esse is percipi, or All the Pretty Flowers

July 11, 2005

Last week, even after quite a long conversation that ranged from Kantian categories to Gödel’s second incompleteness theorum, a good friend of mine, whose identity shall remain undisclosed, still returned, somewhat stumped, to Berkeley’s question, “if a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound?”

I never usually get hung up on that one but encountered perhaps a different iteration of the question as I sat in church yesterday. I have occasionally pondered variations on this question in the field of aesthetics and so as I sat in church looking at a “pretty” barrette decorated with a large white gerbera daisy replica flower in the hair of a girl sitting in front of me, I began thinking about that flower and our common perception of it. More specifically, I thought of all flowers as a class. I think it is safe to say that many (most? 90%? or even more?) people simply perceive flowers to be “pretty.” Of course, one’s taste will vary as to which kind of flowers one finds the prettiest, but I think it can be fairly generalized for the class of flowers that most people find them “pretty.” Why is this? Indeed, how can this even be? Is it just because most people are taught from early on that flowers are supposed to be pretty and so they just grow up taking that for granted, i.e. they are socialized into thinking flowers are pretty? Or could it be that flowers are actually pretty in and of themselves, objectively, outside of any transmission of standard tastes from one generation to another? If the latter, why would that be so hard to believe? Is it because the idea of it has some kind of inevitable, eventual political implications? Does that really have to be the case? Whatever the case may be, people will continue to perceive flowers to be “pretty.”