The Value of Watching Cat Videos

I recall a disagreement I had with one of the philosophers in the department over the value of watching cat videos. She insisted that it was a waste of time whereas I believed (and continue to believe) the opposite. Though it wasn't the best argument I could have given, I said that watching cat videos builds empathy. To be clear, I still think this is true, but a better argument would have been in terms of beauty.

It doesn't seem implausible to argue that cuteness is a species of beauty, and so by watching cat videos, we are appreciating beauty. This may be comparable to looking at a natural landscape, which may embody yet another species. I'm assuming here that appreciating beauty is not a waste of time.

I don't do work on aesthetics, so my argument should be taken with a grain of salt, but a quick look at the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy suggests that my claim is consistent with multiple conceptions of beauty.

One idealist conception of beauty states that beauty is "a primary bridge...between the material and the spiritual" (Sartwell, 2017). I'm not a spiritual person so this account doesn't resonate with me that much, but I have encountered religious people who sense the divine when looking at animals.

A second account of beauty argues that beauty is that which causes love or longing. This conception of beauty is reflective of the subjective experience sparked by watching cat videos.

A third conception accounts for beauty in terms of pleasure. Again, this is also consistent with my claim that cuteness is a species of beauty.

In response, one could argue that though it may not be a waste of time, cuteness may be an inferior species of beauty. According to the article, Hegel thinks the beauty of art is superior to the beauty of nature because the former is born twice: first from God and then again from the artist. If true, listening to music would be superior to watching cat videos.

According to the other accounts, however, one species would only be superior to another if it creates more experiences of love and longing, or pleasure. And since cuteness could create such experiences equal to that created by other species, it follows that watching cat videos could be comparable in value to engagements with other species beauty. So I think it's reasonable to claim that watching cat videos is valuable, because it's consistent with major theories of beauty.

References

Sartwell, C. (2017). Beauty. In E. N. Zalta (Ed.), The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Metaphysics Research Lab, Stanford University. Retrieved from https://plato.stanford.edu/archives/win2017/entries/beauty/