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The Beautiful An Introduction to Psychological Aesthetics

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THIS little book, like the great branch of mental science to which it is an introduction, makes no attempt to "form the taste" of the public and still less to direct the doings of the artist. It deals not with ought but with is, leaving to Criticism the inference from the latter to the former. It does not pretend to tell how things can be made beautiful or even how we can recognise that things are beautiful. It takes Beauty as already existing and enjoyed, and seeks to analyse and account for Beauty's existence and enjoyment. More strictly speaking, it analyses and accounts for Beauty not inasmuch as existing in certain objects and processes, but rather as calling forth (and being called forth by) a particular group of mental activities and habits. It does not ask: What are the peculiarities of the things (and the proceedings) which we call Beautiful? but: What are the peculiarities of our thinking and feeling when in the presence of a thing to which we apply this adjective? The study of single beautiful things, and even more, the comparison of various categories thereof, is indeed one-half of all scientific aesthetics, but only inasmuch as it adds to our knowledge of the particular mental activities which such "Beautiful" (and vice versa "Ugly") things elicit in us. For it is on the nature of this active response on our own part that depends the application of those terms Beautiful and Ugly in every single instance; and indeed their application in any instances whatsoever, their very existence in the human vocabulary.

In accordance with this programme I shall not start with a formal definition of the word Beautiful, but ask: on what sort of occasions we make use of it. Evidently, on occasions when we feel satisfaction rather than dissatisfaction, satisfaction meaning willingness either to prolong or to repeat the particular experience which has called forth that word; and meaning also that if it comes to a choice between two or several experiences, we prefer the experience thus marked by the word Beautiful. Beautiful, we may therefore formulate, implies on our part an attitude of satisfaction and preference. But there are other words which imply that much; first and foremost the words, in reality synonyms, USEFUL and GOOD. I call these synonyms because good always implies good for, or good in, that is to say fitness for a purpose, even though that purpose may be masked under conforming to a standard or obeying a commandment, since the standard or commandment represents not the caprice of a community, a race or a divinity, but some (real or imaginary) utility of a less immediate kind. So much for the meaning of good when implying standards and commandments; ninety-nine times out of a hundred there is, however, no such implication, and good means nothing more than satisfactory in the way of use and advantage. Thus a good road is a road we prefer because it takes us to our destination quickly and easily. A good speech is one we prefer because it succeeds in explaining or persuading....