Open Journal of Philosophy
2013. Vol.3, No.4A, 10-17
Published Online November 2013 in SciRes (http://www.scirp.org/journal/ojpp) http://dx.doi.org/10.4236/ojpp.2013.34A003
Interpretivistic Conception of Quantification: Tool for
Enhancing Quality of Life?
Denis Larrivee1*, Adriana Gini2
1Educational Outreach Office, Roman Catholic Diocese of Charleston, Charlesto n, USA
2Neuroradiology, Neuroscience Departme nt, San Camillo Forlanini Medical Center, Rome, Italy
Received May 6th, 2013; revised June 6th, 2013; accepted June 13th, 2013
Copyright © 2013 Denis Larrivee, Adriana Gini. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative
Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium,
provided the original work is properly cited.
Quality of life is fast becoming the standard measure of outcome in clinical trials, residential satisfaction,
and educational achievement, to name several social settings, with the consequent proliferation of as-
sessment instruments. Yet its interpretation and definition provoke widespread disagreement, thereby
rendering the significance of quantification uncertain. Moreover, quality, or qualia, is philosophically dis-
tinct from quantity, or quantitas, and so it is unclear how quantification can serve to modulate quality. Is it
thus possible for quantification to enhance quality of life? We propose here that an interpretivistic con-
ception of quantification may offer a more valid approach by which to address quality of life in socio-
Keywords: Interpretivism; Quantification; Dialectical; Quality of Life
Given the significance and widespread cultural interest in
quality of life issues, the pursuit of quantification so as to
enhance life’s quality has also assumed proportional signifi-
cance (Ware & Gandek, 1998). Quantification, pursued in this
context, is intended to identify and evaluate parameters judged
to impact quality of life favorably, and to attain, thereby, pre-
dictive status. While it is generally assumed that such para-
meters will modify quality of life, they do not in themselves
constitute the experiential dimension so altered. Quantification
is thus rendered indirect and dependent upon quality of life de-
finitions for its validation.
Definitional clarity is by no means easily attainable, and
numerous variants have been proposed (Chung, Killingworth,
& Nolan, 1998). Quality of life has been related to perfor-
mance in employment and social spheres (Kahneman & Deaton,
2010), affective enjoyment, intellectual fulfillment, or econo-
mic status (Rappaport, 2008), to name several different varia-
bles. In circumstances of hardship, response to physical or psy-
chological impairments has also been evaluated. The diversity
and ambiguity of definitions have generated widespread dis-
agreement rendering interpretations of quantitative assessments
uncertain and restrictive.
Recourse to empirical verification in order to validate quali-
tative social phenomena derives from the thought of Saint-
Simon and Comte and their development of positivistic philo-
sophy in the mid nineteenth century (Comte, 2011). According
to positivism, scientific investigation provides the singularly
valid form of inquiry. Its claims rest upon the quantification of
facts, which are the sole objects of human knowledge. The aim
of positivism is thus to construct general principles from em-
pirically gathered data that would undergird an understanding
of personal conduct and social organization.
By contrast, the philosophy of interpretivism, often de-
signated as anti-positivism for its reactionary stance to posi-
tivism, claimed that social sciences were not amenable to em-
pirical evaluation, unlike the natural sciences (Kim, 2006). In
the view of interpretivists, social research was best performed
by focusing on the subjective interpretation of social actions of
those being studied. A cluster of philosophical disciplines,
drawn from Hegelians, Marxians, and neo-Kantians rejected
Comtean sociological positivism, introducing in its stead
verstehende, or sociological antipositivism, at the turn of the
twentieth century (Kim, 2006). It was proposed that sociology
could be described as a science in so far as its ability to
methodologically identify causal relationships of human social
action, an identification that would be unavailable empirically.
Thus, antipositivism’s intent was to provide causal explanation
of the way in which social action proceeds, and, analogously, in
which it was subjectively meaningful.
Approaches to sociological research have since divided along
positivist and antipositivist lines (Leitch, Hill, & Harrison,
2010), with most sociological work in the United States
adopting empirical validation as the principal schema within
which to articulate and undergird social hypotheses. Despite
this preference, conclusions based on the positivist paradigm
continued to suffer from the objections originally raised by
early twentieth century antipositivism and subsequently ex-
pressed in the latter twentieth century by intellectual descen-
dants of the Frankfurt School in such forms as Critical Theory
and reflective disclosure (Habermas, 2011).
