Beauty and the Theory of Evolution

Anthony O'Hear

in Beyond Evolution

Published in print July 1999 | ISBN: 9780198250043
Published online November 2003 | e-ISBN: 9780191598111 | DOI:
 Beauty and the Theory of Evolution

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Given the remarkable transition over human history from the caveman to the painter of icons, what is the source of our aesthetic sensibility? Biologists can disagree about whether non‐human animals display a genuine aesthetic sense, as Darwin claimed, or whether, as Wallace argued, apparently aesthetic choices may simply reflect underlying pragmatic considerations. Even allowing for this, humans display the sort of features—reflectiveness, universality, disinterestedness, etc.—that Kant singles out as hallmarks of the aesthetic whereas non‐human animals do not. Contrary to Hume and Kant, however, we ought not to see aesthetic judgements as based on purely emotional responses to objects but rather as reflections of underlying objective facts about the world which, nevertheless, require a specific human sensibility to pick out. This explains, e.g., why aesthetic judgements can appear to converge across cultures and across time and why aesthetic judgements can appear to have a normative dimension.

Keywords: aesthetics; Darwin; emotion; Hume; Kant; pragmatism; objectivity; sexual selection; Wallace

Chapter.  12362 words. 

Subjects: Philosophy of Science

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