Philosophy vs. Censorship Art Paper

Violence is a human act, acted out by humans since the dawn of humankind. Even before television was created, books published, or art drawn, humans portrayed violent acts. Would you agree the description of nudity is crude, as in Ulysses’ “Odyssey”? Is the sculpture of Michelangelo’s “David”, a nude yet biologically correct interpretation of a man considered pornography? Is the movie, “Romeo and Juliet”, violent and stained with obscenity not a director’s portrayal of a famous book by Shakespeare, a brilliant writer? Do these works of art and education teach us to be violent, or do we enjoy them for entertainment value? Who has the power to decide what we can or can not enjoy?

A censor, defined as “an official with the power to examine literature, mail, and remove anything considered obscene or objectionable”, (Guralnik 101) suppresses the freedom of independence and personal liberty of authors and artists. It allows one person’s interpretation to speak for society. Everyone interprets things differently, therefore one person cannot speak for society. Although the authors or artists intentions may underestimate the effect on the reader or interpreter, the intentions are still pure.

Based on knowledge of human actions, opinions will be varied.

By reason through human knowledge, a human knows how to defend and defeat another person without having the senses absorb the violence. By learning through the physical senses, it could be interpreted that humans learn to be violent from other humans and it is not an innate human quality that we are born with. Thus, if humans are born knowing violence, then the portrayal of it as seen in art and television is an expression of human behavior. The censorship of entertainment only tries to hide what humans already know, and if we are born with the knowledge to know more than our senses will allow, there is no harm in enjoying the freedom to invent and create entertainment because we already understand that which we perceive. Censorship persecutes freedom.

We must maintain the freedoms which are bestowed upon us citizens of United States of America, under the constitution which states the First Amendment as the freedom of speech. All people should have the right to see, hear, speak and read that which they choose. By supporting the government and protecting artists and authors, we ensure that future generations will have the liberty to express themselves without objection. If it had not been for the heroes of the past, we wouldn’t be able to appreciate the philosophies that have shaped the future.

In the seventeenth century, Rene’ Descartes, brought about the question of ‘how we learn the nature of things, through our physical senses or by reasoning?’(Wolff 218) Based on Robert Paul Wolff’s interpretation in About Philosophy, empiricists believe sensation is a source of knowledge, or the theory that “all human knowledge comes from the evidence of our five senses, and therefore we can never know more, or know with greater certainty, than our senses will allow.” Whereas rationalists believe reason is the source of knowledge, or defined as “the theory that at least some human knowledge comes from reason unaided by the senses, and therefore we can know about things that the senses do not reveal to us, and we can know with greater certainty than the senses alone will allow.” (Wolff 486) Both views pose the of knowledge being present at birth.

David Hume, an empiricist believed in the “white paper” theory, as well as the “copy theory of ideas.” The “white paper” theory, as described by John Locke, is “Tabula Rasa” or in other words, a blank tablet. Explained by Hume, the mind comes into life blank or empty and is written on by experience, in comparison to the widely held view that the mind comes to experience with ideas which are built into it. Basically stated, our ideas are sense impressions and when confronted with an idea, we just match the answer with the answers already in our head. David Hume also believed in two principles in relation to the “copy theory of ideas.” One of which is “whatever objects are different are distinguishable”, or that an apple and an orange are two different objects. Moreover, “whatever objects are distinguishable are separable by thought and imagination”, or that we can understand the idea of an apple and an orange and we use our senses to identify them. (Wolff 206,212) The opposing view offers more ideas about knowledge and the senses.

Based on the empiricists view, human nature in relation to violence is a learned experience determined by what our senses will allow. Therefore we learn what we see, hear, feel, smell, and taste. If the first humans had to sense violence, where did they experience it? It is easier to believe in a rationalist’s theory that we can know about things that our senses do not reveal to us such as violence, and based on human knowledge alone, we know far more than we understand.

A famous rationalist, Gottfried Leibniz, believed in criteria to base beliefs. He offered logical criteria of truth and certainty. Truths of certainty, logic, or reason are known as the ‘laws of contradiction’. This law states that a statement and its contradictory cannot both be true. For example, “the sky is blue” may be true or false, and in contradiction, the “sky is not blue” may also be true or false, but they cannot both be true. These are necessary truths and their opposite is impossible. There are also truths that cannot be certified by the laws of logic, they are known as ‘truths of fact’, or knowledge. To decide whether these facts of knowledge are true there must be sufficient reason for a fact to be real or a statement to be true. The truths are contingent and their opposite is possible. (Wolff 203)

Although Leibniz’s criteria for truth and certainty are confusing, he is relating to censorship. Reason is a source of knowledge, and humans reason to know knowledge. The definition of reason is finite and it explains the search for understanding. It is defined as “an explanation of an act or idea, a cause or motive, the ability to think and draw conclusions, have good sense, sanity, to think logically, and analyze or argue and infer, or try to explain.” (Guralnik 498) If we derive to human knowledge with reason as defined above unaided by our senses, then humans are intelligent beyond what we can comprehend. We understand that which we do not know merely absorbed by our senses. Just as actors and artists try to explain human behavior through the depiction of violence, all humans want to grasp the reason for these acts. Why do we act the way we do? We are intelligent beings, capable of reason and comprehending each other. But how do we prove this to ourselves?

