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Aesthetics is a discipline of philosophy whose object is perceptions, senses, beauty (in nature or art), or exclusively that which relates to the concept of art. The aesthetic corresponds to the domain designated until the eighteenth century by “science of beauty” or “criticism of taste”, and became since the nineteenth century the philosophy of art. It relates, for example, to the emotions provoked by a work of art (or certain gestures, attitudes, things), to the judgments of the work, to what is specific or singular to an expression (artistic, literary, poetic, etc.), to what could be defined as beautiful as opposed to useful and functional.

In everyday language, the adjective “aesthetic” is close to “beautiful”. As a name, “aesthetics” is a notion of all the characteristics that determine the appearance of a thing, often synonymous with design or physical appearance.

The word aesthetic is derived from the Greek αίσθησιs / aisthesis meaning beauty/sensation. Aesthetics etymologically defines the science of the sensible. This sense is present, for example, in Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason, where aesthetics is the study of sensibility or senses. But usage has given the word another meaning which is irrelevant to etymology when aesthetics refers to the science of beauty or the philosophy of art. Although the word aesthetic has a Greek etymology, it was unknown to antiquity, because the science of aesthetics only appeared in modern times and in a German context. The German philosopher Alexander Gottlieb Baumgarten, Christian Wolff’s disciple, introduced the “aesthetic” neologism (in Latin: Aesthetica) in the eighteenth century and gave it its modern meaning with the publication of the first volume of his Aesthetica in 1750. It delineates a new and independent philosophical discipline, basing itself initially on the Platonic distinction between sensible (aistheta) and intelligible (noeta) things. In the book Philosophical Meditations (1735), Baumgarten defines aesthetics as “the science of the mode of cognition and sensory exposure,” then in Æsthetica (1750): “Aesthetics (or theory of the liberal arts, inferior gnoseology, the art of the beauty of thinking, the art of the analogon of reason) is the science of sensible knowledge. Indeed, Baumgarten considers the idea of ​​the beautiful as a confused perception or a feeling and thus as a lower form of knowledge, hence the use of the term aesthetic. Aesthetics is opposed to logic, as confused ideas oppose distinct ideas in the school of Wolff and Leibniz. His aesthetic is also a theory of the fine arts. It is historically substituted for the Poetics initiated by Aristotle.

The term aesthetic takes on a different meaning in different languages, not having been adopted at the same time, and as a result of the influence of the same philosophical works (notably those of Kant and Hegel). In addition, this field of study is also designated by synonymous or similar terms. Aesthetics is “the theory, not of beauty itself, but of the judgment that claims to accurately evaluate beauty, like ugliness”. In the English language, the field of aesthetics was traditionally categorized in the Critic, following Elements of Criticism (1762) by the philosopher Henry Home, and was generally defined as “critic of art“. Since the 1950s, the dominant influence of analytic philosophy in the Anglo-Saxon world has also tended to restrict the scope of aesthetics to a single philosophy of art. In the French language, this field of study was generally designated before the nineteenth century, as “theory of the arts” or “criticism of taste”. In his comments on the salons of the second half of the eighteenth century, Diderot uses the terms “manner” or “taste” in his art criticism. Charles de Villers wrote in 1799: “Diderot wanted to introduce in the Encyclopedia this term of Aesthetics, but it did not take. We have on the principles of taste only fragmentary works and an eclectic doctrine: these principles are not written in a certain code and following a truly scientific method, it is obvious that we have no aesthetics “.

The term is also derived: the aestheticism, which characterizes the evaluation of human values ​​from only the aesthetic point of view (according to the beautiful and the agreeable), and then designates an English artistic and literary movement of the 19th century. Aestheticization (German: Ästhetisierung), process of transformation into an aesthetic reality of an initially non-aesthetic phenomenon. The esthete, sensitive person to the beautiful. The esthetician, philosopher specialized in the branch of aesthetics.

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