*Corresponding author. Given the impact of definitional ambiguity on assessment
D. LARRIVEE, A. GINI
tools in current quality of life studies, it seems to us that an
interpretivistic approach is needed to reconfigure the use of
quantification as an exploratory medium for quality of life
research. We consider here the process of quantification as ex-
perientially mediating, and thereby one subjectively modulating
quality of life. Three aspects of quantification are considered:
order, information quantity, and the presence of intrinsic dia-
lectical elements. We contend that while all three are con-
tributory it is the presence of an intrinsic dialectic that is
essential to the operational engagement of the agent.
Quality and Quantification: A Categorical
Conceptual definitions of quality and quantity enjoy ancient
lineage and emerge from Aristotelian designations. Quality and
quantity are philosophically distinct and constitute fundamental
Quality, or qualitas, is regarded as an attribute or a property
of an object (Aristotle, 2007). It is an expression of the stable
unity of an object’s structure, which makes it distinct from
other objects. As such it may be compared relative to other
qualities, such as ha rd in relation to soft. Qua ntity, or quantit as,
by contrast, may be likened to a mathematical set. Homo-
geneous objects may be grouped together to constitute a set and,
if they can be counted, they are considered finite. The basis of
quantitas is thus the objective discreteness of things, which is
expressed numerically. Quantitas may also be used to express
magnitude, a continuously changing variable. Quantitas may
not be used to distinguish between qualities. It is not possible to
relate three pomegranates and two figs, for example (Aristotle,
Quantitas may, however, be used to relate homogeneous
objects. Quantification, then, permits the comparison of sets of
like objects. By quantification it is possible to express the
external formal relation of parts, properties, connections and so
on of objects. Thus, evaluation of relational order necessitates
quantification. A length “A” may be greater or lesser than
length “B”, but the magnitude relationship between lengths “A”
and “B” will only become apparent upon the completion of the
process of quantification.
Relations between quantities may be more or less complex.
A simple relationship may involve only a direct relationship of
the magnitude of two differing quantities. A more complex
relationship may involve the relationship between a third
quantity and its dependency upon two other quantities. “C”, for
example, may be a contingent quantity depending upon the
valuation of “A” a nd “B”, a nd can be expre ssed as “C” = “A” +
“B”. That is, in the absence of “A” or “B”, “C” does not
manifest itself. Analogously, relationships of progressively
greater dependency can be elaborated. In either case, simple or
complex, an evaluation of relationship can only proceed if
quantification has been performed.
The subjective role of quantification becomes apparent when
we consider its function in assessing order. Ordered arrange-
ments retain greater intrinsic appeal than disordered arrange-
ments, presumably because they enable the prediction and res-
ponse to that which is comprehensible.
Thus, quantification, in enabling us to assess whether the
relations within and between sets constitute ordered arrange-
ments, interjects a subjective component in the evaluative pro-
Definitionally, order is characterized by three elements:
complexity, the presence of an ordering principle, and the
degree of conformity of the elements to an ordering principle;
hence, an arrangement exhibiting these features would be con-
sidered ordered. Clearly, order requires the presence of com-
plexity. It cannot be present in a single element for it nece-
ssitates the exist ence of relations, which can only reside a mongst
a multitude of members. Order must also proceed according to
a plan, that is, an ordering principle that defines the relations
amongst constituent elements. In its simplest form an ordering
principle may dictate a single feature governing members of a
set, such as books on a shelf. An ordering principle may be
more or less complex, however, and govern numerous features
of its sets. Finally, order necessitates conformity to t he orderi ng
principle, else the set would be regarded as disordered. In the
extremes no member of the set would adhere to the ordering
principle, in which case the set would be considered completely
disordered. Conversely, it may conform entirely, in which case
the set would be completely ordered. Thus, order may be dis-
cerned through the characterization of an underlying organizing
principle to which there is more or less conformity.
When sets exhibit a high degree of conformity to the or-
dering principle, their order is said to retain a mathematical
order (Russell, 1919). Mathematical order is characterized by
complete coherence amongst set members, all of which adhere
to the designated mathematical relationship. For example, the
order of points on a line is essential to a linear characterization.
Likewise, the concept of limit, is a progressive concept of serial
placement. In each case order lies in the consistency of rela-
tionships amongst the members of the sets. A fixed point may
precede or follow another and the relationship between both
points will be given by the placement and interval separating
the two. Analogously, numerous other such relationships also
exist. The discernment of a mathemati ca l ly def i ne d o r der wo u ld
thus imply a highly ordered state in a set so evaluated, one for
which there is a resident, subjective appeal by virtue of the
apprehension of its order.
