This page contains a list of the five best books on the philosophy of beauty. Finding good introductory philosophy books can be difficult for two reasons. First, searching google for recommendations usually doesn’t bring up anything useful. Second, phrases like “best books on beauty” are ambiguous. One person may be looking for a short, beginner friendly introduction, someone else may want a comprehensive academic overview, a third person may be looking for classic works on beauty. This list tries to account for this ambiguity by recommending different types of books on beauty. Here are the best books on beauty in no particular order:
Beauty: A Very Short Introduction – Roger Scruton
Beauty can be consoling, disturbing, sacred, profane; it can be exhilarating, appealing, inspiring, chilling. It can affect us in an unlimited variety of ways. Yet it is never viewed with indifference. In this Very Short Introduction, the renowned philosopher Roger Scruton explores the concept of beauty, asking what makes an object–either in art, in nature, or the human form–beautiful, and examining how we can compare differing judgments of beauty when it is evident all around us that our tastes vary so widely. Is there a right judgment to be made about beauty? Is it right to say there is more beauty in a classical temple than a concrete office block, more in a Rembrandt than in an Andy Warhol Campbell Soup Can? Forthright and thought-provoking, and as accessible as it is intellectually rigorous, this introduction to the philosophy of beauty draws conclusions that some may find controversial, but, as Scruton shows, help us to find greater sense of meaning in the beautiful objects that fill our lives.
Philosophies of Art and Beauty: Selected Readings in Aesthetics from Plato to Heidegger – Albert Hofstadter & Richard Kuhns
This anthology is remarkable not only for the selections themselves, among which the Schelling and the Heidegger essays were translated especially for this volume, but also for the editors’ general introduction and the introductory essays for each selection, which make this volume an invaluable aid to the study of the powerful, recurrent ideas concerning art, beauty, critical method, and the nature of representation. Because this collection makes clear the ways in which the philosophy of art relates to and is part of general philosophical positions, it will be an essential sourcebook to students of philosophy, art history, and literary criticism.
An Inquiry into the Original of Our Ideas of Beauty and Virtue – Francis Hutcheson
Francis Hutcheson’s first book, An Inquiry into the Original of Our Ideas of Beauty and Virtue, was published in 1725, when its author was only thirty-one, and went through four editions during his lifetime. This seminal text of the Scottish Enlightenment is now available for the first time in a variorum edition based on the 1726 edition.
The Inquiry was written as a critical response to the work of Bernard Mandeville and as a defense of the ideas of Anthony Ashley Cooper, Lord Shaftesbury. It consists of two treatises exploring our aesthetic and our moral abilities.
In 1757 the 27-year-old Edmund Burke argued that our aesthetic responses are experienced as pure emotional arousal, unencumbered by intellectual considerations. In so doing he overturned the Platonic tradition in aesthetics that had prevailed from antiquity until the eighteenth century, and replaced metaphysics with psychology and even physiology as the basis for the subject. Burke’s theory of beauty encompasses the female form, nature, art, and poetry, and he analyses our delight in sublime
effects that thrill and excite us. His revolution in method continues to have repercussions in the aesthetic theories of today, and his revolution in sensibility has paved the way for literary and artistic movements from the Gothic novel through Romanticism, twentieth-century painting, and beyond.
In this new edition Paul Guyer conducts the reader through Burke’s Enquiry, focusing on its place in the history of aesthetics and highlighting its innovations, as well as its influence on many subsequent authors from Kant and Schiller to Ruskin and Nietzsche.
Critique of Judgement – Immanuel Kant
In the Critique of Judgement, Kant offers a penetrating analysis of our experience of the beautiful and the sublime. He discusses the objectivity of taste, aesthetic disinterestedness, the relation of art and nature, the role of imagination, genius and originality, the limits of representation, and the connection between morality and the aesthetic. He also investigates the validity of our judgements concerning the degree in which nature has a purpose, with respect to the highest interests of reason and enlightenment.
The work profoundly influenced the artists, writers, and philosophers of the classical and romantic period, including Hegel, Schelling, Schopenhauer, and Nietzsche. In addition, it has remained a landmark work in fields such as phenomenology, hermeneutics, the Frankfurt School, analytical aesthetics, and contemporary critical theory. Today it remains an essential work of philosophy, and required reading for all with an interest in aesthetics.
This list was created by following a method that I’ve found to be useful when searching for introductory philosophy books. It involves:
- browsing required reading lists on university course syllabi
- searching for books using the Open Syllabus Project
- browsing the bibliographies of articles on the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy and Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy
- searching for recommendations on philosophy forums
The following sources were used to build this list:
University Course Syllabi:
If you’d like to learn more about the idea of beauty, check out:
- this collection of beginner friendly resources on Aesthetics
- these collections of quotes on Art and Beauty
- Some introductory books on Aesthetics
And if you’d like to get more philosophy in your life, follow us on Facebook or Twitter or enter your email below to get a quote/passage from a classic work of philosophy delivered to your inbox each day. They include key passages from Plato’s Republic, Aristotle’s Nichomachean Ethics, Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations, John Stuart Mill’s On Liberty, Nietzsche’s Beyond Good and Evil, and many more. Each passage is paired with a link to a beginner friendly article, video, or podcast, so you can easily learn more about that day’s idea. The goal is to make it easier for everyone to get a little bit more philosophy into their life.