Oxford Bibliographies Online: Philosophy (2019)
This is an 18,500 word bibliography of philosophical scholarship on Beauty which was published online in the Oxford Bibliographies Online. The entry includes an Introduction of 800 words, 21 x 400-word sub-themes and 168 annotated references.
Philosophical interest in beauty began with the earliest recorded philosophers. Beauty was deemed to be an essential ingredient in a good life and so what it was, where it was to be found and how it was to be included in a life were prime considerations. The way beauty has been conceived has been influenced by an author’s other philosophical commitments, metaphysical, epistemological and ethical and such commitments reflect the historical and cultural position of the author. For example, beauty is a manifestation of the divine on earth to which we respond with love and adoration; beauty is a harmony of the soul which we achieve through cultivating feeling in a rational and tempered way; beauty is an idea raised in us by certain objective features of the world; beauty is a sentiment which can nonetheless be cultivated to be appropriate to its object; beauty is the object of a judgment by which we exercise the social, comparative and inter-subjective elements of cognition and so on. Such views on beauty not only reveal underlying philosophical commitments but also reflect positive contributions to understanding the nature of value and the relation of mind and world. One way to distinguish between beauty theories is according to the conception of the human being that they assume or imply, for example, where they fall on the continuum from determinism to free will, ungrounded notions of compatibilism notwithstanding. For example, theories at the latter end might carve out a sense of genuine innovation and creativity in human endeavours while at the other end of the spectrum authors may conceive of beauty as an environmental trigger for consumption, procreation or preservation in the interests of the individual. Treating beauty experiences as in some respect intentional, characterises beauty theory prior to the twentieth century and since, mainly in historically inspired writing on beauty. On the other hand, treating beauty as affect or sensation has always had its representatives and is most visible today in evolutionary inspired accounts of beauty (though not all evolutionary accounts fit this classification). Beauty theory falls under some combination of metaphysics, epistemology, meta-ethics, aesthetics and psychology. While in the twentieth century beauty was more likely to be conceived as an evaluative concept for art, recent philosophical interest in beauty can again be seen to exercise arguments pertaining to metaphysics, epistemology, meta-ethics, philosophy of meaning and language in addition to philosophy of art and environmental aesthetics.