Aristotle's aesthetics  

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Aristotle, history of aesthetics

Compared to his teacher Plato, Aristotle proceeded to a more serious investigation of aesthetic phenomena so as to develop by scientific analysis certain principles of beauty and art. In his treatises on poetry and rhetoric he gives us, along with a theory of these arts, certain general principles of beauty; and scattered among his other writings we find many valuable suggestions on the same subject. He seeks (in the Metaphysics) to distinguish the good and the beautiful by saying that the former is always in action (`en praxei) whereas the latter may exist in motionless things as well (`en akinetois.) At the same time he had as a Greek to allow that though essentially different things the good might under certain conditions be called beautiful. He further distinguished the beautiful from the fit, and in a passage of the Politics set beauty above the useful and necessary. He helped to determine another characteristic of the beautiful, the absence of all lust or desire in the pleasure it bestows. The universal elements of beauty, again, Aristotle finds (in the Metaphysics) to be order (taxis), symmetry and definiteness or determinateness (to orismenon). In the Poetics he adds another essential, namely, a certain magnitude; it being desirable for a synoptic view of the whole that the object should not be too large, while clearness of perception requires that it should not be too small.

Aristotle's views on art are an immense advance on those of Plato. He distinctly recognized (in the Politics and elsewhere) that its aim is immediate pleasure, as distinct from utility, which is the end of the mechanical arts. He took a higher view of artistic imitation than Plato, holding that so far from being an unworthy trick, it implied knowledge and discovery, that its objects not only comprised particular things which happen to exist, but contemplated what is probable and what necessarily exists. The celebrated passage in the Poetics, where he declares poetry to be more philosophical and serious a matter (spoudaiteron) than philosophy, brings out the advance of Aristotle on his predecessor. He gives us no complete classification of the fine arts, and it is doubtful how far his principles, e.g. his celebrated idea of a purification of the passions by tragedy, are to be taken as applicable to other than the poetic art.

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