1. Definition And Key Questions. Aesthetics is the study of beauty and art, their nature and history. Among the many avenues of philosophical investigation are the following: Is beauty an attribute of matter? Does beauty inhere in objects, forming, as it were, a part of their essence? Or is beauty an indefinable quality, an aspect of something which is pleasing to some but not to others? What is the status of statements like, "She's beautiful," "That was a beautiful song," "Beauty is in the eye of the beholder", "Mother Teresa is a beautiful person"? Is there moral and spiritual beauty as well as "physical" beauty? Is beauty a Form or Idea, each material manifestation in the everyday world simply being a reflection of it? And what, exactly, is art? A non-conceptual expression of the nature of things? A mere imitation of external objects? An emanation of deep will and eros? A cathartic release? On what grounds can we assert that beauty and art are either x or y, are present in situation x or situation y?
2. Prevailing Views. Plato: He divided aesthetics into the visual arts (painting, sculpture, architecture), the literary arts (epic, lyric, and dramatic poetry), and music. Since all things are imitations of the eternal Forms, art is mere imagery, imitation of imitations. Physical beauty is subordinate to mental beauty, but the former is the kind most often experienced and appreciated by average men. At one point, Plato says the truly beautiful is what is beneficial through the senses of sight and hearing. Art is inferior to philosophy, he contends, and should be regulated by the state. Aristotle: Art imitates objects. Tragedy is an imitation of human action in which someone suffers disaster because of some defect. The purpose of tragedy is to effect a pleasurable catharsis of the emotions of pity and fear. Augustine: He denied the relativity and subjectivity of beauty. Perception of beauty depends upon a normative judgment of what comports to the ideal; thus, a sculptor or painter can correct her work as she goes along, striving for perfection, and critics can pass judgment on it. Aquinas: The beautiful is that which pleases in the mere apprehension of it. Nietzsche: Tragedy consists of two basic impulses: Dionysian and Apollonian spirits; former an artistic, romantic, subjective approach to experience, the latter a disposition calling for order, form, proportion. Art a great "tonic" to life, proof of the will to power. Santayana: Beauty is pleasure regarded as the quality of a thing. It is a value -- i.e., it is not a perception of a matter of fact or of a relation: it is an emotion, an affection of our volitional and appreciative nature. Croce: Art is an expression of impressions (transformation of materials of experience into intuitions of the concrete). Tolstoy: Art can be harmful or beneficial depending on the degree to which it contributes to a sense of fraternal love. Good art transmits simple feelings that draw people together.
Aristotle: Poetics; Rhetoric.
Augustine: Confessions; Concerning Order; On Music.
Aquinas: Summa Theologica
Monroe Beardsley: Aesthetics: Problems in the Philosophy of Criticism
Bernard Bosanquet: History of Aesthetic
Collingwood, R.G.: The Principles of Art
Croce: Philosophy of the Spirit
Dewey: Art As Experience
Kant: Critique of Judgment
Nietzsche: The Birth of Tragedy; The Will To Power
Plato: Republic, Book X; Symposium; Greater Hippias; Philebus.
Santayana: The Sense of Beauty
Stace, W.T.: The Meaning of Beauty
Tolstoy: What Is Art?