The Psychology of Beauty

The human being who thrills to the experience of beauty in nature and in art does not forever rest with that experience unquestioned. The day comes when he yearns to pierce the secret of his emotion, to discover what it is, and why, that has so stung him-to defend and to justify his transport to himself and to others. He seeks a reason for the faith that is in him. And so have arisen the speculative theories of the nature of beauty, on the one hand, and the studies of concrete beauty and our feelings about it, on the other. Speculative theory has taken its own way, however, as a part of philosophy, in relating the Beautiful to the other great concepts of the True and the Good; building up an architectonic of abstract ideas, far from the immediate facts and problems of the enjoyment of beauty. There has grown up, on the other hand, in the last years, a great literature of special studies in the facts of aesthetic production and enjoyment. Experiments with the aesthetic elements; investigations into the physiological psychology of aesthetic reactions; studies in the genesis and development of art forms, have multiplied apace. But these are still mere groups of facts for psychology; they have not been taken up into a single authoritative principle. Psychology cannot do justice to the imperative of beauty, by virtue of which, when we say “this is beautiful, ” we have a right to imply that the universe must agree with us. A synthesis of these tendencies in the study of beauty is needed, in which the results of modern psychology shall help to make intelligible a philosophical theory of beauty. The chief purpose of this book is to seek to effect such a union.

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