In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Analytic Approaches to Aesthetics

  • Introduction
  • Anthologies
  • Textbooks
  • Landmark Works
  • Defining Art
  • Ontology of Art
  • Aesthetic Properties and Aesthetic Experience
  • Meaning and Interpretation
  • Art and Knowledge
  • Values of Art
  • Nature and the Environment

Philosophy Analytic Approaches to Aesthetics
Peter Lamarque
  • LAST REVIEWED: 10 May 2010
  • LAST MODIFIED: 10 May 2010
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396577-0004


Aesthetics is broadly that branch of philosophy concerned with fundamental questions about the nature of beauty, the nature of art, and the principles of art criticism. Some of these questions go back to the ancient Greeks, but systematic study of the foundations of aesthetics did not begin until the 18th century. Analytic philosophers turned their attention to this branch of the subject relatively late and in the 1940s and 50s tended to be scornful of what they found (John Passmore famously wrote of the “dreariness” of aesthetics in 1951 in the journal Mind). However, in the fifty years up to the turn of the 21st century, and beyond that point, analytic approaches to aesthetics developed with considerable sophistication and there is now a huge literature on all aspects of the subject under the broad heading of “analytic aesthetics.” Other approaches exist, of course, notably that associated with Continental philosophy, which is more historically oriented. The analytic approach is rooted in the analysis of concepts (albeit increasingly informed by work in the empirical sciences) and tends to examine issues about the nature of art and the aesthetic qualities of objects in an ahistorical manner, even if noting and evaluating ideas from earlier periods. In the years since the early 1990s there has been a notable growth in attention to the individual arts (music, painting, literature, film, etc.). Important developments in the aesthetics of nature and the environment have also occurred.


There are several collections of papers that give a thorough overview of analytical work in aesthetics, showing the range of topics covered and current thinking about them. Lamarque and Olsen 2003 collects influential papers on analytic aesthetics from its first flowering in the 1950s up to the present day. Schaper 1983 includes some contributions from analytic philosophers, such as John McDowell, not usually associated with aesthetics. Gaut and Lopes 2005 and Levinson 2003 between them give fairly comprehensive and even-handed coverage of topics and ideas currently being debated, written by leading specialists. Kivy 2004 offers longer and more polemical articles again by leading contemporary figures, each developing and defending a particular point of view. Kieran 2005 usefully explores core debates using pairs of specially written papers taking different sides on current issues. Feagin and Maynard 1997 and Neill and Ridley 1995 are large and popular anthologies that include but extend beyond the analytic, both offering a broader context historically and in terms of methodology.

  • Feagin, Susan, and Patrick Maynard, eds. Aesthetics. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997.

    A useful and imaginative selection of papers and extracts with a wide historical and cross-cultural sweep.

  • Gaut, Berys, and Dominic McIver Lopes, eds. Routledge Companion to Aesthetics. 2d ed. London: Routledge, 2005.

    Parts II, III, and IV, on, respectively, aesthetic theory, issues and challenges, and the individual arts, are detailed and accessible studies from an analytical point of view of key issues in aesthetics written by prominent contemporary philosophers.

  • Kieran, Matthew, ed. Contemporary Debates in Aesthetics and the Philosophy of Art. Oxford: Blackwell, 2005.

    Helpful format using pairs of commissioned articles taking different sides in current debates. Good for seminar discussion, revealing where key disagreements lie.

  • Kivy, Peter, ed. The Blackwell Guide to Aesthetics. Oxford: Blackwell, 2004.

    A useful collection of eighteen commissioned articles by contemporary aestheticians. The articles present an overview of an area but also offer sometimes polemical perspectives on their subjects.

  • Lamarque, Peter, and Stein Haugom Olsen, eds. Aesthetics and the Philosophy of Art: The Analytic Tradition; an Anthology. Oxford: Blackwell, 2003.

    A collection of forty-six papers representing some of the best and most influential work by analytic philosophers in aesthetics from the 1950s to the present. Introductions to each section give a useful overview.

  • Levinson, Jerrold, ed. Oxford Handbook of Aesthetics. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003.

    Forty-eight specially commissioned articles, at an introductory level, on a wide range of topics in current aesthetics, under the headings Background, General Issues in Aesthetics, Aesthetic Issues of Specific Art Forms, and Further Directions in Aesthetics.

  • Neill, Alex, and Aaron Ridley, eds. The Philosophy of Art: Readings Ancient and Modern. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1995.

    A judicious wide-ranging selection of material from 20th-century analytical writing back to the ancient Greeks and also including Hume, Kant, Nietzsche, Tolstoy, Freud, Collingwood, and Adorno, among others.

  • Schaper, Eva, ed. Pleasure, Preference, and Value: Studies in Philosophical Aesthetics. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1983.

    A collection of commissioned papers by leading analytical philosophers, including John McDowell, Philip Pettit, R. A. Sharpe, Anthony Savile, Ted Cohen, and Malcolm Budd. At times quite philosophically demanding.

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