While it is generally agreed that ordered states are preferable
to disordered ones, it may yet remain true that as the sole
contributory factor order offers little subjective meaning for an
observer. A set composed of a single feature, for example, such
as the set of names of individuals inhabiting a single geographi-
cal locus, would certainly have little meaning beyond the single,
defining feature of the set. A paucity of information would,
accordingly, yield a dearth of meaning. Sets with little infor-
mation content are simply not very meaningful. Extrapolating
therefrom, meaning seems to bear a positive relationship to the
informational content of a set, and more meaning seems to be
extracted from sets that have higher information content.
Is this sort of conclusion always valid? The question may be
answered in part by recourse to information theory (Shannon,
1948), which can help in determining an upper bound for a
relational dependence of subjective meaning on increased infor-
mation content. As described by the theory, information content
displays dependencies on entropy, a thermodynamic measure of
disorder, and is inversely related to redundancy. The theory
predicts that more information is yielded by systems in which
there is greater dissimilarity between members of a set. Taken
to its limit, a system in which there is no coherence ought to
yield a maximum degree of information. Yet, this is also the
definition of a completely disordered system, and there is un-
doubtedly general concurrence that complete disorder contains
Open Access 11
D. LARRIVEE, A. GINI
little that would be meaningful to an observer. Thus, while it
would seem that greater informational content characterizes a
system generating greater meaning, there are also limits to the
extent to which this relationship may be extrapolated. Appa-
rently, some degree of intrinsic order is also needed. The situa-
tion is reminiscent of various theoretical efforts which have
explored the nature of aesthetic preferences (Birkhoff, 1933).
These theories generally proffer the thesis that aesthetically
pleasing objects, such as art, retain a measure of order, while
simultaneously displaying a high degree of variability. The
presence of coherent order, when conjoined to significant com-
plexity in an object, is said to generate an appeal that is immen-
sely meaningful to an observer.
Nevertheless, increasing the informational content of an or-
dered set is alone unlikely to suffice for provoking subjectively
meaningful responses. Consider, for example, the case of toss-
ing one or several die. A single dice may generate six different
outcomes, whereas several are capable of generating six raised
to the power of the number of die tossed. Clearly, the second
situation is productive of a quantitatively greater information
content. Yet, it is not necessarily more meaningful. Meaning,
then, is not dictated solely by the quantity of information
Some distinction is therefore required with respect to the
type of information that is yielded by the set, a qualitative
distinction that is constitutive of the set, yet newly operative in
its subjective engagement. A qualitative analysis is therefore
also needed, one that is capable of revealing qualitative dis-
tinctions between respective data sets. Such an evaluation can
be expected to identify and designate features of the data sets
that would enrich their meaning. However, given that the initial
quantitative evaluation depends a priori upon qualitative dis-
tinctions established by the original ordering principle the
qualitative analysis cannot simply restate the original features
on which the ordering principle was first structured. A new set
of attributes must thus be determined else there would be no
new qualitative features.
How might these new attributes be inferred? From where do
The revelation of new attributes can originate only from new
sources of information that are localized within the set, since it
is the set that is the source of meaning. Externally applied
attributes would, by contrast, represent a source of meaning
imposed upon the set. Since any new attributes would need to
be disclosed by means of an evaluation of the original set, we
may ask whether the initial quantitative evaluation is adequate
to reveal the presence of novel qualitative features? A cursory
examination of our prior examples would suggest not. Once we
have quantified our geographically restricted set of names and
established their alphabetical order, for example, there is little
new information that would suggest novel population charac-
teristics. The same may be inferred from our example of die
casting. Thus, certain types of information sets seem incapable
of yielding further qualitative distinctions beyond those initially
established by the ordering principle.
What characterizes these qualitatively “poor” sets? Implicitly,
an inability to yield qualitatively new information characterizes
set relationships with little or no interaction. By definition such
relations may be described as mutually insensitive. Put another
way, the quantitative evaluation does not provoke an additional
interpretation of the set by virtue of their indifferent relations.
Do qualitatively “poor” sets exhaust the full range of sets that
may be evaluated quantitatively? Are there sets that are
qualitatively “rich”? What would characterize them? We expect
that these sets, unlike those which are qualitatively “poor”, will
offer new characterizations of the set information, beyond those
dictated by the ordering principle. To do so will require the
presence of mutually sensitive relations. Due to their mutual
sensitivity, relations between sets can be expected to evoke new
qualities in the complementary partners (Lorand, 2000).
