The theory of beauty dates back to Plato, who holds a usually antagonistic and suspicious view of art since he views art as a representation of a representation, giving precedence to real material objects, which in turn are inferior to ideal Forms. Plato posits that there exists a Form of Beauty that is present in everything that we recognize as beautiful, whether in the manmade world or in nature. He influenced Lord Shaftesbury in the 18th century, who still held that the contemplation of beauty is a rational process while introducing the idea of a faculty of taste that governs the apprehension of beauty. Shaftesbury also introduced the idea of disinterestedness in the contemplation of beauty, which would be adopted by numerous other philosophers in the 18th and 19th centuries. Theories of taste, which unified the objectivity of the material world with the internal senses, governed the 18th century. In the 19th century, Arthur Schopenhauer introduced the idea of aesthetic consciousness, a special and rare state of mind, which unlike the faculty of taste presupposed a complete subjectivity of aesthetic experience.
- Plato — Beauty is not embodied in anything physical or spiritual. It is a single, ideal Form that has a real existence beyond our sense perception. All beautiful things have the accompanying quality of unity. Beautiful things share the qualities of measure and proportion. The appreciation of Beauty involves contemplation.
- St. Thomas Aquinas — Forms are part of the sensory world. Cognition is important to the experience of beauty. The mind grasps a Form that is embodied in the object of experience. There is no single Form of Beauty.
(Forms, cognition, experience)
- Lord Shaftesbury — His theory of beauty unifies Platonism with a single faculty of taste that governs moral judgment as well as our judgment of what is beautiful. The sense of beauty is a cognitive faculty. The contemplation of beautiful things is separate from the desire to posses them. Therefore, the contemplation of beauty is disinterested or not vested in any personal interest.
(Faculty of taste, cognition, contemplation, disinterestedness)
- Francis Hutcheson — The perception of beauty is the object of our sensory faculties. It is in our private consciousness and is a feeling. There are several internal senses that allow us to perceive beauty. The experience of beauty is immediate, free of thought and calculation, therefore it cannot be premeditated and selfish. All beautiful things share the quality of uniformity in variety.
(Sensory faculties, disinterestedness, uniformity in variety)
- Edmund Burke — The sublime is separate from beauty. Beauty arises from the emotion of love, while the sublime arises from delight. Delight arises from the removal of the possibility of pain or the possibility of the anticipation of pain in experiencing. Love is disinterested, therefore our appreciation of beauty is disinterested.
- David Hume — The nature of taste should be an empirical investigation into human nature. Beauty cannot be rationally intuited, but is founded in experience. Beauty is the sum of the varying tastes of individuals, but in order to be part of the survey group from which our understanding of beauty will be derived, individuals must posses “a delicacy of taste,” and not be motivated by prevailing trends or ignorance or envy. Beauty is a feeling and it is possible to have universal agreement and objective judgments about what is beautiful because there exists a range of normal subjects to be investigated on what their sense of beauty is.
(Experience, normative evaluation of beauty)
- Archibald Alison — There are no special internal senses that detect beauty. There is only the association of ideas. The ordinary cognitive functions and affective faculties operate to generate an emotion of taste from all material objects in the world indiscriminately through the association of ideas. In order to give rise to the emotion of taste, material objects must become a sign of or expressive of a quality of mind. Simple emotions, simple thoughts, and simple pleasures give rise to complex emotions, complex thoughts and complex pleasures in the imagination to produce delight through sequential arisings. One association triggers another, and so material objects reflect qualities of mind. There exists a disinterested state of mind which is most favorable to the emotion of taste.
(Association of ideas, cognition, emotion of taste, disinterestedness, any object can be beautiful)
- Kant — Beauty is not a concept. Beauty is a reflective judgment, but since reflective judgments seek to derive new concepts from existing ones, beauty is a reflective judgment looking for a nonexistent concept. A judgment of beauty must be disinterested (we should not actively desire for an object of beauty to exist), universal (because beauty is a reflective judgment, the imagination cannot derive a new concept from beauty and so engages in free play, a universal faculty), necessary (if one person feels pleasure from the apprehension of beauty through the free play of cognitive faculties, then all people must feel the same pleasure because the cognitive faculties are universal), and recognize a form of purpose (since the recognition of a purpose in an object of beauty would entail the use of a concept, Kant states that we recognize the Form of Purpose in an object of beauty.)
(Form of purpose, reflective judgment, disinterestedness)
- Arthur Schopenhauer — Beauty is the object of aesthetic contemplation. To perceive beauty, the ordinary cognitive faculties function in an unusual way and slip into aesthetic consciousness, “in which knowledge tears itself free from the service of the will.” Aesthetic consciousness takes as its object a relationless Platonic Idea, which distances the subject from the object of perception, thus producing disinterestedness.
(Aesthetic consciousness, cognition, contemplation, disinterestedness)