Philosophical Aesthetics

We might imagine aesthetics, the study of art and beauty, and philosophy as two unhappy partners in a failing relationship, coming to us seeking counselling.

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We might imagine aesthetics, the study of art and beauty, and philosophy as two unhappy partners in a failing relationship, coming to us seeking counselling. “You can’t give me anything”, aesthetics might complain, “you don’t help people appreciate art or beauty, you don’t make artists better at their creative activity. You have no contribution to make to the aesthetic experience whatsoever. I wish you’d simply get out of my life!” “You never listen to reason,” philosophy might grumble in reply, “You are just so messy, without principles. No universal truths to speak of.”

So what is the point of philosophical aesthetics? Why force aesthetics and philosophy together?

Scepticism about the merits and even the possibility of a philosophical aesthetics has been the subject of irreconcilable controversies among thinkers. It is by no means self-evident that problems of aesthetics should be an object of philosophy: many philosophers have held that issues relating to art and beauty cannot be the object of philosophical work. The rationalist thinkers simply denied aesthetics a place in their systems of thought, while positivist and neo-positivist thinkers argued that it could not be part of philosophical enquiry.

Although classical Greek philosophers commented about both art and beauty, they didn’t regard these problems as deserving a discipline of their own within philosophy. The classical tripartition of the subject into theoretical philosophy (what is there in the world and how can we know about it), practical philosophy (what should we do) and logic (how should we think) leaves open the question of where, if at all, aesthetics fits in. A philosophical aesthetics can be justified if it can be shown that it is meaningful to approach matters of an aesthetic nature philosophically. If this is the case, what are the implications for philosophy on the one hand, and for aesthetics on the other?

In recent times, a number of attempts have been made to determine the position of aesthetics. Thinkers such as Schelling and Nietzsche in their own ways sought to rehabilitate aesthetics to the degree that they even claimed this neglected field to be the highest form of philosophy. To most philosophers, however, reflections about aesthetics seem to be less important than epistemology or ethics. Even in the philosophy of Immanuel Kant, it seems at first sight as if aesthetics came as an afterthought, made thematic only in the third of his famous three Critiques. However, it is in Kant’s system that aesthetics was for the first time assigned an autonomous place as a discipline within philosophy.

The importance of aesthetics to philosophy can, on reflection, not be denied: if philosophers want to explore what it means to be human, they must study this mysterious and significant ability of human beings to make aesthetic judgements. Why do we, for instance, claim that a sunset is beautiful? How do we decide this and what does it mean?

One of the most important questions asked by philosophical aesthetics – and one much discussed by contemporary thinkers – is that of the definition of ‘art’. The field is split between those who deny the possibility of there being necessary and sufficient conditions for something being a work of art, and the far greater group of those who have tried to lay down such conditions. The latter includes theories so diverse as Plato’s idea of art as representation (mimesis) and George Dickie’s institutional definition of art as “an artifact of a kind created to be presented to an artworld public.”

An interesting set of ideas about art, its context and its relation to philosophy comes from the American philosopher and art critic Arthur Danto. What makes something a work of art is not, says Danto, to be found by looking at its obvious properties. Danto believes that what “makes the difference between a Brillo box and a work of art consisting of a Brillo box is a certain theory of art. It is the theory that takes it up into the world of art, and keeps it from collapsing into the real object which it is.”

What are we, however, doing when we ask about the difference between a Brillo box in a supermarket and a Brillo box in an art gallery? Danto’s answer is that we are asking a philosophical question. Art now prompts us to do philosophy. Much of art today is about boundary testing of ‘art’: “Can this object be considered art?”, “What is art?” Danto argues that art is doing philosophy; art is collapsing into philosophy.

G.W.F. Hegel in the nineteenth century declared that art would in future no longer be a predominant mode of expression for human beings. Danto seems to agree: Art has nothing left to do. It has run itself out, and has as its only project a philosophical one, the definition of art. And that would much better be left to the philosophers.

Aesthetics and philosophy have been through some rocky times together, and it is likely that the debates about the nature of their relationship, their relative importance and limitations will continue. The marriage as such may be saved simply because the two partners need each other too much, but are they ever going to be happy?

