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Dictionary of the History of Ideas

Studies of Selected Pivotal Ideas
2 occurrences of Ancients and Moderns in the Eighteenth Century
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THEORIES OF BEAUTY SINCETHE MID-NINETEENTH CENTURY
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2 occurrences of Ancients and Moderns in the Eighteenth Century
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THEORIES OF BEAUTY SINCE
THE MID-NINETEENTH CENTURY

Descendants of nearly every older theory about
beauty can be traced in the late nineteenth and early
twentieth centuries, and due notice of these will be
taken below. The main purpose of this article, how-
ever, is to give an account of new ideas or emphases
that have emerged.

I. BEAUTY IN DECLINE

The difficulty of discerning conceptual similarities
and differences underneath terminological differences
and similarities can be pointed up by an interesting
contrast. Like other Hegelian idealists of the nineteenth
century, Bernard Bosanquet, in his History of Aesthetic
(London and New York, 1892), defined “Aesthetic” as
the “philosophy of the beautiful.” He also defined “the
beautiful” as “that which has characteristic or individ-
ual expressiveness for sense-perception or imagination,
subject to the conditions of general or abstract expres-
siveness in the same medium” (Ch. 1). Bosanquet noted
that he was proposing a broader concept of beauty
than that sanctioned in ordinary usage, or even in
typical philosophical usage, but he claimed that his
formula embodied the most profound insight into
beauty that the “aesthetic consciousness” of man had
yet reached. For he saw the whole history of aesthetics
as a progressive intellectual development, from the first
classical view of beauty as harmony and symmetry, or
as unity in variety, to the recognition, first of the
sublime and later of other qualities as having aesthetic
significance, such as the grotesque, the graceful, the
violent (Ch. 15). Thus we might say that in Bosanquet's
view beauty swallows up the whole of aesthetic value;
and that few later aestheticians have given such cen-
trality and generality to beauty.

On the other hand, Frank Sibley's significant and
highly influential essay on “Aesthetic Concepts” (Phil-
osophical Review,
68 [1959])—though it discusses a
variety of qualities, such as grace, elegance, delicacy,
garishness—refers to beauty only in a final footnote,
as merely one (perhaps not the most interesting or
important) of those qualities. And in his later Inaugural
Lecture at the University of Lancaster (1966), in which
he calls upon philosophers to undertake far more ex-
tensive analyses of the varied terms in the critic's rich
vocabulary, he suggests that too much effort has cen-
tered on a very few terms, including “beautiful.” Here
we might note an extreme compression of the scope
of beauty, as contrasted with its expansion by Bosan-
quet, and say that in the intervening half-century
beauty has itself been swallowed up by the broader
concept of expressive quality.

Yet would this contrast be more than a verbal one?
If Bosanquet simply defines “beautiful” so that it in-
cludes all aesthetic qualities, and Sibley defines it so
that “beautiful,” “powerful,” “elegant,” and “gay,” for
example, now mark coordinate species, it might be
argued that they are in fact saying nearly the same
thing in different words. Of course, it is still of histori-
cal interest that the word is being used in a different
sense, but perhaps that fact belongs to philology, not
philosophy—the history of words, not the history of
doctrines.

The contrast between Bosanquet and Sibley is indeed
less significant, historically, than their similarity, for
Bosanquet marks a turning point. In the nineteenth
century, the Romantic and Victorian poets, the Trans-
cendentalists, those who cultivated art for art's sake,
ascribed to beauty the highest value, even a kind of
divinity; and they would feel that beauty has not fared
well in the twentieth century—even if they agreed
that Robert Bridges' Testament of Beauty (Oxford,
1929) is one of its greatest poetic monuments.

First, beauty—the central topic in aesthetic theory
from the Greeks through the German idealists—was
displaced by the concept of expression. Benedetto
Croce's Estetica come scienza dell'espressione e lin-
guistica generale
(Milan, 1902) developed a new view
of artistic creation and aesthetic experience based on
the double formula that “art equals expression equals
intuition,” and ended by defining beauty as simply
“successful expression”—or rather “expression and
nothing more, because expression when it is not suc-
cessful is not expression.” “Expression and beauty are
not two concepts, but a single concept,” he remarks
in his Breviario di estetica (Bari, 1913), Lecture II.
Croce's system was the dominant influence in aesthetics
for three decades, and has left its mark even on the
thinking of those who repudiate his basic doctrines.
Not that the implications of his highly paradoxical
statements have been found to be unequivocal: if art
is identical to expression, and beauty is also identical
to expression, then, it might be argued, beauty is the
essence of art. But expression and intuition are for
Croce the basic concepts in terms of which the aes-
thetic is to be understood. One consequence was that
the way opened for recognizing a much wider range
of aesthetic qualities than had ever been recognized
before. It is noteworthy that the two most influential
twentieth-century writers on the fine arts, Clive Bell
(Art, London [1914]; New York [1958], pp. 20ff.) and
Roger Fry (Vision and Design, London [1920]; Mid-
dlesex [1937], pp. 236ff.) contrasted beauty, at least
in its ordinary senses, with “significant form,” which
was for them the important feature of visual art.

