The older I get, the less of a relativist I become. I hope this trajectory does not lead to close-minded dogmatism, but I can at least flirt with it, right?
I'm near the end of a magnificent book called "The Nature of Order: the Phenomenon of Life," by architect Christopher Alexander. I learned about him from software engineering, weirdly enough; He's the pioneer of a system of problem-solving by codifying the essence of common problems and describing a generic solution taken from accepted wisdom. He writes about it from the point of view of buildings, but it turns out to be a wonderful device for talking about software problems as well.
"The Nature of Order" is a four-volume magnum opus that strives to do no less than codify beauty in objective terms. In order to do this, he first has to re-cast the very meaning of objectivity away from 17th century mechanistic scientific objectivity. Alexander blames this impersonal worldview for the cold, lifeless, and even hostile architecture of 20th century. In the Alexandrian model of life and beauty in the world, beauty is objective from the frame of reference of our shared humanity; it is a deeply-felt, profoundly human experience. What he describes is not so much an approach to the built environment as it is a philosophy by which we aim to make ourselves more truly alive.
I can't wait to start volume two!