30 of 31 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Beauty not the beast
Roger Scruton is one of Britain's leading philosophers, though now based at an American university. He combines, unusually, great erudition with the ability to write in a way that is not merely comprehensible but actually enjoyable. He has been called a "popularist" but I think that is wrong: he is popular because he writes well and thinks of the reader. Aesthetics is...
Published on 7 April 2010 by Mr. G. Hester
3.0 out of 5 stars A Philosopher's View of Beauty
The sense of beauty is one of the most fundamental human universals. No one is immune to aesthetic appeals, and it seems that the appreciation of the beauty is an exclusive human characteristic. This very short introduction aims to introduce the general reader to some of the fundamental intellectual underpinnings of this essential concept. Unfortunately, the book falls...
Published 7 months ago by Dr. Bojan Tunguz
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30 of 31 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Beauty not the beast,
19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars With grace and charm - a better way to live,
Amazon Verified Purchase(What is this?)The Aesthetics of Music. As ever, the clarity of Scruton's arguments matches the precision and elegance of his prose. The main bulk of the book is a presentation of the broad history of aesthetic ideas arranged according to themes that assess our responses to beauty in nature, everyday life and our fellow beings. This culminates in the discussion of beauty in Art where some hint of the intensification of the vexatiousness and technical difficulties of the attendant issues is given. The final two chapters are social commentary dealing with themes that will be familiar to those who have read other Scruton titles; the proper role of the erotic in Art, and the apparent 'retreat from beauty' that would seem to characterise much of modern life. Along the way new ways of seeing, thinking and feeling about familiar things are suggested to us, and we are assisted in giving explicit rational form to our inchoate intuitions, and perhaps most importantly we are asked to consider how they contribute to a life well lived. Scruton is a rare and marvellous example of a modern philosopher who is determined to tackle those questions that define its most venerable traditions, and which most modern philosophy has abandoned, namely those that pertain to the right way to live. Questions that have no right answer but that must be asked afresh by each new generation, especially in times such as ours of rapid and radical change. As one reads more of his works one starts to sense the emergence of an overriding systemicity to his thought that starts to bind together questions that would seem to be superficially unrelated, the political ramifications of aesthetic value being just one obvious example. In that light it would seem that this little book is as close as we get to a foundation to this system.
I by no means agree with all of Scruton's views. I can't dismiss the sense that some of his ideas are a bit too deeply rooted in privilege for my 'taste'. Nonetheless, there is an undeniable sense of seeing the world with a clear and steady eye, that is informed by the deepest sources of Western history and tradition, that makes so much of modern cultural and social criticism, from both left and right, seem childishly hysterical in comparison. Thus, even when I disagree with Scruton I find myself grateful to him for giving me an intellectual framework within which to think clearly about the issues and their interrelations that he brings to light. My only regret with regards the book is that I cannot discuss some of those issues and seek verbal clarification, particularly in relation to some of the subtler aspects of the chapter on Beauty in Art, from the man himself.
14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Scrutable Scruton,
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Scruton on Beauty,
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Beauty in the Age of the Self,Beauty cannot be praised highly enough reading his erudite and passionate argument for beauty brought tears to my eyes. Francisco de Goya famously said that "the sleep of reason breeds monsters". Well, in the twenty-first century we are seeing the children of these monsters, who were born out of societies egregious indifference to traditional artistic ideals at the turn of the twentieth century and enthusiasm for the ridiculous and the self-obsessed, now dominate the artistic and intellectual landscape with such ferocity, decimating the sacred notion of beauty our rational society once held so dear.
What was once thought to be an ephemeral phase of teenage rebellion against tradition by raising the likes of Duchamp et al to the altar of living gods has now gone beyond a joke and it clearly amounts to a disaster when even the cultural cognoscenti, who were once steadfast in their opposition to this trend as guardians of tradition, can not see the social and artistic benefits of beauty. Of beauty itself Scruton writes clearly and unflinchingly.
`To speak of beauty is to enter another and more exalted realm--a realm sufficiently apart from our everyday concerns as to be mentioned only with a certain hesitation.'
In his short and concise book Scruton lays out the philosophical progression of aesthetics, its meaning to us as a society as well as artistic responses to human behaviour, religion and nature, explaining too the emotional catharsis one feels when experiencing beauty. But most importantly he makes clear that beauty and the contemporary opiate of kitsch sentimentalism are two very different things the supposedly "beautiful"works of Jeff Koons and his ilk have just as much of a deleterious effect on society as the outwardly ugly and self-absorbed works of Tracey Emin and Damien Hirst, as they evacuate the word of its true meaning. Scruton also touches upon the minimal beauties we desire in our everyday lives, and deems them to be just as important and just as exhilarating as the soul-eclipsing beauty of an old masterpiece or a magnificent structure.
