Bolzano on beauty


*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Journal PublicationsJournal Article (refereed)peer-review

4 Citations (Scopus)


This paper sets forth Bolzano’s little-known 1843 account of beauty. Bolzano accepted the thesis that beauty is what rewards contemplation with pleasure. The originality of his proposal lies in his claim that the source of this pleasure is a special kind of cognitive process, namely, the formation of an adequate concept of the object’s attributes through the successful exercise of the observer’s proficiency at obscure and confused cognition. To appreciate this proposal we must understand how Bolzano explicated a number of concepts (especially clarity, confusion, and intuition) in his Wissenschaftslehre. I argue that Bolzano was ahead of his time and anticipated some of the results of recent empirical psychological research on the relations between beauty, affect, and processing fluency. Bolzano’s remarks on ugliness and on relations between pure and mixed beauty are also of contemporary interest. The upshot is that Bolzano’s account of beauty is neither as derivative nor ‘dark’ as some of his commentators have claimed.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)269-284
Number of pages16
JournalBritish Journal of Aesthetics
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2014

Bibliographical note

publication date: July 2014


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