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Parent categories: philosophy

Related: aesthete - aestheticism - aestheticization - aesthetic movement - art - beauty - camp - criticism - culture - grotesque - judgment - kitsch - morals - music - senses - sublime - taste - ugliness

The Alps, photo Jan Chciuk-Celt, an example of beauty as awe-inspiring, i.e. the sublime.

Some of the meaning of aesthetic as an adjective can be illuminated by comparing it to anaesthetic, which is by construction an antonym of aesthetic. If something is anaesthetic, it tends to dull the senses or cause sleepiness [and induce boredom]. In contrast, aesthetic may be thought of as anything that tends to enliven or invigorate or wake one up. [Jul 2006]


Aesthetics (or esthetics) is a branch of philosophy dealing with the definition of beauty. It is particularly important to the study of the individual's moral core, which is formed by epigenetics and examples through his or her lifetime, but has a common human foundation explored in cognitive science, anthropology and primatology.


The word aesthetic can be used as a noun meaning 'that which appeals to the senses.' Someone's aesthetic has a lot to do with their artistic judgement. For example, an individual who wears flowered clothing, drives a flowered car, and paints their home with flowers has a particular aesthetic.

Some of the meaning of aesthetic as an adjective can be illuminated by comparing it to anaesthetic, which is by construction an antonym of aesthetic. If something is anaesthetic, it tends to dull the senses or cause sleepiness. In contrast, aesthetic may be thought of as anything that tends to enliven or invigorate or wake one up.

This illumination is imperfect in that anaesthetic is not an exact antonym of aesthetic. In common usage, anaesthetic refers to a dulling that is physical in its focus, while aesthetic is more commonly used to describe a mental or intellectual awakening or stimulation. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aesthetics

Aesthetica (1750) - Alexander Gottlieb Baumgarten

In 1750, Alexander Gottlieb Baumgarten published the book "Aesthetica," in which he took the term to encompass a science of sensual recognition. Baumgarten tried to create a place for this new "lower" science of aesthetics with the "higher" science of logic, so that a discussion of the beautiful would not be reduced to a mere discussion of taste ("Geschmack"). --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aesthetics#18th_and_19th_century_Europe [Jul 2006]

Kant's aesthetic theory

Kant reasoned that aesthetic judgements have universal validity. Kant was wrong. (Stephen Bayley, 1991)

Immanuel Kant searched for the basis of aesthetic motivation. For such a difficult journey, Köningsberg [where he was born and died) was not a good place to start. (Stephen Bayley, 1991)

The age of consumerism has no time for Kant. (Stephen Bayley, 1991)

See also: Stephen Bayley - aesthetics - Immanuel Kant

The theory of ideal beauty

The theory of ideal beauty asks whether there can ever be a single yardstick of beauty or whether what is recognised as beauty will be in continuous flux as each culture evolves and establishes new measures of social acceptability. --adapted fromhttp://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Semiotics_of_Ideal_Beauty [Oct 2005]

Universal correlates of beauty

Despite significant variation, there nonetheless exists a tremendous degree of agreement among cultures as to what is perceived as attractive. There is a strong correlation between judgements of attractiveness between cultures. Furthermore, infants, who presumably have not yet been affected by culture, tend to prefer the same faces considered attractive by adults. This implies that a large part of attractiveness is determined by inborn human nature, not nurture.

Strong correlations between attractiveness and particular physical properties have been found, across cultures. One of the more important properties is symmetry, which is also associated with physical health. Large, clear eyes are also important. Large eyes are often considered to mark a high degree of attractiveness in East Asia, perhaps because some Asians consider large eyes relatively more rare in Asian populations, and are often spoken about in Asian culture; Asia culture often notes ethnic non-Asians for their eyes. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Physical_attractiveness#Universal_correlates_of_beauty [Oct 2005]

Facial symmetry and the golden ratio
Facial symmetry is seen as a universal determinant of health and therefore of beauty. A person of either gender who is considered as attractive in various cultures has been found to have facial symmetry based on the golden ratio of 1:1.618. Plastic surgeon Stephen Marquardt developed an ideal beauty mask marked with various outlines of facial features based on the golden ratio. The faces that are judged as most attractive are found to fit the mask. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Physical_attractiveness#Facial_symmetry_and_the_golden_ratio [Oct 2005]

See also: ideal - beauty

1700s [...]