“Cogito, ergo sum” is Latin for “I think therefore I am.” Descartes summarized his existence in, “The proposition, I exist, is necessarily true each time I pronounce it.” Along with Leibniz, Descartes was a rationalist. The statement above is proof of ‘truths of fact’. There is sufficient reason to believe in the statement and the opposite of the statement is true. The statement, however can only be proved to oneself. I can prove my existence to myself and you can prove your own existence to yourself but you can not prove someone else’s existence. Descartes doubted everything not known with certainty or known as the ‘method of doubt’. (Wolff 188) He could divide his beliefs into two certain groups. ‘Those which he thought he knew on the basis of the evidence of his own senses and those which he thought he knew on the basis of reasoning with general concepts.’ (Wolff 198) Based on the sources of knowledge, Descartes was on the side of reason rather than sense. But once knowledge was obtained, would a person know what to do with it?

Socrates, believed an unexamined life was not worth living. He would ask questions of existence and reason, and through the process of self examination, a person could achieve happiness. Often people were concerned with how knowledge was obtained, and Socrates felt that looking into oneself would bring the answers. But one basic question needed to be answered, why we are human? Is violence human? To be ginuenly happy and good, one must evaluate the principles of thought and action. If the truth lies within ourselves, could a person find that with the examination of oneself, that violence is the mirror image of what lies within? Socrates might have felt that art should be judged for the effect it has on us. It is a portrayal of something from within and should be examined for what it is. Should the standard be different for those who portray violence and those who wish to educate? Socrates might have believed they were one in the same. Is it not natural to express ones feelings, to draw or write and have other’s experience and agree with the opinions you are conveying? If one song is censored, should they all be censored? What about classical music, that which has no words, but could arise such deep feelings within a person? Who is such a perfect person to decide what is art, entertainment and violence? Should everyone suffer for misinterpretation? How can a person conclude which performances will effect us, and those that will not?

Catharsis, “ a cleansing or purging of the soul” is best demonstrated by the effect a performance or art can have on us. (Wolff 486) The descriptions, movements, and feelings can bring powerful emotions alive within us, sometimes even sexual or violent emotions, and some people feel these feeling shouldn’t be accessed. If we are able to have those feelings, why not explore them? If they make us feel happy and good about ourselves, shouldn’t each person be able to choose for themselves how they want to feel?

Utilitarianism, known as the theory that promotes happiness and selfishness is only concerned with the good of the people. It holds that “individuals or law making governments should always seek to produce the greatest amount of happiness for the greatest amount of people” (Wolff 492) If this is a general rule to be followed, then law makers must please the people. The greatest happiness for the people would be to let them make their own choices including those in entertainment. If something is wanted, then we should be able to get it because it will make us happy. But how does a person decide what is good?

Intrinsic value is something that is “valuable, good, worthwhile and purely for itself alone, regardless of what it may lead to.” (Wolff 339) “Plato claims art is harmful, both intellectually and emotionally, where Aristotle feels art teaches and purges and aids in acquiring knowledge of universal truths and maintaining proper internal order of our psyches.” (Wolff 338) “Art for art’s sake”, teaches that art or otherwise needs no justification. It is an expression of human nature and also a philosophy believing “human beings are purposive creatures that have goals or ends or purposes which they pursue by choosing what seem to be appropriate means.” (Wolff 338) Though art has had an explosive past, including the changing of the times, and styles, art has come a long way.

Neoclassicism and romanticism play an important role in the history of art. Neoclassicism is “an exalted order, proportion, reason and subordination of the creative artist to objective principles of aesthetic taste.” (Wolff 342) In England during the 18th and 19th century, many people had a preference to roman culture and the romantic poets, artists, and philosophers set out to prove a new artistic revolution had begun. They produced a new movement in art and literature that expressed the powerful declaration of feelings. Art did not need reason, it needed imagination creativity and artistic freedom of expression. Because of the struggle, today we can enjoy artistic freedom. But how does this relate to censorship?

After hearing the time line of famous philosophers, how censors have unfair prejudice, how humans are born knowing violence, how do these all fit together?

“Philosophy, is the love of wisdom., it is the systematic way in which we judge, evaluate, and act, with the aim of making ourselves wiser, more reflective and better people.” (Wolff 490) As a whole, humans are intelligent, creative, emotional creatures full of ideas, dreams, and goals. We feel an undefined need to express ourselves and not have rules set upon us. Violence results from society censoring our soles. This is not a learned experience, it is a natural, knowledgeable right to fight for what we believe in, to prove that we are human. We are capable of questioning, reasoning and understanding ourselves. After all, “we think, therefore we are.”

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