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  • Values of Beauty: Historical Essays in Aesthetics
  • Dabney Townsend
Values of Beauty: Historical Essays in Aesthetics, by Paul Guyer; 359 pp. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005, $75.00, $27.99 paper.

This volume collects thirteen essays that range over topics from the eighteenth century to the twentieth century. The earliest was published in 1986, the last in 2004, and three appear here for the first time. They are grouped topically by period—"I. Mostly before Kant; II. Mostly Kant; III. Mostly After Kant"—rather than chronologically. While this order is useful, it introduces some dislocation if one approaches the book as a whole since the last essay in the book is the first chronologically, and part of the interest of the book lies in the changes in Paul Guyer's positions over time that are reflected in his careful reconsideration of topics that he has dealt with more extensively in his volumes on Kant's [End Page 422] philosophy. As one of the most important contemporary interpreters of Kant's aesthetics, those reconsiderations are well worth attending to.

The focus of all of the essays is clearly on Kant's aesthetics. That perspective is clear even when Guyer is discussing the history of aesthetics prior to Kant. As he notes, "this history of the first decades of modern aesthetics has obviously been written with an eye to Kant" ("Origins of Modern Aesthetics: 1711–1735," pp. 32–33). It continues in the discussions of recent aesthetics. For example, Guyer concludes that "the effect that is intended on the revised Beardsleyan definition [of art] is in the tradition of the Kantian concept of the free play of imagination and understanding" ("From Jupiter's Eagle to Warhol's Boxes," p. 313). Danto and Mothersill are also, it is argued, in the Kantian tradition.

There are, of course, some problems with this perspective, especially with regard to the pre-Kantian history of aesthetics. For example, Guyer finds Kant's distinction between pure beauty and apprehended beauty reflected in an earlier distinction between beauty of form and beauty of interest or utility. He writes: "The foundation of this theory [Hume's theory of beauty in the Treatise and An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals] is the division of beauty into two classes, the first that of pleasurable sentiment caused by an immediate response—that is, a response not mediated by the intervention of imagination or judgment—to the form or other perceptual qualities of an object, and the second that of pleasurable sentiment, which arises only when the perception of the form of an object is supplemented by a concept or concepts brought to bear on it by imagination or judgment." ("The Standard of Taste and the 'Most ardent Desire of Society,'" p. 46). What Guyer identifies as a distinction between kinds of beauty is for Hume a distinction between sources of ideas, however. The second kind of beauty requires reflection and the combination of other ideas. For Hume, there are not two kinds of beauty but two ways that the ideas of beauty, which is just a form of pleasure, are sorted. Reservations about Guyer's perspective on the earlier history of aesthetics do not detract from the interest of his analysis, however, which is always careful and detailed.

The central eight essays labeled "Mostly Kant" trace themes that Guyer has treated in much greater detail in his earlier books. Two central themes are especially prominent throughout these essays. First, Guyer views Kant's theory of beauty as the harmony of the imagination and the understanding: "The concept of the free yet harmonious play between the cognitive powers of imagination and understanding is the central concept in Kant's explanation of the experience of beauty and the analysis of the judgment of taste" ("The Harmony of the Faculties Revisited," p. 77). He refers back to essentially this formulation throughout the subsequent essays. Much of the interest of these essays lies in the way Guyer explicates and defends this central thesis against alternative readings of Kant and objections that it is inconsistent with the freedom from concepts and the purity of beauty that Kant claims.

Second, Guyer reads Kant's aesthetics as...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-329X
Print ISSN
0190-0013
Pages
pp. 422-425
Launched on MUSE
2007-10-25
Open Access
No
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