Second, the twentieth century has seen the most
violent repudiation of beauty by some creative artists
themselves—not merely by Dada, black theater, the


208

“theater of cruelty,” “op art,” and similar minor
movements, but by more serious artists, such as expres-
sionist painters and ideological playwrights who have
felt that the achievement of beauty is not the most
important aim of art, and may interfere with the in-
tensification of experience or the radicalizing of the
perceiver. This conflict first appeared sharply among
the French nineteenth-century realists and naturalists—
Flaubert and Zola felt it, in their very different ways,
and were prepared to dispense with beauty to achieve
their visions of truth. The twentieth-century avant
garde is more likely to speak in the voice of Henry
Miller's Tropic of Cancer (Paris [1934]; New York
[1961], pp. 1-2): “This is not a book, in the ordinary
sense of the word. No, this is a prolonged insult, a gob
of spit in the face of Art, a kick in the pants to God,
Man, Destiny, Time, Love, Beauty.”

Third, the twentieth century is perhaps the first
century in which the very existence of beauty has been
categorically denied. “Terms such as Beauty are used
in discussion for the sake of their emotive value,” said
one of the earliest manifestoes of the modern linguistic
movement in philosophy, C. K. Ogden and I. A.
Richards' Meaning of Meaning (London and New York,
1923). According to their early version of what later
came to be developed—notably by Charles L. Steven-
son in Ethics and Language (New Haven, 1944)—into
a much more sophisticated one, genuine empirical
statements, whether objective (“This is red”) or subjec-
tive (“I feel sad”), are couched in “referential lan-
guage,” but the statement “That is beautiful” (like
other value judgments) is “emotive language,” and
amounts to no more than an exclamation of approval
(“Oh, ah!” “Mmmmm!”) in the presence of an object.
On this view, the noun “beauty,” though deceptively
like the noun “booty,” refers to nothing, since there is
nothing for it to refer to, and hence all statements
about beauty or about things being beautiful are,
strictly speaking, meaningless.

II. CONCEPTS OF BEAUTY

The history of beauty is probably best conceived not
as the history of a single concept selected and favored
by the historian because of his own aesthetic theory,
but as the history of a term (or set of more or less
synonymous terms in different languages) designating
a cluster of concepts whose distinctions and connec-
tions are of equal philosophic interest. Though not
dominant in recent and contemporary aesthetics, the
term “beautiful” has figured in a variety of theories
and in a variety of inquiries, and these can best be
understood if we first sort out the main senses in which
the term has been, and is being, used.

It is safe to say that throughout its history “beautiful”
has always embodied both descriptive and appraisive
elements: it has been used both to characterize works
of art or nature and to judge them. Aestheticians have
often commingled the two senses, or weaved back and
forth between them, without being very clear about
the distinction. In recent years these hazards have
somewhat diminished (though not disappeared), largely
owing to the influence of analytic or linguistic philoso-
phers, whose high standards of rigor both in definition
and in argument, and whose concern to keep clear the
distinction between normative and nonnormative dis-
course, have led many aestheticians to adopt one or
the other sense, either by stipulation or by an appeal
to what they take to be ordinary (i.e., established
nonphilosophical) usage. A fundamental difference
among recent philosophers is between those who use
“beautiful” appraisively as the most general term of
aesthetic approbation and those who use it descrip-
tively as a ground of aesthetic approbation.

In the first sense, “beauty” becomes synonymous
with another widely-used term, “aesthetic value”: to
say that an object is beautiful is not to report any facts
about it, but simply to praise it from the aesthetic point
of view. This usage is not uncommon; it is, for example,
that of Harold Osborne in his Theory of Beauty (Lon-
don [1952], Ch. 1), where he defines “beauty” as “the
proper or characteristic excellence of a work of art,”
though he also acknowledges that “beauty” is widely
used as a “descriptive” term. Stephen Pepper (Aes-
thetic Quality
..., New York [1937], Intro.) equates
beauty with “positive aesthetic value”; Bosanquet's
Three Lectures on Aesthetics (London, 1915) insists that
to equate beauty with “aesthetic excellence” is “not
merely convenient but right.” Most aestheticians now
avoid this use, since in effect it wastes a word that
is needed for more specific purposes, and tends to add
to the existing confusion in the use of “beauty.”