Consider a work of visual art, for example, in which an artist
seeks to highlight a single subject. By juxtaposing the illumi-
nated subject with a dark field the subject acquires a greater
intensity of focus, a quality that would not be evident in the
absence of the field. The initial quantitative evaluation assesses
both the magnitude of the dark and of the light regions. Both
complement one another and each is thus sensitive to the
other’s “influence”. Their mutual sensitivity evokes a new
quality that would not be evident in the absence of the
complementary interaction. This suggests that quantitatively
“rich” sets do exist, and that they are characterized by mutually
The existence of such sets is a more specific representation
of the dichotomous interactions broadly distributed in the
natural world, yet also observed at social, philosophical, and
artistic levels (Adorno, 1970), interactions which have been
codified by Hegel (Bristow, 2007). Hegel’s dialectical dynamic
configures the nature of reality within a web of mutual
interactions whose forces provoke a continual alternation in
motion between dialectical partners. In our example, taken from
art, the dark background emphasizes its contrasting light filled
area. The greater the darkness, moreover, the more emphasis
the light filled area receives. Its quality of intense focus is
amplified and dependent upon the greater quantity of darkness.
Thus, the dichotomy of two contrasting areas produces
mutually sensitive relations whose intensity is related to the
magnitude of the interacting partners. These are made evident
through the quantitative evaluation.
The interactive dynamic constitutes a new quality that is the
product of the mutual sensitivity of the complementary sets.
Since the generation of the new quality as well as the intensity
of its relationship is dependent upon the quantitative evaluation
of the dialectical partners, the new qualities may be considered
to be engendered by the act of quantification.
The transformation that is effected is representational of a
categorical shift that displaces the quantitatively structured set
elements with the qualitative dynamic of the dialectic. An
analogous transformation has been frequently invoked in
reference to social and political dynamics, but the law, in fact,
springs formally from an analytical conception of the material
world (Spirkin, 1983). Dialectical materialists view a materially
limited, natural world from the lens of its dynamic character,
wherein its constituents are in opposition and thereby rendered
perpetually motile. According to the law, the process of deve-
lopment, or transformation, is one in which small and insi-
gnificant changes in quantity gradually proceed until an abrupt
change to a new form is experienced. Accretion of natural
processes thus culminate in the attainment of critical levels,
before being succeeded by the emergence of wholly new forms.
Transformation as such is temporally conditioned in that the
transformation succeeds the quantitative changes but need not
be causally initiated by them. Transformation arising from the
disclosure of the quantitative evaluation is also conditioned by
temporal sequence but, by contrast, appears to be incurred by
D. LARRIVEE, A. GINI
the quantitative process. Contrast, for example, is made mani-
fest by the quantification of numerical differences between data
sets which have been placed in opposition. Quantification in
this sense bears elements common to dialectical materialism in
its transitional and to anti-positivism in its subjectively causal
Quantification and Art: An Experiential
Which information sources co-identify with qualitatively
“rich” sources? Certainly, relational qualities that might be
revealed by quantification are legion. To limit our study we
chose to explore the role of quantification in art, since artistic
beauty is known to exert a strong and subjective impact on the
observer. Specifically, we explored whether the preceding
features of order, information content, and resident dialectic
may be exhibited in examples taken from visual art, music, or
architecture, since it is these features that are likely to prove
significant for communicating subjective meaning.
Art is ordered. All arts adhere to clearly defined principles
for the construction of their various compositions. Visual arts,
for example, include contrast, rhythm, pattern, balance, em-
phasis, proportion, variety and harmony (Tersiisky, 2004),
which constitute its properties or qualities. The evaluation of
these qualities necessitates their quantification. The evaluation
of rhythm, for example, permits the determination of repetitive
sequences, such as the number and frequency of spatial oc-
currences. Clearly, many other qualities also require quanti-
fication to properly assess their contribution to the compo-
sitional structure. Other art forms, such as music and archi-
tecture, employ similar qualities in their compositions, with a
corresponding need for quan t it a t i v e ev a l uation.
