aesthetics (ĕsthĕt´Ĭks), the branch of philosophy that is concerned with the nature of art and the criteria of artistic judgment. The classical conception of art as the imitation of nature was formulated by Plato and developed by Aristotle in his Poetics, while modern thinkers such as Immanuel Kant, F. W. Schelling, Benedetto Croce, and Ernst Cassirer have emphasized the creative and symbolic aspects of art. The major problem in aesthetics concerns the nature of the beautiful. Generally speaking there are two basic approaches to the problem of beauty—the objective, which asserts that beauty inheres in the object and that judgments concerning it may have objective validity, and the subjective, which tends to identify the beautiful with that which pleases the observer. Outstanding defenders of the objective position were Plato, Aristotle, and G. E. Lessing, and of the subjective position, Edmund Burke and David Hume. In his Critique of Judgment, Kant mediated between the two tendencies by showing that aesthetic judgment has universal validity despite its subjective nature. Among the modern philosophers interested in aesthetics, the most important are Croce, R. G. Collingwood, Cassirer, and John Dewey.

See K. E. Gilbert and H. Kuhn, A History of Esthetics (rev. ed. 1953, repr. 1972); M. C. Beardsley, Aesthetics from Classical Greece to the Present (1965); H. Osborne, Aesthetics and Art Theory (1970); G. Dickie, Aesthetics: An Introduction (1971); A. C. Danto, The Philosophical Disenfranchisement of Art (1986); D. Sumner, The Judgment of Sense: Renaissance Naturalism and the Rise of Aesthetics (1987).

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright© 2015, The Columbia University Press.

Aesthetics: Selected full-text books and articles

The Routledge Companion to Aesthetics By Berys Gaut; Dominic McIver Lopes Routledge, 2001
Introducing Aesthetics By David E.W. Fenner Praeger, 2003
Aesthetics A-Z By Eran Guter Edinburgh University Press, 2010
The Principles of Aesthetics By Dewitt H. Parker Appleton-Century-Crofts, 1946 (2nd edition)
Essays in Aesthetics By Jean-Paul Sartre; Wade Baskin Citadel Press, 1963
Aesthetics: Lectures on Fine Art By G. W. F. Hegel; T. M. Knox Clarendon Press, vol.1, 1998
Aesthetics and Subjectivity: From Kant to Nietzsche By Andrew Bowie Manchester University Press, 2003 (2nd edition)
Classic and Romantic German Aesthetics By J. M. Bernstein Cambridge University Press, 2002
Art and Enlightenment: Aesthetic Theory after Adorno By David Roberts University of Nebraska Press, 1991
Beyond Aesthetics: Philosophical Essays By Noel Carroll Cambridge University Press, 2001
The Pleasures of Aesthetics: Philosophical Essays By Jerrold Levinson Cornell University Press, 1996
The Aesthetics of Everyday Life By Andrew Light; Jonathan M. Smith Columbia University Press, 2005
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