In the second sense, beauty becomes a ground of
aesthetic approbation, that is, a property that may
properly be cited in a reason to justify that approba-
tion. We may then say the music is good because it
is beautiful; its beauty makes, or helps to make, it good.
This is the usage chosen for the present article.

It is useful to distinguish between the monists, who
hold that beauty is the sole ground of aesthetic value,
and the pluralists, who allow that other properties may
also count in favor of an object, when considered from
the aesthetic point of view.

Those who treat beauty as a ground of aesthetic
value, whether monists or pluralists, divide further into
two groups, according to the sort of property they
single out as legitimate grounds and describe as beauty.
The term “beauty” is used affectively and attributively.

In the Affective use, to say “X is beautiful” means


209

the same as to say “X gives (or is capable of giving)
a certain sort of pleasure or satisfaction” (call it “kalis-
tic satisfaction”). In Chapters 3 and 4 of What is Art?
(1896), Tolstoy, after reviewing a large number of
statements about beauty (some definitions, some de-
scriptions, some theories), concluded that when the
“objective-mystical” ones are set aside, the rest
amount to defining beauty as pleasurableness. Occa-
sionally the word “disinterested” is added, though, as
Tolstoy remarked, this is redundant. The distinctively
aesthetic feature of kalistic pleasure has been found
in its immediacy or sensuousness or its relative stability
and permanence (Harry Rutgers Marshall, The Beauti-
ful,
London [1924]). Ethel Puffer (Howes) argued that
to be beautiful is to possess the “permanent possibility”
of giving an experience characterized by a “union of
stimulation and repose” or “equilibrium” of “antago-
nistic impulses” (The Psychology of Beauty, Boston
[1905], Ch. 2). C. K. Ogden, I. A. Richards, and James
Wood called this equilibrium “synaesthesis” (Founda-
tions of Aesthetics,
London [1922]). Perhaps the best-
known suggestion is that of George Santayana in The
Sense of Beauty
(New York [1896], Part I): that
“Beauty is pleasure regarded [that is, experienced] as
the quality of a thing,” or “pleasure objectified.”

A more fundamental difference among Affective uses
is that between relativistic and nonrelativistic ones.
Beauty may be defined nonrelativistically as the ca-
pacity to provide kalistic satisfaction. John Ruskin, for
example (Modern Painters, London [1846], I, i, 6), says,
“Any material object which can give us pleasure in
the simple contemplation of its outward qualities
without any direct and definite exertion of the intellect,
I call in some way or in some degree, beautiful.” Again,
W. D. Ross in The Right and the Good (Oxford [1930],
Ch. 4) states clearly and defends ably a view “which
identifies beauty with the power of producing a certain
sort of experience in minds, the sort of experience
which we are familiar with under such names as aes-
thetic enjoyment or aesthetic thrill” (p. 127). It is in
this sense that he holds beauty to be objective, for it
is a property of (a capacity in) the object. On this view,
the question whether a particular painting is beautiful
is a straightforward question, whether someone can be
found who derives kalistic pleasure from it, or whether
there is reason to believe that in time such a person
will appear. The nonrelativist position has been de-
fended by Stephen Pepper, The Work of Art (Bloom-
ington, Ind. [1955], Ch. 2).

The alternative view is that when a particular per-
son, A, says “X is beautiful,” he is to be understood
as saying that X actually does give, or has given, pleas-
ure to him (whether or not among others); and of
course when B says “X is beautiful” he is saying that
X gives pleasure to him. Thus if A and B enter into
a dispute about the beauty of X, one affirming and the
other denying that X is beautiful, it may turn out that
they are not in fact contradicting one another, for A
is saying that X pleases A and B is saying that X does
not please B. A. relativistic definition of beauty is one
that permits such a situation to arise, i.e., one according
to which two persons who verbally disagree about the
beauty of an object can both be speaking the truth.
The view of beauty proposed by Samuel Alexander in
Beauty and Other Forms of Value (London [1933], Ch.
10) is relativistic in this sense. Though Alexander ini-
tially proposes a capacity-definition—“Beauty... is
that which satisfies... the constructive impulse used
contemplatively, and is beautiful or has value because
it pleases us after the manner so described” (pp.
179-80)—he allows beauty to have value only when
it “satisfies a standard mind,” or those who “possess
the standard aesthetic sentiment,” and since the stand-
ard varies with the society, “It follows that there is
no fixed or eternal standard of the beautiful but that
it is relative to age and people” (pp. 175-77). Another
notable defense of relativism is that in C. J. Ducasse,
Philosophy of Art (New York and Toronto [1929]; rev.
ed. [1966], Ch. 15, §§10-16).