The order present in art, moreover, frequently displays
mathematical coherence (Schillinger, 1948). Indeed, numerous
mathematical descriptions have been articulated for relation-
ships between compositional components. Architectural arts,
for example, depend upon geometrical configurations (Salin-
garos, 2013), and rigorous study of mathematical form is
strongly recommended for students of the profession. Geome-
trical configurations are often related by means of scaling, or by
rotational or translational displacements, and when repeated on
a hierarchy of scales, generate fractal patterns, which can be
described by fractal mathematics. In still another example,
musical notes are temporally distributed as components within
equally spaced time intervals, or beats, that can be metered.
Implicit in all these mathematical descriptions is the existence
of highly ordered relationships that underlie the compositional
structure of the art form.
Furthermore, while many compositions reflect an order
imposed by the artist, in still others order arises as an inherent
constituent of the art form itself, one which displays clear
origins to mathematically ordered relationships found in nature.
Western music, for example, exhibits a particularly close
affinity for tonal properties associated with the physics of
sound. Musical scales repeat the “same” sounds at higher
pitches with identical sounds evoked at higher pitches related
by integer multiples of tone frequency. Intermediate tones that
form pleasing combinations are typically related by common
ratios of frequencies. Fifths, for example, fall at intervals
midway between frequencies associated with the initial scale
tone, and major thirds at quarter intervals.
High Information Content
Art conveys high information content (Moles, 1966). At its
most fundamental level art is structured to communicate a
message. Hence art must retain an information content that is
constitutive of the message that is to be delivered. What is the
message, and what is the medium of delivery?
That which most nearly distinguishes the artistic composition
is its sense of encounter and intimacy (Gadamer, 1986). The
work of art intersects with our intelligibility and situates us in a
world where our engagement unfurls a continually expanding,
relational context (Heidegger, 2008). The breadth of engage-
ment that encompasses such a panorama thereby necessitates a
correspondingly adequate informational resource, one that is
likely to share multiple origins.
Disclosure of the Intrinsic Dialectic
Art is self interpretive (Lorand, 2000). Each form is con-
ceptually whole, its elements juxtaposed to generate a single
image. The elements maintain fixed relationships, and it is
these that define the basic form. Their integrity is requisite.
Dispersal, and the consequent compromise to formal integrity,
collapses the form, in effect generating multiple new images.
The potential for dissolution is thus confirmation of the need
for elemental interdependence. It is on this basis that explica-
tion of the art form by quantification may proceed.
The form’s dependence on juxtapositional stability establi-
shes the proximate relationships of its constituents, be they
physical or temporal, and conditions their mutual interpene-
tration. Their mutual sensitivity, however, is dictated by their
oppositional characterization. Proximity thus modulates the
intensity of the reciprocative exchange. Their mutual interpre-
tive activity follows from the manifestation of complementarity,
initiating their capacity to mutually evoke new features.
Quantification in its revelatory role discloses the dialectic that
becomes operative through the discernment of the complemen-
tary elemen ts.
The interpretative function arises in the dialectic operation as
each feature endows its complement with a greater sense of
meaning, necessitating the simultaneous presence of the other.
In this sense each feature serves to interpret all other features
with which it is related. Indeed it is the recognition that
constituent elements themselves endow interpretive value that
the basis of the rationale behind formal analysis is grounded,
and in which the compositional elements are deciphered in
conjunction with one another.
A simple illustration from the Bach two part invention
number eight provides a case in point. The opening subject is
expressed by a motif in which articulated, eighth note spacings
alternate between a tonic and sequential intervals of thirds,
culminating in the tonic of the next register. A second motif
follows in the next bar with a non articulated descent from the
upper tonic of sixteenth notes with spacings of whole tone
intervals. The second bar simultaneously repeats the opening
motif in an octave lower register which serves as counterpoint
to the second motif. Several examples of dialectical partners are
evident in the pairings of the first and second motives: the
ascending and descending cascades, the articulated and non-
articulated expressions, and the contrasting temporal spacing.
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D. LARRIVEE, A. GINI
Disclosure of the dialectical partners occurs through the quan-
itative evaluation of time and pitch, and makes operative the
dialectic through the contrast that has been made evident in the
Order, high information content, and mutually sensitive rela-
tions are thus constitutive of art, and endow art with charac-
teristics t hat ma ke it a rich source of subjective meaning.
Art as Subjectively Causal
Is there corroborative support for a causally mediated, sub-
jective i n fl uence of art?
