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Aesthetics and ethics

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-L001-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved July 23, 2024, from

Article Summary

The contrast between ethical and aesthetic judgments, which has provided a good deal of the subject-matter of aesthetics, stems largely from Immanuel Kant’s idiosyncratic view of morality as a series of imperatives issued in accordance with the dictates of practical reason, while for him judgments of taste are based on no principles. This has led even non-Kantians to argue that aesthetic judgments are primarily concerned, as is art itself, with uniqueness, while morality has mainly to do with repeatable actions. This tends to separate art from other human activities, a separation which was encouraged by the collection of useless items by ‘connoisseurs’, who took over as their vocabulary of appreciation the traditional language of religious contemplation. This viewpoint has been attacked passionately by idealist aestheticians, who claim that art is a heightening of the common human activity of expressing emotions, to the point where they are experienced and rendered lucidly, as they rarely are in everyday life. Marxist aestheticians, whose roots lie in the same tradition as idealists, argue that art is inherently political, and that the realm of ’pure aesthetic experience’ is chimerical. Meanwhile the analytic tradition in aesthetics has spent much effort amplifying Kant-style positions, without taking into account their historical conditioning. There is a tendency to contrast the activities of the moralist, prescribing courses of action, with that of the critic, whose only job can be to point to the unrepeatable features which constitute a work of art.

Citing this article:
Tanner, Michael. Aesthetics and ethics, 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-L001-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2024 Routledge.

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