|Jennifer Anne McMahon:
In Berys Gaut and Dominic Lopes, The Routledge Companion to Aesthetics (2001)
Two traditions dominate aesthetic theory:
The Pythagorean Tradition
Beauty leads to a pleasurable response in those who observe it. But what is it that we observe when we observe beauty? The Pythagoreans of antiquity emphasized musical harmony as an example, and so concluded that mathematical relations are the essence of beauty. Agreements about what is beautiful depend on a universal ability in humans to perceive these relations.
Principles of Beauty: The philosophical problem has been whether or not it is possible to specify necessary and sufficient conditions for the presence of beauty. Every attempt has been frustrated by examples of beautiful things that do not possess the properties specified by the principles. [Think of the rules for painting specified by art teachers at different times, and how beautiful paintings were then produced in violation of the accepted rules.]
argued that beauty is found in imagination, not perception. What we
perceive is imaginatively shaped by the mind at a level of cognition that
is more basic than conscious thought. So beauty is perceived by a
universal feature of human minds [Kant even identifies it as a kind of
common sense!], but it is a feature that does its work PRIOR to conceptual
determinations (and thus prior to application of language to the object).
So beauty is ineffable (literally beyond description). There cannot be
principles of beauty.
Mary Mothersill endorses Kant by endorsing his discovery of two aesthetic theses:
Beauty is what pleases us
in an object's aesthetic properties.
Medieval writers emphasized that genuine judgments of beauty must be disinterested. This makes the pleasure of beauty very different from other kinds of pleasure. [If I only admire a painting because I know its monetary value, I am interested and my pleasure in seeing it is not related to its beauty.]
The Pleasure-Principle Tradition
An alternative tradition, associated with the Epicureans, says that beauty is not so distinct as a source of pleasure.
Guy Sircello identifies beauty with PQD (a "property of qualitative degree"). An object is beautiful when it has a non-quantitative property in high degree, and the presence of the property gives us pleasure. An intensely yellow lemon can be beautiful, although an intensely sour one is not. Formal relations enter into this theory as a special case, as the PQD of harmony.
Last updated February 26, 2004