Aesthetic Value: Beauty, Ugliness and Incoherence

Philosophy 72 (281):383 - 399 (1997)
[FIRST PARAGRAPHS] From Plato through Aquinas to Kant and beyond beauty has traditionally been considered the paradigmatic aesthetic quality. Thus, quite naturally following Socrates' strategy in The Meno, we are tempted to generalize from our analysis of the nature and value of beauty, a particular aesthetic value, to an account of aesthetic value generally. When we look at that which is beautiful, the object gives rise to a certain kind of pleasure within us. Thus aesthetic value is characterized in terms of that which affords us pleasure. Of course, the relation cannot be merely instrumental. Many activities may lead to consequent pleasures that we would not consider to be aesthetic in any way. For example, playing tennis, going swimming or finishing a book. Rather it is in the very contemplation of the object itself that we derive pleasure. As Kant puts it: We dwell on the contemplation of the beautiful because this contemplation strengthens and reproduces itself. The case is analogous (but analogous only) to the way we linger on a charm in the representation of an object which keeps arresting the attention, the mind all the while remaining passive. Thus contemporary philosophers have, following this tradition, defined aesthetic value in terms of our delighting in and savouring an object with pleasure.* An object is of intrinsic aesthetic value if it appropriately gives rise to pleasure in our contemplation of it. Of course background knowledge of particular art movements, cate- gories or artistic intentions may be required to perceive an artwork appropriately. Nonetheless, given the relevant understanding, it is in attending to and savouring uhat is presented to us that we are afforded pleasure
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