- The study of the feelings, concepts, and judgements arising from our appreciation of the arts or of the wider class of objects considered moving, or beautiful, or sublime. Aesthetic theory concerns itself with questions such as: what is a work of art? What makes a work of art successful? Can art be a vehicle of truth? Does art work by expressing the feelings of the artist, communicating feeling, arousing feeling, purging or symbolizing feeling? What is the difference between understanding a work of art, and failing to do so? How is it that we take aesthetic pleasure in surprising things: tragedies, or terrifying natural scenes? Why can things of very different categories equally seem beautiful? Does the perception of beauty have connections with moral virtue, and with seeing something universal or essential, and is the importance of aesthetic education and practice associated with this? What is the role of the imagination in the production or appreciation of art? Are aesthetic judgements capable of improvement and training, and thence of some kind of objectivity ?The classical origin of many of these questions is found in Plato . The dialogues Ion, Symposium, and Phaedrus are centrally concerned with the place of beauty in the order of things, and the preoccupation surfaces in many other places, including in the context of Plato's famous dismissal of artists from the ideal Republic (see mimesis ). Aristotle's discussion in the Poetics centres on the nature of tragedy, and engendered the idea of catharsis, or the purging of emotion as the deep effect of witnessing tragic drama. In the modern period aesthetics emerged as a separate topic in the work of Baumgarten, Lessing, Hutcheson, Hume, and especially Kant . In the Critique of Judgement Kant addresses the question of how judgements of beauty are possible, when they are incapable of proof or of any reduction to rule, and are so intimately concerned to express the pleasure of the subject. His solution lies in the consciousness of the harmony of understanding and imagination, and, since this harmony can be felt by any rational being, judgements of taste can be demanded of others. They thereby achieve their necessary objectivity.
Philosophy dictionary. Academic. 2011.