`Much that is said about beauty and its importance in our lives ignores the minimal beauty of an unpretentious street, a nice pair of shoes or a tasteful piece of wrapping paper, as though those things belonged to a different order of value from a church by Bramante or a Shakespeare sonnet. Yet these minimal beauties are far more important to our daily lives, and far more intricately involved in our own rational decisions, than the great works of art which (if we are lucky) occupy our leisure hours. They are part of the context in which we live our lives, and our desire for harmony, fittingness and civility is both expressed and confirmed in them. Moreover, the great works of architecture often depend for their beauty on the humble context that these lesser beauties provide.'
Despite this clarion call for reason and rationality when it comes to beauty it is most regrettably certain that the contemporary artistic clerisy will dismiss Scruton, yet again, as a regressive, counter-Enlightenment figure, the twenty-first century's Joseph de Maistre, even though his prose and eloquent forthrightness echo the very essence of the Enlightenment. In his book Scruton clarifies what many of us have felt for a long time; beauty is essential if we are to keep the flame of civilisation burning.
4.0 out of 5 stars Roger Scruton's Very Short Introduction to Beauty,
This review is from: Beauty: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions) (Paperback)Broad and complex subjects may be approached in many ways. The subject of Roger Scruton's "very short introduction", "Beauty" (2009), for example, might have been written as an overview, presenting various possible definitions of "beauty" followed by a discussion and assessment of alternative ways of undersanding beauty that have been offered over the years. This approach is not Scruton's. He deliberately avoids trying to define the nature of beauty and he steers clear of summarizing competing interpretations. Instead, Scruton offers his own philosophical understanding of beauty. His discussion is informed, provocative, and it takes account of the thinking of others. Still, it is much less an overview than the presentation of a position. As such, it is challenging and valuable. Scruton is a British philosopher and conservative political commentator who has published extensively on a wide range of subjects. He has, for example, written the volumes on Kant and Spinoza for the "Very Short Introductions" series, which includes this book on beauty, for Oxford University Press.
Scruton states the direction of his approach to beauty at the outset. He rejects a "skeptical" approach to beauty which denies the possibility of a shared conception beyond the preferences of individuals:
"In this book I suggest that such sceptical thoughts about beauty are unjustified. Beauty, I argue, is a real and universal value, one anchored in our rational nature, and the sense of beauty has an indispensable part to play in shaping the human world. My approach to the topic is not historical, neither am I concerned to give a psychological, still less an evolutionary explanation of the sense of beauty. My approach is philosophical, and the principal sources for my argument are the works of philosophers. The point of this book is the argument it develops, which is designed to introduce a philosophical question and to encourage you, the reader, to answer it."
Scruton writes that the understanding of beauty requires human rationality and is part of a fully-developed concept of reason. He maintains that beauty is properly shared and common rather than wholly individual. Individuals may not agree fully on, for example, the beauty of an individual painting or work of music, but the conditions for beauty can be assessed. Beauty shows what Scruton paradoxically describes as "disinterested interest". For Scruton, beauty is not found only in the great music of Beethoven's late string quartets, for example, but rather is also a part of every day human experience, in the proper "fit" and setting of a door, the setting of a table, and the wearing of appropriate clothing. Beauty is a way of passing beyond the immediacy of desire to what is ideal, good, and sacred in human life. Scruton writes:
"Our favourite works of art seem to guide us to the truth of the human condition and, by presenting completed instances of human actions and passions, freed from the contingencies of everyday life, to show the worthwhileness of being human."
Much of the book focuses on sexuality and eroticism and their relationship to beauty. Scruton considers briefly and rejects exclusively psychological approaches to beauty. He spends a great deal of space discussion Plato's conception of beauty and of eros, which he ultimately rejects. Scruton works to distinguish erotic, self-interested beauty from what he describes as disinterested contemplation. In the realm of sexuality, this distinction requires the rejection of pornography, for example, which objectifies human beings into mere bodies and separates bodies from persons.
Scruton develops his conception of beauty as "disinterested interest" and proceeds to describe four kinds of beauty summarized (p. 124) as: "human beauty as an object of desire; natural beauty,as an object of contemplation; everyday beauty as an object of practical reason; and artistic beauty as a form of meaning and an object of taste." He then returns to an attack on "art as eros" followed by a critique of postmodernism and relativism with their various rejections of beauty as a goal for art and the embracing, in many popular instances of kitsch as an equivalvent for art. Scruton offers the following summary of his understanding of beauty and its purpose.
"everything I have said about the nature of beauty implies that it is rationally founded. It challenges us to find meaning in its object, to make critical comparisons, and to examine our lives and emotions in light of what we find. Art, nature and the human form invite us to place this experience at the centre of our lives. If we do so, then it offers a place of refreshment of which we can never tire.... For a free being, there is right feeling, right experience and right enjoyment just as much as right action. The judgement of beauty orders the emotions and desires of those who make it. It may express their pleasure and their taste; but it is pleasure in what they value and taste for their true ideals."
