Philosophy of Modern Aesthetics

The word beauty has various meanings depending on the context in which it is used. Beauty is most commonly defined as a mental feature of objects which makes these objects enjoyable to perceive; hence beauty encompasses a wide range of aesthetic objects. Such objects may include sunsets, landscapes, beautiful humans and artistic works. Beauty, along with aesthetic appreciation, is probably the most significant part of aesthetics, arguably the most important branch of fine arts. It is widely held that beauty is subjective and thus cannot be objectively measured, though many disagree.


The field of aesthetics is divided into several branches with each one proposing particular characteristics which beauty supposedly possess. The most influential branches of modern aesthetics are visual philosophy, literature and art, science of aesthetics and philosophy of beauty. In addition, the field of philosophy of beauty has begun to include such concepts as the value and importance of beauty in the social and communal sense. Aesthetic philosophers have endeavored to articulate the essence of beauty through philosophy, art, science and fine art that were appreciated throughout the ancient and the modern worlds.

Aesthetic philosophers have attempted to define beauty through a variety of methods. Aesthetic theories attempt to explain the subjective nature of beauty under the terms of art, science and value systems. Visual aesthetics constitutes the study of how beauty is perceived and what that perception tells us about the nature of reality. Literature and art aesthetics consider how literary and artistic works influence human emotions, society and culture.

According to German philosopher Martin Heidegger, beauty is rooted in the self and relies on the human ability to become aware of its own experience and find a unified response to the world. In his book, Intensive Philosophy, Heidegger distinguishes the essence of beauty from what can be perceived and created by the senses. Heidegger believes that the only possible objective in life is the experience of the everyday and the unconscious. The discipline of aesthetics then is concerned with the cultivation of aesthetic awareness independent of all the categories and ideas of ethics and enlightenment. In his famous work, Der Hamburger Feminismus, Heidegger distinguishes four important aesthetic concepts: realism, nominalism, subjectivity and purity.

Realism is associated with beauty as the object and the subject. Realism says that there is no such thing as pleasure, because pleasure is an imaginary concept based on our ability to desire. Because there is no such thing as pleasure, we are deprived of a basic joy that comes from seeing things as they really are. According to the philosophers of aesthetics, there can be no objective pleasure; therefore, beauty cannot be seen and can only be experienced.

Novalis thinks that beauty in nature and the world can be described in terms of a hierarchy of differences. He says that each arc corresponds to a certain level of differentiation in nature. Thus the hierarchy of differences in nature is expressed in the different levels of beauty, in the quality of the objects themselves and in their own importance for the organism. The philosophy of modern aesthetics therefore combines the theories of aesthetics with biology, psychology, sociology and history in order to give rise to a complete picture of human life.