The questions whether there is a peculiar species
of satisfaction or pleasure properly called “aesthetic,”
and whether works of art provide such satisfaction, and
whether the provision of such satisfaction is a legiti-
mate ground of aesthetic value, are all important ques-
tions. But there seems little warrant for introducing
the term “beauty” into such discussions. Beauty of
course can be enjoyed, can give us pleasure; but when
we say that it is the beauty that pleases us we cannot
be understood to mean anything so empty as that what
pleases us is what pleases us. Therefore many aestheti-
cians avoid the Affective use of the term “beauty.”

The alternative is to regard beauty as a property
of perceived things (of sunsets and precious stones as
well as of sonnets and landscape paintings). To hold
this Attributive view is not necessarily to be committed
to any far-reaching metaphysical or epistemological
position—but only to say that when a painting is seen,
its seen beauty is a phenomenally objective character
of it, in the same way its colors and shapes are, and
that beauty can be heard in sound—though whether
it can also be tasted and smelt is a question that goes
back a long way in the history of aesthetics, and is
still subject to dispute (see, for example, Francis J.
Coleman, “Can a Smell or a Taste or a Touch be Beau-
tiful?” American Philosophical Quarterly, 2 [1965]).

The position of G. E. Moore (Principia Ethica, Cam-
bridge [1903], Ch. 6) may be cited as an example of
the Attributive view. For though he thinks it best to


210

define beauty as “that of which the admiring contem-
plation is good in itself” (p. 201), he holds that the
“beautiful qualities” of objects—“that is to say any or
all of those elements in the object which possess any
positive beauty”—is such that their mere existence has
some intrinsic value, though it is the enjoyment of
beautiful objects and the pleasure of personal rela-
tionships that are “by far the most valuable things,
which we know or can imagine” (pp. 188-92). (See
also a very good defense of this view by T. E. Jessop,
“The Definition of Beauty,” Proceedings of the Aris-
totelian Society,
1933.)

Those who regard beauty as a property divide on
the question whether it is a natural property, explain-
able in psychophysical terms, or a nonnatural property,
supervening upon the object, but having a transcendent
status, like a Platonic Idea. The nonnatural view, de-
spite its ancient tradition, has practically disappeared
from the scene, outside the schools of Neo-Scholasti-
cism (for example, Jacques Maritain, Art et scolastique,
Paris [1920]; trans. J. F. Scanlan, New York [1930], and
also by Joseph Evans, New York [1962]; and Étienne
Gilson, The Arts of the Beautiful, New York [1965]).
The naturalist view is defended by D. W. Prall, Aes-
thetic Judgment
(Cambridge, Mass., 1929). He holds
that beauty may be called a “tertiary quality” of ob-
jects, but strictly speaking it occurs only in “transac-
tions” between objects and human organisms, its oc-
currence being dependent on both organic and external
processes.

Naturalists and nonnaturalists alike also divide on
the further question whether beauty is complex or
simple.

What may be called the Definist view is that beauty
is a complex property, capable of analysis into more
elementary features of a formal kind. This view, com-
ing down from Platonists, Neo-Platonists, Stoics,
Augustinians, and others, makes a key use of various
pregnant terms: harmony, measure, proportion, sym-
metry, order. Traditional philosophers who searched
for a definition of beauty were presumably sometimes
searching for a successful formula of this sort, but such
proposals have seldom stood long against the proper
tests to determine whether the proposed properties are
both necessary and sufficient for beauty.

The Nondefinist may argue that very simple things
(single colors or tones) can be beautiful, though they
have no harmony, symmetry, etc. He may argue that
even if all well-proportioned things are beautiful,
well-proportionedness cannot be identified with
beauty, for one causes, or explains, the other. For him,
beauty is a simple quality, like yellow or the taste of
sugar, and it is incapable of being analyzed into simpler
constituents. Many inquiries that are described, per
haps even by the inquirer, as a search for the “definition
of beauty” are better understood as a search for the
conditions of beauty: i.e., those features of objects
whose presence insures (or aids) the presence of beauty.
Among those modern aestheticians who have con-
cerned themselves much with problems about beauty,
the Nondefinist view has generally prevailed.

But Nondefinists themselves divide on what is evi-
dently the next question: What are the conditions of
beauty? Broadly speaking, there are those who hold
that the conditions of beauty are internal properties
of the object that is beautiful (we may call them
Objectivists) and those who hold that the conditions
of beauty lie, at least in part, outside the object itself.

