I have two questions regarding aesthetics, and I wanted to ask your help. I am trying to work out
whether beauty may be said to be a property of an entity, much like colour, texture etc, or whether an
aesthetic judgement must always involve a degree of subjective interpretation. If the latter, then why
does there appear to be some consensus about a group of things which are beautiful (sunrises, or
example, or flowers)?
I have a feeling this may be one of those intractable questions, but any suggestions would be very
Another question, if I may, about something that nearly drove me to despair when I first encountered
it. If everything we use to rationalise the world is essentially mimetic (language, concepts, perception
etc), then what is there in the centre? What can we say is only itself, and not representative of
Two great questions! On the first, I'm not sure that color is a property of an entity at all (is a green box
green under a red light?). That aside, in my view all aesthetic judgements do always involve a degree
of subjective interpretation, but this interpretation is always guided by criteria which are largely
communally established (and/ or rooted in the way we perceive the world, which has a genetic basis),
so it is hardly surprising there is some consensus. For there not to be, you have to believe that
humans are radically separate (and quite a few philosophers have!), but this seems wrong to me.
On the second, there is no center. We weave a web of language, concepts etc, and if this sufficiently
parallels experience, it will do. No one place in the web is the anchor on which everything else rests
(this view owes much to Pragmatists like Peirce and Dewey).
Aesthetic qualities are generally thought to be tertiary qualities, secondary qualities being colour and
smell, for instance, and a primary quality being shape. While colour is a relation between a perceiver
and an object and can be described in scientific terms, tertiary qualities essentially refer to the
perceiver and cannot be picked out or pointed to. A piece of music, or a picture, is beautiful as a
whole and beauty cannot be reduced to particular elements of the work. Kant's definition of a
judgement of beauty lay in the nature of the response which should be universalisable subjective
pleasure in the form which gives rise to the free play of the imagination. If our response meets a
certain criterion, we are making a judgement that something is beautiful. This is a formal definition of
the nature of a judgement and doesn't determine what sort of things we do or ought to find beautiful.
However, Kant does generalise about beautiful objects when he says that the form of nature is
beautiful in a different way from art since it gives rise to the feeling that nature was made, or
designed, for us to find beautiful and since the judgement of beauty is made by a human beings with
like responses, there is no reason why there should not be consensus. It is more surprising that some
people don't respond to flowers and sunsets! But because we share a human response we can bring
others to see beauty by suggesting that some things can be responded to as beautiful.
Our language, concepts and perceptions are representational insofar as they are relative to us, but
reality is not representational. Rather, reality is such that it can be represented in different ways to
different kinds of beings.