Philosophies of Beauty from Socrates to Robert Bridges: Being the Sources of Aesthetic Theory

Philosophies of Beauty from Socrates to Robert Bridges: Being the Sources of Aesthetic Theory

Philosophies of Beauty from Socrates to Robert Bridges: Being the Sources of Aesthetic Theory

Philosophies of Beauty from Socrates to Robert Bridges: Being the Sources of Aesthetic Theory

Excerpt

In choosing these extracts I gave some weight to their literary merit, more to their historical interest, and most to their philosophical importance. How literary merit should be defined I must leave those to judge who have digested the book; but I mean that when the same view has been expressed by two writers I preferred the clearer, shorter, and more lively expression unless the other were more interesting for historical reasons. Historical interest is complex. It allows some credit to an author for originality, some for his reputation in other fields--as that he was a good poet or painter as well as a thinker--and much for the influence of his work upon posterity. Our judgement of philosophical importance must depend upon what we think the aim of philosophy to be. One of my reasons for giving so large a proportion of my space to Plato was that he helps us more than later writers to make up our minds on this question. In the time of Socrates people were evidently used to discussing whether particular works of art and nature were beautiful, but the question which he is represented as asking about the nature of beauty seems to have been new. And what he meant by it is fairly clear. He was convinced that it is by no linguistic accident that we call various things beautiful. We really recognize in them one common character, and this character, he thought, must be capable of definition. That is, we must be able to say what other common and peculiar quality or relation, or combination of qualities or relations, beautiful things have, in virtue of which they are all beautiful. Plato appears to have carried on the inquiry accepting the same presuppositions. On another topic he seems to represent Socrates as suggesting that, if a number of things have one common quality or relation, we cannot assume that they have any other. But about beauty he perhaps assumed this without scruple.

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