Objectivism may be characterized in general as
commitment to a principle defended by G. E. Moore:
that given two objects with the same “intrinsic” prop-
erties, if one is beautiful, the other must be equally
so. But Objectivism can be formulated in two different
ways, and it is important not to lose sight of the dis-
tinction, though for convenience we can discuss them
together. Affective Objectivism is the position that
adopts an Affective definition of beauty and proceeds
to inquire into the perceptual conditions of kalistic
satisfaction; Qualitative Objectivism regards beauty as
a quality and inquires into its perceptual conditions.
A proposed answer to the question, “What are the
objective conditions of beauty (considered as either
kalistic satisfaction or as a quality)?” is a genuine
theory of beauty, i.e., a theory about what makes an
object beautiful. Two types of theory have figured
largely in the history of aesthetics, and are still alive
today. Each makes the old and much-disputed distinc-
tion between the form and the content of an object;
each selects one of these aspects as the exclusive (or
at least primary) determinant of beauty. Let us call
them Formalism and Intellectualism.

Formalism is the theory that the beauty of an object
(or the kalistic satisfaction it provides) is a function
solely of its formal features. For example, “Any formal
organization or pattern which is intrinsically satisfying
may be said to possess beauty” (T. M. Greene, The Arts
and the Art of Criticism,
Princeton [1940], Intro.).
Here measure, proportion, order, etc., may be invoked
again; or the theorist may attempt to work out more
refined conditions, such as the good Gestalt, the Golden
Section, Hogarth's “line of beauty,” “dynamic sym-
metry.” Some contemporary theorists have proposed
to apply information theory to art and calculate op-
timum levels of redundancy that can explain the beauty
of a melody or a visual design.

Intellectualism is the view that beauty (or kalistic
satisfaction) is a function of cognitive content: a con-
cept, or an Idea (in the Hegelian sense), embodied in


211

sensuous form, shines in appearance and gives a thing
its beauty. Philosophers have been won to this view
by reflecting that certain great beauties are difficult
to account for by formal perfection alone, and also
by its systematic suitability to their other metaphysical
and epistemological positions. (See, for example, W. T.
Stace, The Meaning of Beauty, London [1929]. For
a sustained and interesting defense of the view that
beauty is “that in which we see life as we understand
and desire it, as it gives us joy,” see N. G. Cherny-
shevsky, The Aesthetic Relation of Art to Reality
[1855], trans. in Selected Philosophical Essays, Moscow
[1953]; cf. A. G. Kharchev, “On the Problem of the
Essence and Specifics of the Beautiful,” trans. in Soviet
Studies in Philosophy
[1962-63].)

Formal and Intellectualist elements have been com-
bined in various ways. For example, Friedrich
Kainz—Vorlesungen über Ästhetik (Vienna, 1948),
trans. H. M. Schueller, Aesthetics the Science (Detroit,
1962)—who treats beauty Affectively, holds that it
depends on both content and form (though sometimes
he speaks of “beauty of form” and “beauty of content”
as distinct). He discusses at length various formal and
cognitive features that contribute to the production
of beauty (see Ch. 4, §3; Ch. 2, §8): for example (on
the side of content), conformity to type and Idea,
“perceptual perfection,” “plenitude of life,” “anima-
tion”; and (on the side of form) symmetry, proportion,
“agreeable rhythmic structure,” “eusynopsy and com-
plexibility” (which seem to constitute organic unity).

Other aestheticians, while often agreeing that the
beauty of an object has something to do with its formal
features (and perhaps sometimes agreeing that it has
something to do with its cognitive content), have come
to doubt that beauty can be fully accounted for in these
terms alone. They have been struck by, and have
sharply called attention to, the enormous apparent
variability of taste in beauty, from person to person,
age to age, culture to culture. What one person finds
beautiful in women, in clothes, in buildings, in sculp-
ture, in music, may not appear beautiful at all to
another who is older or younger or is from a different
ethnic group or “subculture.” This fact (often incor-
rectly called “relativism”) has been stated very fre-
quently and very emphatically in recent decades, and
its recognition has done much to undermine confidence
in the Objective Theory. Nonobjectivism is widely
maintained.

Objectivists have pointed out that variability does
not necessarily disprove objectivism. Certainly the
variability of taste must be accounted for, insofar as
it exists. If the Ubangi bride appears beautiful to her
husband, but not to a Miss America judge, then the
capacity to perceive beauty, at least under certain
conditions, must depend on subjective factors. But it
does not follow that the beauty is not there merely
because it can be overlooked by those who are cul-
turally deprived in some relevant way; a Westerner
may not be able to hear the beauty of Chinese music
simply because he has not yet learned the musical
system. Moreover, variability of taste may have been
exaggerated. Do we really know what the Ubangi
husband sees in his wife? Just because he chooses her
and cherishes her, we cannot infer that she looks beau-
tiful to him; he may be interested in something besides
beauty, just as many architects who design ugly build-
ings know that their clients care less for beauty than
for ostentatious display of wealth or a fashionably
“modern” look.

