In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section History of Aesthetics

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Anthologies
  • 18th Century

Philosophy History of Aesthetics
Peter Lamarque
  • LAST REVIEWED: 03 November 2022
  • LAST MODIFIED: 25 October 2012
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396577-0002


The first use of the term aesthetics in something like its modern sense is commonly attributed to Alexander Baumgarten in 1735, although earlier studies in the 18th century by writers such as the third Earl of Shaftesbury (Anthony Ashley Cooper), Joseph Addison, Jean-Baptiste Du Bos, and Francis Hutcheson mark the first systematic inquiries into aesthetics in its familiar sense as a distinct branch of philosophy. Undoubtedly the 18th century saw the flourishing of inquiries into beauty, taste, the sublime, and genius, but few would be content to start a history of aesthetics in that century. For many centuries earlier, going back to ancient Greece, there had been philosophical reflection, even if only in a piecemeal fashion, on poetry, painting, music, and the beautiful, and these reflections had an enormous influence on later philosophizing. What is noticeable, though, is that prior to the 18th century it is not always clear where the boundary lies between aesthetics, as such, conceived as a distinctively philosophical inquiry into judgments of taste and the foundations of the arts and more general theorizing about art, including, for example, treatises on the arts often aimed at practitioners themselves. This bibliography operates under a number of constraints: it is, inevitably, highly selective; it focuses primarily, although not exclusively, on Western aesthetics; it draws quite a narrow boundary around what reasonably counts as aesthetics (or the philosophy of art); the entries are in English, some because the originals were in that language, the rest being in modern translations; the editions of the selected primary texts have been chosen for their accessibility and availability; and special emphasis has been given to works from the 18th century.

General Overviews

There are several works that seek to survey the history of aesthetics as a whole. Beardsley 1966 remains the most readable and accessible survey, useful for dipping into for particular periods as well as for gaining an illuminating overview when read right through. Bosanquet 2005 and Gilbert and Kuhn 1939 are both authoritative and informative, if somewhat dated in their perspective. Tatarkiewicz 2006 is a monumental work, especially useful for obscure details and for original source material. Kelly 1998 is an encyclopedia covering a large range of topics in aesthetics, including informative entries on the major historical figures.

  • Beardsley, Monroe. C. Aesthetics from Classical Greece to the Present: A Short History. New York: Macmillan, 1966.

    An authoritative and much-admired survey by the father of modern analytical aesthetics.

  • Bosanquet, Bernard. A History of Aesthetic. Whitefish, MT: Kessinger, 2005.

    The first comprehensive history of aesthetics in English by an influential idealist philosopher from the end of the 19th century. Originally published in 1892.

  • Gilbert, Katherine, and Helmut Kuhn. A History of Esthetics. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1939.

    For a long time a standard survey of the subject, although less well known and hardly used in the 21st century.

  • Kelly, Michael, ed. Encyclopedia of Aesthetics. 4 vols. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998.

    Includes substantial articles on many of the most prominent contributors to aesthetics from Antiquity to the 20th century.

  • Tatarkiewicz, Wladyslaw. History of Aesthetics. 3 vols. New York: Continuum, 2006.

    Originally published in Polish in 1962–1967, translated into English in 1970–1974. This is a comprehensive critical survey of the history of aesthetics up to the 18th century including extracts from original texts from each period.

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