In the natural sciences causality may be considered the
explication of the relationship between two phenomena and of
the dependency of actuation by one phenomenon on the other, a
definition that has been largely retained by the social sciences
(Moreno & Martinez, 2006). A definitional corollary is that of
temporal asymmetry, understood as the precedence of one
phenomena with respect to the other. Proceeding from these
definitions, quantification of art may be considered causal, in
that it precedes and makes manifest qualities within the art form
which would otherwise not be perceived. Numerous studies
document the profound extent of the subjective impact of
artistic beauty. We will briefly consider what these ex-
plorations reveal of the communication of meaning to an obser-
As a subjectively meaningful experience, art significantly
impacts cognitive phenomena (Zeki, 1999). Its various effects
have been documented with reference to affective, physio-
logical, and developmental dimensions, to name a few (Soslo,
2004; Chatterjee, 2010). How does the human brain process art?
How is it reconstructed and analyzed? More pertinently, how
are broadly based responses elicited and what salience can be
attributed to various features that elicit these responses? To take
just one example, the perception of musical sound can evoke a
broad spectrum of emotional repertoire, with origins in multiple
cognitive centers (Bergeron & Lopes, 2009).
These studies make implicit the presence of neurobiological
underpinnings receptive to the informational content of the art
form. When presented with salient stimuli cognitive centers
respond in ways that reflect common neural paradigms whose
expression is circumscribed, but not impeded, by individual
variation. The presentation of various art forms has been
correlated with the production of fear in the amygdala, pleasure
in the nucleus accumbens, or disgust in the insula (LeDoux,
2002; Zeki, 1999). Socially imbued images may evoke acti-
vation of temporo parietal regions. Still other forms, often
found in architecture, may activate preferred, evolutionarily
constructed developments intended for self preservation
(Hildebrand, 1999; Donald, 1991).
Perhaps the most thoroughly investigated circuitry is that
associated with visual perception. Artistic imagery, as with all
visually processed form, passes to the occipital lobe from the
sensory receptive centers of the retina, where informational
features are distinguished and extracted prior to their delivery
to higher order neural centers. Portrait artistry, for example,
appears to employ processing circuitry localized within the
fusiform facial area and the right prefrontal cortex (Solso,
2004), a conclusion drawn from the increased activity that is
observed in these centers during sketching. Patient elicited,
behavioral assessments likewise provide corroborative evidence
Theorizing from such observations contemporary philoso-
phies of aesthetics have emphasized a nearly exclusive deter-
mination of artistic beauty that springs from a subjective me-
diation (Zeki, 1999). Indeed, the pragmatic facility with which
neurological centers can be assessed has served to reinforce
these notions, to the detriment of the recognition that any
intrinsically objective character may reside within the art form.
Correspondingly, this has prompted a focus on research
attempting to identify a single neurological center within which
comprehensive notions of beauty are formulated (Zeki, 1999).
Extrapolating therefrom art is said to engage inherent
structures which are functionally needed to relate to an often
capricious external world, a world which may present itself on
one occasion as beneficent and on another as destructive. Their
development and retention is thought to form the adaptive
bulwark within which both flourishing and dissemination
propel their arching trajectories (Donald, 1991). Human
conscious capacity, it is proposed, shaped the symbolic culture
through which conventions, customs, and protorituals elicited
the fabrication of large scale social structure, its executive role
constituting a central guidance system that permitted the inter-
nal management of cognitive phenomena and their selective
orientation to a specifically evaluative and strategical function.
From this perspective, art may be considered to engage
mechanisms which are need based and externally oriented. As
such it offers meaning of a principally utilitarian character.
One may ask whether a utilitarian dimension exhausts the
full extent of meaning that is conveyed by the art form, a
dimension dictated by the evolutionary constructs of a neural
landscape. Is arts‘ subjective meaning limited to a purely
aesthetic pleasure that has as its basis simply the survival of the
organism? We contend that art conveys more. Goethe’s
statement “everything is symbol” expresses the essence of art,
the power of communication with which it is endowed. Art
formulates the intersection between symbol and object that has
a comprehensiveness that is universal in application (Heidegger,
2008). The web of relations so evoked is reflective of how art
encounters understanding, as relational and unified. Thus the art
symbol is generational in its capacity to make evident all to
which it relates.