Scruton writes gracefully, tightly, and well. Sections and paragraphs of this little book almost stand alone as essays. Much of the book has an aphoristic, quotable character. The philosophers most influential to Scruton's approach, even when he disagrees with them, are Kant and Plato. The book is full of discussion and comparison of paintings, works of literature, and pieces of music. Among other things, Scruton is a great admirer of Schubert's song-cycle, "Die Winterreise" about rejected love, and he discusses it beautifully.
There is much to be learned from this book even if the reader disagrees. In a review in "The Observer" (quoted in part on the book jacket), Sebastian Smee praised Scruton's thought while expressing skepticism about Scruton's focus on reason, disinterestedness, and, particularly, attitude towards eros. Smee quotes John Updike saying "for most men a naked woman is the most beautiful thing they will ever see" as a suggestion for an alternative position. Scruton's book will engage the reader and encourage thought on the nature of beauty, whether or not the reader fully agrees with Scruton. In this way, the book is valuable in itself and more than fulfills the goal of a "very short introduction" to a topic.
3.0 out of 5 stars A Philosopher's View of Beauty,
This review is from: Beauty: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions) (Paperback)The sense of beauty is one of the most fundamental human universals. No one is immune to aesthetic appeals, and it seems that the appreciation of the beauty is an exclusive human characteristic. This very short introduction aims to introduce the general reader to some of the fundamental intellectual underpinnings of this essential concept. Unfortunately, the book falls short with respect to this objective.
I am a huge fan of Roger Scruton's writings, and have read many of his articles and books, and have reviewed several of his books (including his other book in this series Kant: A Very Short Introduction). He is extremely erudite and insightful, and he is able to find a new, fresh, perspective on many of the ageless topics. However, I think that with this Very Short Introduction he has widely missed the target. He makes no bones about the fact that this is an exclusively philosophical outlook on beauty, which is extremely disappointing considering all the great insights that the psychology has given us in recent decades on that topic. At the beginning of the second chapter Scruton attempts to give some evolutionary backing for the sense of beauty, but after just a few pages that approach fizzles away and transforms into various philosophical speculations and musings on sexuality.
In his philosophical musings Scruton doesn't seem to be grounding much of his ideas within the overarching western philosophical tradition. He mentions Plato and Kant a few times, and maybe on a few occasions some of the other prominent philosophers. For the most part, though, one gets a sense that the material in this book has been wrought whole-cloth out of Scruton's own omphaloskepsis. Scruton is indeed a great thinker, and many of his ideas are extremely interesting, but after a while I got really bored with all the self-indulgent writing.
The book is very long for a very short introduction, and at 164 pages it is one of the longest ones that I had read. It could have used a fair amount of editing for content length.
If you are interested in some interesting philosophizing on the topic of beauty, then this book may appeal to you. However, this is far from being an authoritative and up-to-date account of our understanding of beauty as a concept.
April 15 2013 - An Update
A really good short eBook (an extended 12,000 word essay really) on beauty that I would recommend is Why Beauty Matters. It covers the topic of beauty from many different angles: fashion, philosophy, feminist theory, evolutionary psychology, and religion. It is very well written, relatively comprehensive, and interesting. It gives you a few good ideas of where to look further for intellectual ideas on the importance of beauty.
8 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars R. Scruton's BEAUTY,
I mean who in the heck does this guy Roger Scruton think that he is? Does he think that he is smarter than the collective dictatorial power of the reigning western art worlds inbred, Hapsburg style clique's hegemony? Does he, like the weird collection of halfbreed artists those Stuckist Punks (also originating in Britain), think that the clear expression of an individual artists vision of aesthetic beauty is of primary import??? What baloney, right?
Uhhh, well... no maybe it's not baloney hmmm. Oh, and guess what folks... he is ever so quietly, softly, gently even... absolutely correct! The power and wealth of many a Contemporary Art collector and Contemporary Art gallery owner will inevitably erode as aesthetic beauty once again takes it's rightful place as the fulcrum for the weighing of long term artistic merit.
Heck I'm only halfway through the thing and I am confident in it's historic import.
PS this was written during a Boogie Fever hangover, besides I just love run on sentences.
5 of 14 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Why Snobbery matters...,
This review is from: Beauty: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions) (Paperback)This is the angry rantings of a blinkered aesthete, who is saddened that the classical canon (or, in other words, the standard of taste believed in by middle-class white Westerners) is no longer held to be sacrosanct.
The guy is blinkered; everything in the past is great and beautiful, everything in our age is terrible and ugly. You know the type...
I'm dismayed that the 'Very Short Introduction...' series use this as their introduction to aesthetics, as this series of books, which I normally enjoy, surely should at least aim for some kind neutrality, yet this book is a one-sided polemic against modernism.
A book that covers similar territory, that I have read many times, and like very much, and is fairly neutral is Anne Sheppard's 'Aesthetics: an introduction' (this book is also much more coherent and better organised; Scruton's book seems to drift all over the place with neither rhyme nor reason)
1 of 5 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Liberal justifications for Conservative values,
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Beauty: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions) by Roger Scruton (Paperback - 24 Mar 2011)