Adapted from Philosophy Now



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  1. The author first explores the debate about whether or not aesthetics and philosophy should be intertwined and discussed together. The author personally feels that “the importance of aesthetics to philosophy can, on reflection, not be denied.” Further down the discussion, the author discusses the philosophical perspective in the role of art and its conditions.


  2. At the beginning of the passage, the author explores the ideas of aesthetics and philosophy, and that although they may seem like very different fields of study, do have applications when combined together into philosophical aesthetics. The author then talks more about philosophical aesthetics and its application in better understanding art.


  3. Aesthetics has historically been denied a relationship with philosophy. Some more modern thinkers such as Kant put art as the highest form of philosophy. The author believes that aesthetics has a significance to philosophy in that we must understand it to understand ourselves. Philosophers such as Danto believe that art is simply a practice of philosophy in which theory is applied. Although they believe there is no more future for art, the author states that the relationship may be saved because of their reciprocal need.


  4. MI1: art is important to philosophy
    MI2: defining art is an important question and one that is left for philosophers to contemplate over


  5. Art and philosophy are seemingly incompatible, but it is now later suggested that art will eventually become the definition of philosophy. Some people agree, others do not.


  6. author discusses how aesthetic/art fits into philosophy, if an art needs to be interpreted into a human experience it can fit within philosophy. author also talks about how to see art from a philosophy human theory perspective.


  7. Auth tone: to explain/consider
    MI: relationship between art and phil is not natural, presents perspectives that do support merging the two and why


  8. MIP: Aesthetics and art are important subjects in the field of philosophy


  9. Aesthetics is important to philosophy. Philosophy is trying to give the definition of ‘art’.


  10. MIP: Philosophical aesthetics = controversial. Aesthetics leads to philosophical questions.
    Tone: neutral


  11. MI: There is a questionable relationship between art and philosophy, fields that seem mutually exclusive but others have argued otherwise. Some say art has a place in philosophy; further, some have said that in doing art one must engage in philosophical thought or question-asking. Author tone: matter seems troubling to categorize.


  12. Art and philosophy are two strange bedfellows. Not much revealed about the study of philosophical aesthetics except that it is controversial and academics feel that they should be mutually exclusive. Philosophy is understandably to be about what we know about the world (theoretical), what we should do (practical) and how we should think (logical) and not about how and what makes something attractive and considered a form of art.

    Attempts have been made to give more attention to aesthetics (Schelling and Nietzsche….Kant’s system that aesthetics was for the first time assigned…) and author agrees that it is important for us to treat aesthetics as a form of philosophy too because it makes us human and it is part of what we are.

    Philosophy strives to define and label art (definition of ‘art’…..necessary and sufficient conditions…..lay down such conditions….not…to be found by looking at its obvious properties)and art also prompts us to philosophize. Art will not be the dominant form of expression in future and it will only be of interest to the philosophers . So author is making a point that art and philosophy are inextricably connected and given this relationship, it is best that differences are reconciled and people should start accepting the idea of discussing art in the domain of philosophy .


  13. The relationship between philosophy and aesthetics can be considered irreconcilable. One of the most controversies is the definition of art. However, at the end, the author suggest the happy ending for both philosophy and aesthetics since they need each other.


  14. Author describes the historical conflict of philosophical aesthetics, the relationship of art to philosophy. Tries to answer the question: “What is art?” and “How does it affect philosophy and philosophy to it?” -> author sees the connection


  15. aesthetics and philosophy go together


  16. Aesthetics and philosophy seems like two opposite concept but in reality in order to fully comprehend one you must comprehend the other.


  17. although, there is a lot of debate between phil and aesthetics, the merge of the two ideas is important. The place of art in phil was also a debate, solved by Danto.


  18. art & philopshy = debate. defining art = a philopsher definition. Suggested that art not dominant form of expression (philosophy is)


  19. MIP
    (1) Aesthetics and philosophy = controversial relationship
    (2) Aesthetics in philosophy = important (au)
    (3) Art prompts philosophy (Danto)



  20. MIP: Art and Phil relationship = difficult , Art and Phil need each other, Tone = Persuasive


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