It may be argued that this breadth of relational engagement is
seldom achieved. Yet, the implausibility of a simultaneity that
may characterize the engagement does not obviate its
availability, nor exclude its significance. Extrapolation from
symbol to object thus invites the exploration of a world that
extensionally lies beyond the form. The revelation of symbol as
relational discloses a truth that it conceals in isolation, and the
meaning offered for the subject. Its scope, therefore, extends
beyond the merely provisional and situates the subject within a
landscape of engagement, an engagement that is continually
As process, engagement confers both orientation and
immanency, thereby structuring the definitional characteri-
zation to which the subject is processionally conformed. Both
constitute the ontological base framing his expression. Situated
in a field of engagement the subject is poised, through symbol
to object, to forage for an intrinsic meaning whose appeal
dictates movement and route, and in which the symbol proffers
a presentiment of the end. Along this avenue the aesthetic is
determinative of the valued (Scruton, 2009). Engaged, there is
the apprehension of symbol in its objective relationality, its
exteriority, and its power to situate. United with the external,
D. LARRIVEE, A. GINI
the subject confronts an essence that is reciprocally confirma-
tory. It is in the provision of this confirmation that is discovered
the valuation to which the subject has been directed (Hampson,
Implications for Quality of Life
Definitional ambiguities that plague most research intending
to evaluate quality of life trace their origin to an empirical
approach seeking to assess subjective factors through indirect
and non subjective parameters.
As the factors are bereft of subjective meaning for the
individual quantification by empirical methodologies is left
without conceptual foundation. This situation is not uncommon
in studies that purport to assess individual and group dynamics
over a broad range of cultural phenomena from business and
economic models, to legal studies, to political and social
systems, and has led to multiple methodological approaches.
The self reflexive character of the participant in all these
studies implicitly underscores valuation of personal meaning
for the agent. Interjected into social dynamics, valuation modu-
lates outcome and precipitates policy. To take one example,
traditional American jurisprudence underscored by positivist
constructs and structured by legal realism claims status of law
for social and political judgment, a judgment that is frequently
based on a formalized legal reasoning and precedent. Linkage
between principle and execution is rarely referenced and
doctrinal constructs are reified. The resulting indeterminacy
yields a spectrum of interpretations and justifications with
option for choice of any or all in subsequent implementation.
Absent from deliberations are reference to subjective factors
likely to exert causal influence and whose consideration would
likely render greater consistency in interpretive range.
Quality of life determinations are particularly sensitive to
subjective meaning and its actualization by the individual agent.
Without the actualization of a subjectively experienced mean-
ing the agent will derive no “quality” from his “living” expe-
rience. Moreover, determinations are subject to combinatorial
qualification. Quality of life may embrace a broad conception
of summated variables that together yield improved personal
status. By the same token it may also situate within one or more
parametric considerations. This renders quality of life evalua-
tions subject to more than the sum of its parts, and necessitates
a more discrete evaluation than that provided through a
Applied extrinsically, definitional interpretations can them-
selves incorporate a subjective meaning whose origin remains
foreign to the agent. Interpretations often bear within them-
selves a meaning whose significance remains valid primarily
for the definer or the assessor. To the extent that this meaning is
shared with the agent the definition retains interpretive power.
Population domains, subject parameters, and the like delimit
applicability. Empirical validation thus claims for the individual
an interpretive power that is in reality often nonexistent, elastic
in nature, subject to contextual qualification, or modified by
In view of such considerations the identification of factors
through which the agent is endowed with meaning assumes
relevance. Such factors may be regarded as causal since the
acquisition of personal meaning necessitates an interaction
between agent and factor. While the precise form adopted by
the factor or the manner of interaction with subject may vary,
for quality of life the attribute must personally engage the
subject so that he may obtain a meaning that is inaccessible in
Among the qualities or attributes for which subjective
meaning is broadly effectuated is certainly that of artistic
beauty. The language of art, expressed through visual, auditory,
or conceptual imagery evokes an experiential resonance that is
both deeply felt and widely distributed. Throughout history, in
nearly all cultures, artistic beauty has been viewed as the sign
and substance of civilization. Art has been employed to educate,
to heal, and to experience beauty. Indeed, the recognition of
art’s broad impact prompted the National Endowment for the
Arts and US department of Health and Human Services to
frame a national research agenda on the relationship between
the arts and individual well-being (2011).
Yet, how is this so? The short and direct account is the
reciprocal engagement of an apt receiver and a combinative
medium. In the first place, the agent possesses an innate
potential for reception of the artistic message. Neurally, he
engages a cognitively resonant paradigm that is attuned to the
art form, one conditioned by the exigencies of personal need.
Moreover, beyond the utility of need, he bears within himself
desire for personal meaning, and so exercises a resident
capacity to instantiate the ontological meaning of the com-
municated message (Gadamer, 1986).
In the second, the message of art is communicated via the
probative medium of quantification. Through the mediation of
the quantitative evaluation artistic beauty is made evident.
