Theories of Beauty

Symposium organized within the framework of the International Francqui Chair 2010-2011, held by Jerrold Levinson.

K.U. Leuven and Universiteit Antwerpen, 9 and 10 May 2011.


Beauty has traditionally been a central category in aesthetics and philosophy of art. Notwithstanding the fact that contemporary art and art theory appear to have done away with the question of the beauty of the artwork, considerations invoking beauty and its correlates always seem to sneak in again. It is no coincidence that questions pertaining to the meaning of beauty and correlative aesthetic categories, such as that of the ugly, the graceful, the sublime, have reappeared in philosophical aesthetics.

Several authors, including Roger Scruton, Malcolm Budd, Nick Zangwill, Alexander Nehamas and Arthur Danto, as well as Levinson, have recently contributed to these discussions. One question concerns the nature of aesthetic judgment: for instance, is the latter to be delineated form other types of judgment somewhat in the way Kant proposed, and is beauty the primary notion that is at stake in the aesthetic judgment? How far can a judgment attributing beauty or other aesthetic property claim universal assent, or even be objectively grounded? Does beauty have a proper or a primary domain of objects, whether art, nature, or human beings? What is the relation between the aesthetic and the artistic? Can beauty, and art as a domain of attributions of beauty, be defined independently of human experience? How are beauty and other aesthetic properties supervenient, or asymmetrically dependent, on more basic perceptual properties of an object, yet without being reducible to, inferable from, or definable in terms of, such more basic properties? And how, exactly, does beauty relate to sublimity, gracefulness, elegance and other positive aesthetic properties?

Some other foci of possible attention are as follows: The varieties of visual beauty, comprising artistic beauty (of artworks), natural beauty (of nature), abstract beauty (of pure forms or colors), physical beauty (of human beings), and perhaps yet other sorts. Visual beauty in contrast to musical beauty, literary beauty, tactile beauty, olfactory beauty, and whether these are fundamentally the same or fundamentally different. Why and how beauty matters, whether in life, in art, in love, in our surroundings. The moral aspects of the creation, pursuit, possession, or absence of beauty.

Conference program

Monday, May 9 - Institute of Philosophy, K.U. Leuven

Jean-Marie Schaeffer: Natural Beauty?

Hans Maes: Contemporary Aesthetics and the Neglect of Human Beauty

Jos De Mul: The Technological Sublime In and Beyond Art

Elisabeth Schellekens: Beauty or Aesthetic Value: Which Comes First?

Yvonne zu Dohna: The Theory of Color and the Relation between Beauty and the Sublime

Tuesday, May 10 - Universiteit Antwerpen

Martin Seel: Beauty – a Short Conceptual Journey

Carole Talon-Hugon: La valeur du beau selon les Principia Ethica de G.H.Moore

Bence Nanay: The Anatomy of the Eye of the Beholder

Rafaël De Clercq: Restoring Beauty

Keynote lecture by Jerrold Levinson: Musical Beauty