Although a piece of cloth looks red to some and gray
to others, we do not hesitate to say that it is “really”
red, even though a person who is color-blind cannot
perceive its redness. We regard the redness of the
object as a function of its physical properties (wave-
length of reflected light), even though the experience
of redness is a function of both the object and certain
necessary conditions in the perceiving organism. Simi-
larly, the Objectivist wants to regard beauty as a func-
tion of objective features. But the Nonobjectivist asks
whether, in this case, the functional relationship is so
obscure and the variability of perception so great that
the analogy with color cannot be maintained. This
problem has proved to be a continuing cause of puz-
zlement and dispute.

A number of factors, both personal and social, have
been investigated to explain divergencies in the per-
ception of beauty. For one example, the modern
movement of functionalism, a descendant of the old
view that beauty depends in some way on utility, has
sometimes been interpreted as holding that what makes
an object beautiful is its being designed to fulfill a
purpose in the simplest and most efficient way. Many
plausible examples, of course, can be given, and func-
tionalists have taught us to be willing to see beauties
to which we had been blind or indifferent—in machines
and tools. But Edmund Burke pointed out long ago
that the snout of a pig may be just as efficient for its
purpose as the body of a racehorse—which does not
make it beautiful. Thus functionalists generally fall
back on a qualification: the object must not only fulfill
its function well, but “express” its function; however,
this may not lead to beauty but to some other desirable
aesthetic quality.

III. STUDIES OF BEAUTY

The main work that has been done in the twentieth
century on the concepts of beauty may conveniently


212

be sorted into four lines of inquiry: (1) the philosophical
analysis of beauty, (2) the phenomenology of beauty,
(3) the psychology of beauty, (4) the sociology and
anthropology of beauty. These will be described briefly.

1. Philosophical Analysis. The distinctions made in
Part II of this article are the product of philosophical
analysis by many mid-twentieth-century thinkers, a
number of whom have already been referred to. Philo-
sophical analysis consists of various procedures de-
signed to elicit and make explicit the nature of a con-
cept: e.g., is it simple or complex? If complex, what
are its constituents? Does it have necessary and suffi-
cient constituents, or is it really a family of concepts
with overlapping sets of criteria? Analytic methods
have contributed to progress in every branch of philos-
ophy, including aesthetics. It is safe to say that, at the
very least, the distinct issues involving beauty and the
reasonable defensible resolutions are better understood
today than in any previous period.

2. Phenomenology. The phenomenologist is con-
cerned with the characteristics of experience itself,
including its “intentional objects.” His aim is to remain
wholly faithful to what is given, without importing
extraneous presuppositions or illegitimate inferences—
to discriminate and expose the subtle differences be-
tween closely allied experiences, and fix their essential
natures. To ask what is the difference in experience
between beauty and grace or prettiness, for example,
is a phenomenological question. What distinguishes
contemporary phenomenology as a particular school
or movement is the systematic formulation of its pro-
gram (despite many differences among its practitioners)
and the immense sensitivity and thoroughness with
which inquiries have been carried out.

Phenomenologists (including those sometimes re-
ferred to as existential phenomenologists) have con-
tributed to several branches of aesthetics. Some under-
standing of their methods and results can be provided
by a brief account of two phenomenological essays,
among the few that deal directly and in detail with
concepts of beauty. The first is “Der Ursprung des
Kunstwerkes,” by Martin Heidegger (Holzwege [1950];
trans. by Albert Hofstadter, as “The Origin of the Work
of Art,” in Hofstadter and Richard Kuhn, eds., Philos-
ophies of Art and Beauty,
New York [1964]). Seeking
for the essential “workly” character of the art-work
(in contrast to the “thingly” character of mere things
and the “equipmental” character of useful objects),
Heidegger finds it in “the setting-itself-into-work of the
truth of what is.” Thus in Van Gogh's picture of the
peasant shoes (i.e., of certain pieces of equipment), the
being of the shoes (their “truth”) is “unconcealed.” In
its capacity to suggest something of the life of the
peasant—his toil, poverty, toughness—this painting
“discloses a world”; as a physical object, exploiting and
exhibiting the qualities of a medium, it “sets forth the
earth.” The art-work is a field of conflict between
world, which strives for openness, and earth, which
has a tendency to withdraw and hide; in this conflict,
the truth of being is laid open, and this happening is
beauty: “Beauty is one way in which truth occurs as
unconcealment.”

