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Aesthetic concepts

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-M003-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved May 19, 2024, from

Article Summary

Aesthetic concepts are the concepts associated with the terms that pick out aesthetic properties referred to in descriptions and evaluations of experiences involving artistic and aesthetic objects and events. The questions (epistemological, psychological, logical and metaphysical) that have been raised about these properties are analogous to those raised about the concepts.

In the eighteenth century, philosophers such as Edmund Burke and David Hume attempted to explain aesthetic concepts such as beauty empirically, by connecting them with physical and psychological responses that typify individuals’ experiences of different kinds of objects and events. Thus they sought a basis for an objectivity of personal reactions. Immanuel Kant insisted that aesthetic concepts are essentially subjective (rooted in personal feelings of pleasure and pain), but argued that they have a kind of objectivity on the grounds that, at the purely aesthetic level, feelings of pleasure and pain are universal responses.

In the twentieth century, philosophers have sometimes returned to a Humean analysis of aesthetic concepts via the human faculty of taste, and have extended this psychological account to try to establish an epistemological or logical uniqueness for aesthetic concepts. Many have argued that although there are no aesthetic laws (for example, ‘All roses are beautiful,’ or ‘If a symphony has four movements and is constructed according to rules of Baroque harmony, it will be pleasing’) aesthetic concepts none the less play a meaningful role in discussion and disputation. Others have argued that aesthetic concepts are not essentially distinguishable from other types of concepts.

Recently theorists have been interested in ways that aesthetic concepts are context-dependent – constructed out of social mores and practices, for example. Their theories often deny that aesthetic concepts can be universal. For example, not only is there no guarantee that the term ‘harmony’ will have the same meaning in different cultures: it may not be used at all.

Citing this article:
Eaton, Marcia. Aesthetic concepts, 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-M003-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2024 Routledge.

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