Western Aesthetics

Western Aesthetics

DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-1702-4.ch001

Abstract

This chapter studies the development and basic ideas of Western aesthetic thoughts by reviewing the aesthetic history of ancient Greece and the Middle Ages and by investigating the modern and contemporary aesthetics. It initially discusses the dominant classical Greek aesthetics, the medieval aesthetics, the 19th century aesthetics, and finally the modern aesthetics. The chapter finds that while the history of aesthetics is marked by countless schools of thoughts, only a few people of rare talent have made significant contribution to the entire human civilization through their aesthetic theories and ideas.
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Classical Greek Aesthetics

The Greek civilization, originated by Socrates, Plato, Aristotle and other philosophers, is a well-formed and sublime exemplar of culture, whose timeless vitality and creativity have made it a breeding ground for the western civilization.

Socrates’ Aesthetics

Socrates (1997) believed that beauty is that which is appropriate, and it was not the nature but the soul that forms the essence of beauty.

By saying “know thyself” (Xenophon, 1994) in one of his quotations, Socrates suggested that one should know his/her soul. Since the essence of the human soul is rationality, the knowledge of beauty can therefore be acquired through first the knowledge of soul and then the knowledge of rationality. Soul-rationality-beauty, in this order Socrates came to understand what beauty truly is. This way of understanding beauty marked the birth of rationalism and spiritualism, the advent of idealism, and a great leap forward for the aesthetic epistemology.

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In Socrates’ view, beautiful things are relative, yet beauty itself is eternal and unalterable. There are many beautiful things but only one universal concept of beauty. He thus articulated the notion of “One” and “Many”. (Plato, 2008, pp. 49)

Beauty is purposive, and purposiveness is the basis and intrinsic quality of beauty. This purposiveness is gods’ plan (here gods refer to multiple gods in ancient Greek myths, not a singular God).

Beauty depends on utility and purpose. Since both beauty and goodness are useful and purposive, they are hence compatible with each other.

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Socrates believed that virtue is knowledge, and that virtue is the basic concept of the ethics (Plato, 2012). He thus pointed out the nature of morality.

To conclude, beauty lies in people’s rationality, consciousness and soul. The creation of mankind is the utmost artistic beauty. Therefore, art shall imitate reality and be as vivid and true as possible.

It is in this manner that the aesthetics of Socrates was carried forward by his disciple Plato, and then by Plato’s disciple Aristotle to the whole world.

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