The Sense of Beauty

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The Sense of Beauty

The Sense of Beauty is a book on aesthetics by George Santayana.[1] The book was published in 1896 by Charles Scribner's Sons, and is based on the lectures Santayana gave on aesthetics while teaching at Harvard University.[2] Santayana published the book out of necessity, for tenure, rather than inspiration. In an anecdote retold by art critic Arthur Danto of a meeting with Santayana in 1950, Santayana was reported to have said that "they let me know through the ladies that I had better publish a book... on art, of course. So I wrote this wretched potboiler."[3]

The book is divided into four parts: "The Nature of Beauty", "The Materials of Beauty", "Form", and "Expression".[2] Beauty, as defined by Santayana, is an "objectified pleasure."[1] It does not originate from divine inspiration, as was commonly described by philosophers, but from a naturalistic psychology.[4] Santayana objects to the role of God in aesthetics in the metaphysical sense, but accepts the use of God as metaphor.[1] His argument that beauty is a human experience, based on the senses, is influential in the field of aesthetics.[4] However, Santayana would reject this approach, which he called "skirt[ing] psychologism," later on in life.[1]

According to Santayana, beauty is linked to pleasure, and is fundamental to human purpose and experience.[4] Beauty does not originate from pleasurable experiences, by itself,[5] or from the objects that bring about pleasure.[6] It is when the experience and emotion of pleasure intertwines with the qualities of the object that beauty arises.[6] Beauty is a "manifestation of perfection",[7] and as Santayana writes, "the sense of beauty has a more important place in life than aesthetic theory has ever taken in philosophy."[1]


  1. ^ a b c d e Stephen Davies; Kathleen Marie Higgins; Robert Hopkins; Robert Stecker; David E. Cooper (5 May 2009). A Companion to Aesthetics. John Wiley & Sons. pp. 511–512. ISBN 978-1-4051-6922-6. Retrieved 19 August 2012. 
  2. ^ a b George Santayana (1896). The Sense of Beauty: Being the Outlines of Aesthetic Theory. C. Scribner's Sons. pp. v–ix. Retrieved 19 August 2012. 
  3. ^ John H. Timmerman (2002). Robert Frost: The Ethics of Ambiguity. Bucknell University Press. p. 174. ISBN 978-0-8387-5532-7. Retrieved 19 August 2012. 
  4. ^ a b c Henry Samuel Levinson (1 June 1992). Santayana, Pragmatism, and the Spiritual Life. UNC Press Books. pp. 72–75. ISBN 978-0-8078-2031-5. Retrieved 19 August 2012. 
  5. ^ T. Chevalier (1 November 1997). Encyclopedia of the Essay. Taylor & Francis. p. 735. ISBN 978-1-884964-30-5. Retrieved 19 August 2012. 
  6. ^ a b Graziella Fantini (28 November 2011). Shattered Pictures of Places and Cities in George Santayana's Autobiography. Universitat de València. pp. 78–79. ISBN 978-84-370-8470-1. Retrieved 19 August 2012. 
  7. ^ James D. Hart (12 October 1995). The Oxford Companion to American Literature. Oxford University Press. p. 598. ISBN 978-0-19-506548-0. Retrieved 19 August 2012.