DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-M046-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved January 21, 2018, from

Article Summary

Aesthetics owes its name to Alexander Baumgarten who derived it from the Greek aisthanomai, which means perception by means of the senses (see Baumgarten, A.G.). As the subject is now understood, it consists of two parts: the philosophy of art, and the philosophy of the aesthetic experience and character of objects or phenomena that are not art. Non-art items include both artefacts that possess aspects susceptible of aesthetic appreciation, and phenomena that lack any traces of human design in virtue of being products of nature, not humanity. How are the two sides of the subject related: is one part of aesthetics more fundamental than the other? There are two obvious possibilities. The first is that the philosophy of art is basic, since the aesthetic appreciation of anything that is not art is the appreciation of it as if it were art. The second is that there is a unitary notion of the aesthetic that applies to both art and non-art; this notion defines the idea of aesthetic appreciation as disinterested delight in the immediately perceptible properties of an object for their own sake; and artistic appreciation is just aesthetic appreciation of works of art. But neither of these possibilities is plausible.

The first represents the aesthetic appreciation of nature as essentially informed by ideas intrinsic to the appreciation of art, such as style, reference and the expression of psychological states. But in order for that curious feeling, the experience of the sublime – invoked, perhaps, by the immensity of the universe as disclosed by the magnitude of stars visible in the night sky (see Sublime, the) – to be aesthetic, or for you to delight in the beauty of a flower, it is unnecessary for you to imagine these natural objects as being works of art. In fact, your appreciation of them is determined by their lack of features specific to works of art and perhaps also by their possession of features available only to aspects of nature (see Nature, aesthetic appreciation of).

The second fails to do justice to the significance for artistic appreciation of various features of works of art that are not immediately perceptible, such as a work’s provenance (see Artistic forgery) and its position in the artist’s oeuvre. A more accurate view represents the two parts of the subject as being related to each other in a looser fashion than either of these positions recognizes, each part exhibiting variety in itself, the two being united by a number of common issues or counterpart problems, but nevertheless manifesting considerable differences in virtue of the topics that are specific to them. In fact, although some issues are common to the two parts, many are specific to the philosophy of art and a few specific to the aesthetics of non-art objects. Moreover, not every object of aesthetic appreciation falls neatly on one side or the other of the art–non-art distinction, so that appreciation sometimes involves an element of both of artistic and non-artistic appreciation (see Gardens, aesthetics of; Environmental aesthetics).

Both works of art and other objects can possess specifically aesthetic properties, such as beauty and gracefulness. If they do possess properties of this sort, they will also possess properties that are not specifically aesthetic, such as size and shape. And they will be susceptible of aesthetic and non-aesthetic appreciation, and subject to aesthetic and non-aesthetic judgments. What distinguishes an item’s aesthetic from its non-aesthetic properties and what faculties are essential to detecting aesthetic properties (see Aesthetic concepts)? What is the nature of aesthetic appreciation? It has often been thought that there is a particular attitude that is distinctive of aesthetic appreciation: you must adopt this attitude in order for the item’s aesthetic properties to be manifest to you, and if you are in this attitude you are in a state of aesthetic contemplation (see Aesthetic attitude). This suppositious attitude has often been thought of as one of disinterested contemplation focused on an item’s intrinsic, non-relational, immediately perceptible properties. But perhaps this view of aesthetic interest as disinterested attention is the product of masculine bias, involving the assumption of a position of power over the observed object, a reflection of masculine privilege, an expression of the ‘male gaze’ (see Feminist aesthetics §3). Another idea is that awareness of an object’s aesthetic properties is the product of a particular species of perception, an idea which stands in opposition to the claim that this awareness is nothing but the projection of the observer’s response onto the object (see Artistic taste).

An object’s beauty would appear to be a relational, mind-dependent property – a property it possesses in virtue of its capacity to affect observers in a certain manner. But which observers and what manner? And can attributions of beauty, which often aspire to universal interpersonal validity, ever attain that status (see Beauty)? The great German philosopher Immanuel Kant presented a conception of an aesthetic judgment as a judgment that must be founded on a feeling of pleasure or displeasure; he insisted that a pure aesthetic judgment about an object is one that is unaffected by any concepts under which the object might be seen; and he tried to show that the implicit claim of such a judgment to be valid for everyone is justified. But how acceptable is his conception of an aesthetic judgment and how successful is his attempted justification of the claims of pure aesthetic judgments (see Kant, I. §12)?

Citing this article:
Budd, Malcolm. Aesthetics, 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-M046-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2018 Routledge.

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