The Science of Aesthetics, the Critique of Taste, and the Philosophy of Art

Ambiguities and Contradictions


  • J Colin McQuillan St. Mary's University



fa, Art, Feeling, Taste, Sensation, Critique, Science, Hegel, Schelling, Baumgarten, Kant


Aesthetics is the part of contemporary academic philosophy that is concerned with art, beauty, criticism, and taste. As such, it must address metaphysical issues (distinguishing works of art from other kinds of things), epistemic problems (the experience of beauty, the standards of critical judgment), and questions of value (the difference between good and bad taste). This makes it difficult to present a coherent account of the subject matter of aesthetics. In this article, I argue that this difficulty is the result of ambiguities and contradictions that arose in disputes about the relationship between the science of aesthetics, the critique of taste, and the philosophy of art in German philosophy during the eighteenth and early nineteenth century. By reconstructing the history of these debates, I hope to shed new light on the origins of aesthetics as a discipline and to explain why its subject matter and status within philosophy are still so difficult to define.


Aertsen, Jan. 1991. "Beauty in the Middle Ages: A Forgotten Transcendental?" Medieval Philosophy and Theology 1: 68-97.

Aristotle. 1984. Complete Works. Edited by Jonathan Barnes. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Baumgarten, Alexander Gottlieb. 2013. Metaphysics: A Critical Translation with Kant’s Elucidations, Selected Notes, and Related Materials. Translated and Edited by Courtney D. Fugate and John Hymers. London: Bloomsbury, 2013.

---- 2007. Ästhetik. Edited and Translated by Dagmar Mirbach. Hamburg: Felix Meiner Verlag.

---- 1983. Texte zur Grundlegung der Ästhetik. Edited by Hans Rudolf Schweizer. Hamburg: Felix Meiner Verlag.

---- 1973. Acroasis Logica. Hildesheim: Georg Olms Verlag.

---- 1954. Reflections on Poetry. Edited and Translated by Karl Aschenbrenner and William B. Holther. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Danto, Arthur. 1983 “Art, Philosophy, and the Philosophy of Art.” Humanities 4.1: 1-2.

Di Giovanni, George and Harris, H.S. 2000. Between Kant & Hegel: Texts in the Development of Post-Kantian Idealism (Revised Edition). Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing.

Eco, Umberto. 2002. Art and Beauty in the Middle Ages. Translated by Hugh Bredlin. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Gracia, J.J.E. 1992. “The Transcendentals in the Middle Ages: An Introduction.” Topoi 11: 113-120.

Hegel, G.W.F. 2018 The Phenomenology of Spirit. Translated by Terry Pinkard. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

---- 1975 Hegel’s Aesthetics: Lectures on Fine Art. Translated by T.M. Knox. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Kant, Immanuel. 2005. Notes and Fragments. Edited by Paul Guyer. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

---- 2000. Critique of the Power of Judgment. Translated by Paul Guyer and Eric Matthews. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

---- 1998. Critique of Pure Reason. Translated by Paul Guyer and Allen W. Wood. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

---- 1992a. Theoretical Philosophy, 1755-1770. Edited and Translated by David Walford and Ralf Meerbote. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

---- 1992b Lectures on Logic. Edited and Translated by J. Michael Young. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992.

Kivy, Peter. 2015. De Gustibus: Arguing about Taste and Why We Do it. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Korsmeyer, Carolyn. 2010. Making Sense of Taste: Food and Philosophy. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.

Meier, Georg Friedrich. 1976. Anfangsgründe aller schönen Wissenschaften. Hildesheim: Georg Olms Verlag.

Nanay, Bence. 2016. Aesthetics as Philosophy of Perception. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Pappas, Nickolas. 2017. “Plato’s Aesthetics.” The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy:

Pseudo-Dionysius. 1987. The Complete Works. Translated by Colm Luibheid. New York: Paulist Press.

Ribeiro, Anna Christina. 2014. “Aesthetics’ Philosophical Importance.” Aesthetics for the Birds: tance-of_22 .html.

Russell, Bertrand. 1914. Our Knowledge of the External World as a Field for Scientific Method in Philosophy. London/Chicago: Open Court.

Schelling, F.W.J. 1989. The Philosophy of Art. Edited and Translated by Douglas W. Stott. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

---- 1978, System of Transcendental Idealism. Translated by Peter Heath. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia.

Vater, Michael G. and Wood, David. 2012. The Philosophical Rupture between Fichte and Schelling: Selected Texts and Correspondence. Albany: State University of New York Press.




How to Cite

“The Science of Aesthetics, the Critique of Taste, and the Philosophy of Art: Ambiguities and Contradictions”. 2021. Aesthetic Investigations 4 (2): 144-62.