aesthetic. This becomes clear when we reflect that certain concepts feature in both moral and aesthetic evaluation. The concepts of sentimentality, shallowness and decadence, for example, are apparently univocal when they feature in judgements of value, whether those judgements are applied to works of art, to forms of character or to actions. The fact that these concepts do seem to be univocal in this sense suggests that there may be significant parallels in the structure of the justification for moral and aesthetic judgements, and hence in the responses that such judgements strive to regiment. But, more basically, their univocality imposes a theoretical burden that anyone who tries to cordon off the domain of the aesthetic from the domain of the moral must discharge – the burden of showing either that serious use cannot be made of these concepts in discussing art, or that they are not really as univocal as they appear to be. Conversely, the aesthetician who wishes to explore the interface between art and morality would be advised to pay serious attention to these concepts.