George Santayana: The Sense of Beauty (1896)
January 20, 2015 § 1 Comment
It is remarkably appropriate that this work on aesthetics should have been written by George Santayana, who is probably the most brilliant philosophic writer and the philosopher with the strongest sense of beauty since Plato. It is not a dry metaphysical treatise, as works on aesthetics so often are, but is itself a fascinating document: as much a revelation of the beauty of language as of the concept of beauty.
This unabridged reproduction of the 1896 edition of lectures delivered at Harvard College is a study of “why, when, and how beauty appears, what conditions an object must fulfill to be beautiful, what elements of our nature make us sensible of beauty, and what the relation is between the constitution of the object and the excitement of our susceptibility.”
Santayana first analyzes the nature of beauty, finding it irrational, “pleasure regarded as the quality of a thing.” He then proceeds to the materials of beauty, showing what all human functions can contribute: love, social instincts, senses, etc. Beauty of form is then analyzed, and finally the author discusses the expression of beauty. Literature, religion, values, evil, wit, humor, and the possibility of finite perfection are all examined. Presentation throughout the work is concrete and easy to follow, with examples drawn from art, history, anthropology, psychology, and similar areas.
The book is divided into four parts: “The Nature of Beauty”, “The Materials of Beauty”, “Form”, and “Expression”. Beauty, as defined by Santayana, is an “objectified pleasure.” It does not originate from divine inspiration, as was commonly described by philosophers, but from a naturalistic psychology. Santayana objects to the role of God in aesthetics in the metaphysical sense, but accepts the use of God as metaphor. His argument that beauty is a human experience, based on the senses, is influential in the field of aesthetics. However, Santayana would reject this approach, which he called “skirt[ing] psychologism,” later on in life.
According to Santayana, beauty is linked to pleasure, and is fundamental to human purpose and experience. Beauty does not originate from pleasurable experiences, by itself, or from the objects that bring about pleasure. It is when the experience and emotion of pleasure intertwines with the qualities of the object that beauty arises. Beauty is a “manifestation of perfection”, and as Santayana writes, “the sense of beauty has a more important place in life than aesthetic theory has ever taken in philosophy.”
- Author: George Santanaya (1863–1952)
- Publisher: Dover Publications, Inc.
- Product Dimensions: 21.3 x 13.6 x 1 cm (vertical)
- 168 pages
Used, good, collector’s item.
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