The second essay is Truth and Art, by Albert Hof-
stadter (New York, 1965). According to Hofstadter,
beauty, “the central aesthetic phenomenon,” is “a
union of power and measure, a dynamic or living
harmony” that is “the appearance of truth—not of any
truth at random, but of truth of being”—which is the
kind of truth that “comes about when a being projects
and realizes its own being.” In certain natural phe-
nomena—the snowflake, the color gold, the form of
the horse—Hofstadter discerns this self-realization;
e.g., “the horse's visual appearance makes it look like
life-will—energy, vitality, mobility—come to perfect
realization” (Ch. 7). In the experience of beauty we
are seized by the “rightness” or “validity” of the object,
which appears in its highest form in works of art
(Ch. 8).

3. Experimental Psychology. The systematic exper-
imental study of aesthetic responses is generally re-
garded as having been initiated by Gustav Fechner,
in his Vorschule der Aesthetik (Leipzig, 1876). He has
been followed by a large number of investigators,
among whom Richard Müller-Freienfels and Max Des-
soir are especially noteworthy. Psychological aestheti-
cians have studied reactions to elements of visual,
musical, and verbal design (colors, lines, sounds of
words), and to combinations of elements (rhythm,
meter, pictorial balance); they have used the “method
of paired comparisons” to discover what kinds of object
certain people call beautiful, and what kinds of people
call certain objects beautiful—and why. They have
learned a great deal about preferences in these matters,
e.g., that it is not the Golden Rectangle, but propor-
tions close to it, that are preferred in playing cards,
etc.; that the popularity of red among American chil-
dren declines after age six; that British children find
beauty in nature before they become aware—about age
ten—of beauty in art; that when photographs of several
men or women are superimposed to produce a “pro-
file-picture,” it is judged more beautiful than the origi-
nals. Much of this work is reviewed in A. R. Chandler,
Beauty and Human Nature (New York and London,
1934), and C. W. Valentine, The Experimental Psychol-
ogy of Beauty
(London, 1962).

It is not always clear at what point psychological
aesthetics casts light on the nature of beauty. Valentine
holds—and offers experimental evidence (in Chs. 7 and


213

13) to show—that the appreciation of beauty is not
the same as the enjoyment of pleasure, though typically
accompanied by it; yet “It has been found more con-
venient in such psychological experiments to ask per-
sons the question, 'Do you like this, and if so, why?'
or 'Do you find this pleasing?' rather than “Do you
think this beautiful, and why?'” (p. 6). But different
questions, however convenient, are likely to evoke
different answers (cf. H. J. Eysenck, Sense and Non-
sense in Psychology,
Baltimore [1957], Ch. 8).

The problem of explaining our perception of beauty
(or our experience of kalistic pleasure) has tempted few
psychologists, and is generally thought to remain un-
solved. During the first decades of this century, the
Empathy Theory was widely accepted. First ex-
pounded by Theodor Lipps in his Aesthetik (2 vols.,
Hamburg and Leipzig, 1903-06), the theory was de-
veloped and popularized by Vernon Lee (Violet Paget),
in The Beautiful (Cambridge and New York, 1913) and
Herbert S. Langfeld, The Aesthetic Attitude (New York,
1920). The primary purpose of the Empathy Theory
was to explain the expressiveness of visual forms in
terms of the unconscious transference of the perceiver's
activities to the object (something in the mountain as
seen activates our tendency to rise, and so we see
mountain as “rising”); when the empathic response is
highly unified and quite uninhibited and unchecked,
beauty is experienced. The hypothesis was never veri-
fied, and serious difficulties were raised as a result of
some experiments. The satisfaction taken in perceiving
ordered patterns of visual stimuli has been explained
by the Gestalt psychologists in terms of phenomenal
“requiredness” and “good gestalts” (see, for example,
Kurt Koffka, “Problems in the Psychology of Art,” in
Art: A Bryn Mawr Symposium, Bryn Mawr, Pa., 1940);
but Gestalt psychologists have generally not given
special attention to beauty.

