DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-M014-2
Version: v2,  Published online: 2011
Retrieved February 22, 2024, from

Article Summary

On the subject of beauty, theorists generally agree only on rudimentary points about the term: that it commends on aesthetic grounds, has absolute and comparative forms, applies to parts, aspects and wholes, and so forth. Beyond this, dispute prevails. Realists hold that judgements of beauty ascribe to their subjects either a response-independent property inherent in things or a capacity of things to affect respondents in a way that preserves objectivity. In both cases acute problems arise in defining the property and in explaining how it can be known. Classical Platonism holds that beauty exists as an ideal supersensible ‘form’, while eighteenth-century theorists view it as a quasi-sensory property. Kant’s transcendental philosophy anchors the experience of beauty to the basic requirements of cognition, conferring on it ‘subjective universality and necessity’. Sceptics complain that the alleged property is merely a reflection of aesthetic pleasure and hence lacks objective standing. Partly due to its preoccupation with weightier matters, the philosophic tradition has not yet developed a theory of beauty as fully and deeply as it has, say, theories in the domain of morality. For most of the twentieth-century the generally subjectivistic and relativistic bent of the social sciences and humanities, as well as the scorn heaped on beauty by avant-gardism in the arts, discouraged concentration on beauty. However, the turn of the century has brought a remarkable reawakening of interest in theorizing about beauty. The burgeoning fields of cognitive science and evolutionary developmental biology have played a part.

    Citing this article:
    Brown, John H.. Beauty, 2011, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-M014-2. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
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