Quantification effects disclosure, which is constitutive to
engagement, and is the medium of encounter. By quantification
the image is structured and granted an intelligibility on which is
predicated its capacity for transmission. It bridges the gulf of
the essentially foreign image to grant it the immediacy of
recognition. The task of quantification thus commences with
the general hermeneutic of apprehension and conditions the
agent for the disclosure of the particular. In its explication of
the particular it engages an ongoing evaluative dynamic that is
reflective of the compositional construction of each unique art
form. Quantification discloses order, a wealth of information,
and the unremitting, internal hermeneutic of the constituent
It is in its revelation of constituent elements that the
peculiarity of the unique image is made comprehensible and
granted a contemporaneousness to the agent (Gadamer, 1986),
from whom is elicited a reciprocative reply. Nevertheless, the
interjection of the particular simultaneously validates the more
universal appeal to which the constituent elements relate.
Indeed, the more particular is the expression, the deeper and
broader the personal resonance that is generally elicited
The constituent elements are not necessarily uniform in their
capacity to elicit a reciprocal engagement, however. While
order and information wealth may undergird the effectuation of
transmission, the sufficiency of the communicative experience
necessitates an ongoing mutual evocation between dialectical
elements that reside within the image. Art, in fact, is uniquely
conditioned by the internal hermeneutic that is mediated by
dialectical partners within the art form and which is revealed by
The role of quantification vis a vis the dialectical operation is
First, quantification identifies the operationally dialectic
Open Access 15
D. LARRIVEE, A. GINI
elements. That is, quantification makes evident the comple-
mentary elements that are present in art and which respond one
to the other. One may cite, for example, mass and space in
architecture, light and dark in the visual arts, or high and low
pitch in music. Each element is distinct from, yet also defined
by its complement. Indeed each cannot be comprehended in
isolation from its dialectical partner. Hence, quantification
establishes the oppositional elements that will participate in the
dialectic of the art form.
Second, quantification engages the hermeneutic potential of
the dialectical exchange. The dialectical constituents support,
provoke, and evoke one another (O’Connor, 2003). In a
dialectic of material, elementary natural constituents oppose the
operation of their partner yet depend on the other for their
mutual existence. To take a physical example, atomic structure
would cease if the opposing charged particles were neutralized.
Likewise, the opposition of complementary sets in the art form
sustains the integrity of the form. Architectural form would lose
its meaning, for example, if there were no space within which
to express form.
The dialectical operation does not merely stabilize the
integrity of the art image, however. Dialectical partners respond
to each other and are mutually sensitive. Each elicits a mutual
response from its partner that enhances its subjective impact
and that of the partner. Between the two there is an opposition
that is situated by the contrasting elemental composition and
which charges their exchange. In effect, the dichotomous
relationship establishes an auto-dynamic that is mutually
evocative and interminable as the two partners contend one
against the other to achieve a balance of tension.
The dialectical operation is brought to internal resolution and
superceded by the formation of the unit-pair, the conjoined
dialectical partner unit. The pair remains charged and the
dynamic operative, but the balanced opposition fundamentally
structures the image to situate its focus within the intersection
between the two. The shift in focus thus transforms the static
elements qualitatively to construct a new dynamic of engage-
ment, and represents the synthesis of the mutually sensitive
relations between dialectical partners. This new form qualifies
the mutually sensitive elements in their subordination to the
The artistic message is thereby communicated by the
transformation of the product of the quantitative evaluation into
a synthesis of the contending partners. The synthesis constitute s
the new level at which the image is situated and represents the
teleological focus made accessible through the hermeneutic
potential of the raw image. The contending dialectical partners
have disclosed the information previously hidden in the prepro-
cessed image and which has lain latent until their evaluative
Whither Quality of Life?
Art’s effectiveness for enhancing quality of life is often
assessed through quantitative instruments whose focus is the
output of the art experience. Yet exploratory commissions
decry an absence of confirmatory data and trumpet the need for
rigorous research and evidence-based practices intended to
document the arts’ contributions to human development
(National Endowment for the Arts, 2011). The discrepancy
between practice and intent is illustrative of a conceptual
difficulty at the root of exploration; the empirically evaluated
experience is subjective, as it is the quality of life purporting to
improve. By illuminating the indirect, quantification eschews
the direct. By actuating the experiential engagement of art,
however, quantification may more productively explore quality
of life (Ratzinger, 2002).
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