On the Interest in Beauty and DisinterestSkip other details (including permanent urls, DOI, citation information)
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Contemporary philosophical attitudes toward beauty are hard to reconcile with its importance in the history of philosophy. Philosophers used to allow it a starring role in their theories of autonomy, morality, or the good life. But today, if beauty is discussed at all, it is often explicitly denied any such importance. This is due, in part, to the thought that beauty is the object of “disinterested pleasure”. In this paper I clarify the notion of disinterest and develop two general strategies for resisting the emphasis on it, in the hopes of getting a clearer view of beauty’s significance. I present and discuss several literary depictions of the encounter with beauty that motivate both strategies. These depictions illustrate the ways in which aesthetic experience can be personally transformative. I argue that they present difficulties for disinterest theories and suggest we abandon the concept of disinterest to focus instead on the special kind of interest beauty fuels. I propose a closer look at the Platonic thought that beauty is the object of love.