In the 1700s, the powers of sensation, residing in the tongue and palate, were metaphorically transmuted into the powers of cultural discrimination and judgment. --Kay Parkhurst Easson and Barbara Ching

[F]aced with such comments, the “Man of Taste” was often busy trying to assert his norms as the norms. What we witness during the mid-century is an attempt to secure “the rules of taste” to the hands of the few. In Britain this capacity to judge was arrogated by, in addition to Hume, Edmund Burke, Gerard, Henry Home (Lord Kames) and in France by Voltaire and Jean d’Alembert, all of whom made serious attempts to define standards. For Hume, in particular, it had become necessary and, indeed, “natural […] to seek a Standard of Taste”; the resulting standard was, as Home writes in his “Standard of Taste” (1762), to be “applied to the taste of every individual”.

For some, instigating a standard was based upon establishing hierarchies of experience. Hume had earlier argued, in his 1741 essay “Of the Delicacy of Taste and Passion”, that it was necessary to distinguish between what he called “a delicacy of passion” and the “delicacy of taste”, the former to be lamented, and the latter to be cultivated. Voltaire, in “An Essay on Taste” (1759), distinguished between “intellectual and sensual taste” in order to reach his standard, arguing that sensual taste aroused “relish only for those delicate and high seasoned dishes, in which all the refinements of art [...had] been employed to excite a forced sensation of pleasure” while intellectual taste showed “a want of relish for those beauties which [were] unaffected and natural”. For d’Alembert, also in 1759, establishing the same standard involved discriminating between “certain charms [...] which equally affect all observers [and] another species of beauty, which only affects [...] minds, that are possessed of a certain delicacy of feeling”. . --Charlotte Stevens, Loughborough University, first published 08 April 2005 via http://www.litencyc.com/php/stopics.php?rec=true&UID=1091 [Sept 2005]

Taste and the emergence of the modern self

In his 1757 "Essai sur le goût" [An Essay on Taste] written for the Encyclopédie published under the direction of Diderot, Montesquieu defined taste as the faculty of discovering with quickness and delicacy the degree of pleasure which we should receive from each object that comes within the sphere of our perception (1970: 260). Montesquieu's definition of taste has a double meaning. Taste refers both to the feelings of pleasure one experiences when confronted with beautiful objects and to the intrinsic standards of beauty embodied in these objects. Taste is an individual and subjective sentiment, but it is also a discriminating faculty, through which individuals discover the amount of pleasure that things ought to give them by virtue of their objective properties. According to Ferry (1990), the 18th century invention of taste as a subjective faculty mediating the perception of objective beauty represents a radical break with the past, since aesthetics standards are no longer seen as immediately given by nature, tradition, or other principles transcending human experience. It is emblematic of the emergence of the modern self. The individual's ability to feel and to think rationally became the foundation of aesthetic experience at the same time that it became the basis of political legitimacy, economic life, and scientific truth. -- Michèle Ollivier and Viviana Fridman

Attempts to reconcile the subjectivity of aesthetic experience with objective standards of taste remained a central problem of modern aesthetics through the 18th and late 19th centuries. The classical Cartesian view maintained that art imitates nature according to principles which are discovered through reason, much in the same way that science uncovers the eternal laws of nature. In an argument which resonated well with the Romantic spirit, others argued that beauty does not rest on objective properties of nature, but in immutable and eternal characteristics of the human soul. The mid-18th century controversy on the sources of beauty in music, for example, opposed composer Jean-Philippe Rameau, who argued that music is beautiful because its rules of harmony and melody reflect mathematical properties of sound, to philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau, who argued that music is beautiful because sounds mirror humanity's primitive passions (see Ollivier 1987). Moving away from both of these positions, Immanuel Kant's groundbreaking Kritik der Urteilskraftwork [Critique of Judgement], published in 1790, maintained that taste is an autonomous realm independent from external influences, be they rationality or passions, as well as from considerations of utility, morality, or economy. This position paved the way for theories of art for art's sake, according to which art reflects the genius of the artist and should be allowed to develop unfettered by social and economic constraints. Michèle Ollivier and Viviana Fridman in http://falcon.jmu.edu/~brysonbp/symbound/papers2001/Olivier.html

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