4. Social Science. When beauty is considered in the
context of a whole society or culture, a number of
significant questions suggest themselves: What are the
social causes and effects of people's ideas of beauty
or experience of beauty? How is the capacity to ap-
preciate a certain kind of beauty, or the preference
for it, associated with other cultural traits, or with
social class, role, or status? Though the pioneering
sociological thinkers of the nineteenth century, for
example, Jean-Marie Guyau, L'Art au point de vue
sociologique
(Paris, 1889), began to consider such ques-
tions, even today it cannot be said that we have ob-
tained very conclusive answers. This is partly because
the specific questions about beauty have been sunk into
more general questions; there are many studies of the
variability of taste, of connoisseurship, of artistic repu-
tations, etc., but it is not clear in many cases what
light they shed on the social aspects of beauty. Adolf
S. Tomars, for example, begins his Introduction to the
Sociology of Art
(Mexico City, 1940) by marking out
the “phenomena of art” as those referred to in making
the judgment “this is beautiful” (Ch. 1). And he defends
a relativistic account of beauty, which he holds to be
required by the scientific character of his investigation
(Ch. 12). But for the most part, beauty drops out of
his inquiry into relations between characteristics of art
(“styles”) and types of community, social class, or insti-
tution. Vytautas Kavolis (Artistic Expression; A Socio-
logical Analysis,
Ithaca, N.Y. [1968]) discusses many
discoveries about preference: for example, according
to the Lynds' study of “Middletown,” homes of lower
middle-class urban families in the 1920's “were more
likely than those of other class levels” to have Whis-
tler's portrait of his mother (Chs. 3, 7); and highly
ethnocentric people prefer regular, balanced designs
(B. G. Rosenberg and C. N. Zimet, 1957). But Kavolis
himself does not use the term “beauty” at all.

Cultural anthropologists have made a beginning in
the investigation of beauty (again almost always ap-
proached through aesthetic preference, especially in
view of the linguistic difficulties), with cross-cultural
comparative studies, and intercultural functional stud-
ies. There is evidence to support two generalizations.

First, “the appeal of what a people consider sur-
passingly pleasing, beauty as an abstraction, that is,
is broadly spread over the earth, and lies deep in human
experience—so wide, and so deep, that it is to be
classed as a cultural universal” (Melville J. Herskovits,
in Aspects of Primitive Art [1959], p. 43). This is seen,
for example, in the Pakot (Kenya) distinction between
the “good” milk pot and the “beautiful” lip of the pot's
rim or the severely critical attitude of the Tlingit
audience toward their dancers, and in the artistic ac-
tivities of Australian aborigines: “aboriginal art is pre-
dominantly nonmagical, i.e., used in the secular and
ceremonial life by men, women, and children, to satisfy
an aesthetic urge or to portray their beliefs” (Charles
P. Mountford, in Marian W. Smith, ed., The Artist in
Tribal Society,
New York [1961], p. 8). Herbert Read,
commenting on this paper, however, suggested that
“tribal art in general is vital rather than beautiful”
(ibid. p. 17).

Second, there is a significant cross-cultural conver-
gence in standards of beauty, despite evidence that
some standards of judgment applied by experts in one
culture are not applied in others. “I believe that there
are universal standards of aesthetic quality, just as there
are universal standards of technical efficiency,” wrote
Raymond Firth (Elements of Social Organization, Lon-
don [1951]; 3rd ed., Boston [1963], p. 161). Irvin L.
Child and various collaborators in a number of studies


214

have provided evidence against the earlier prevalent
view among ethnologists that taste is completely vari-
able. They found, for example, significant correlations
between BaKwele and New Haven judgments of
beauty (or aesthetic likeability) in BaKwele masks
(I. L. Child and Leon Siroto, 1965).

SUMMARY

Though displaced from their central or dominant
position in the aesthetician's field of concern, the con-
cepts of beauty have continued to be of interest, and
indeed have been the subject of numerous books and
smaller studies, especially in English, French, German,
and Italian. Philosophers have carefully explicated the
distinctions, and the logical connections, among these
concepts, and have proposed solutions to the philo-
sophical problems about beauty. To a lesser extent,
other researchers have investigated the empirical
problems about beauty. But it has not lost its capacity,
evident from the beginning of aesthetic inquiry, to
tease and puzzle thought.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Raymond Bayer, Traité d'esthétique (Paris, 1956). M. C.
Beardsley, Aesthetics from Classical Greece to the Present
(New York, 1966), Chs. 11, 12; idem, Aesthetics: Problems
in the Philosophy of Criticism
(New York, 1958). E. F.
Carritt, The Theory of Beauty (London, 1919; 5th ed., 1949).
Katherine Gilbert and Helmut Kuhn, A History of Esthetics,
2nd ed. (Bloomington, 1959), Chs. 16-19. Horace Kallen,
Art and Freedom, 2 vols. (New York, 1943), Vol. II. Guido
Morpurgo-Tagliabue, L'esthétique contemporaine (Milan,
1960). Thomas Munro, “The Concept of Beauty in the
Philosophy of Naturalism,” Toward Science in Aesthetics
(New York, 1956).

MONROE C. BEARDSLEY

[See also Beauty to Mid-Nineteenth Century; Empathy;
Form; Idea; Naturalism in Art; Relativism in Ethics.]