Beauty in the thought of Jennifer McMahon



My 49th

Beauty in the thought of  Jennifer McMahon*

Philosophical interest in beauty began with the earliest recorded philosophers. Beauty was deemed to be an essential ingredient in a good life and so what it was, where it was to be found, and how it was to be included in a life were prime considerations. The way beauty has been conceived has been influenced by an author’s other philosophical commitments―metaphysical, epistemological, and ethical―and such commitments reflect the historical and cultural position of the author. For example, beauty is a manifestation of the divine on earth to which we respond with love and adoration; beauty is a harmony of the soul that we achieve through cultivating feeling in a rational and tempered way; beauty is an idea raised in us by certain objective features of the world; beauty is a sentiment that can nonetheless be cultivated to be appropriate to its object; beauty is the object of a judgment by which we exercise the social, comparative, and intersubjective elements of cognition, and so on. Such views on beauty not only reveal underlying philosophical commitments but also reflect positive contributions to understanding the nature of value and the relation of mind and world. One way to distinguish between beauty theories is according to the conception of the human being that they assume or imply, for example, where they fall on the continuum from determinism to free will, ungrounded notions of compatibilism notwithstanding. For example, theories at the latter end might carve out a sense of genuine innovation and creativity in human endeavors while at the other end of the spectrum authors may conceive of beauty as an environmental trigger for consumption, procreation, or preservation in the interests of the individual. Treating beauty experiences as in some respect intentional, characterizes beauty theory prior to the 20th century and since, mainly in historically inspired writing on beauty. However, treating beauty as affect or sensation has always had its representatives and is most visible today in evolutionary-inspired accounts of beauty (though not all evolutionary accounts fit this classification). Beauty theory falls under some combination of metaphysics, epistemology, meta-ethics, aesthetics, and psychology. Although during the 20th century beauty was more likely to be conceived as an evaluative concept for art, recent philosophical interest in beauty can again be seen to exercise arguments pertaining to metaphysics, epistemology, meta-ethics, philosophy of meaning, and language in addition to philosophy of art and environmental aesthetics.

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Jenny McMahon has had a long association with the Arts, beginning her professional life as a visual artist, art critic, and arts educator in Melbourne (including Institute of Education, University of Melbourne), before taking up philosophy at Melbourne and the Australian National University, Canberra. She received her PhD in Philosophy from the Australian National University in Canberra in 1997, lectured in Arts Education at the University of Canberra from 1996, before joining the Philosophy Department at the University of Adelaide in 2002, where she is currently Professor of Philosophy.

Jenny was Head of the Philosophy Department from 2010 to middle of 2012 and in second semester 2013.  She was Director of Graduate Studies for the Faculty of Arts, from 2014-2015; and is currently on the Executive of the Australasian Association of Philosophy; and is Chief Investigator for an Australian Research Council Discovery Grant 2015-2017.

McMahon’s research has two different but related aims. The first includes original scholarship on Immanuel Kant’s Critique of the Aesthetic Power of Judgment in which she identifies the origins of misreadings of Kant’s aesthetic formalism in the writing of certain early twentieth century philosophers and art theorists who influenced writing on Kant’s aesthetics up until the present. McMahon provides textual evidence to support an alternative reading which demonstrates that the popular concepts of disinterest and universality where aesthetic reflective judgments are concerned, which are the standard foil of cognitive aesthetic theories, are in fact based on only part of Kant’s Critique of the Aesthetic Power of Judgment. They rely solely on a reading of the Analytic of the Beautiful where Kant sets out what an aesthetic judgment is, and they ignore the crucial Deduction of Pure Aesthetic Judgments, where Kant sets out how such judgments are possible. The former is written with the latter in view. McMahon argues that without taking both into consideration, a distorted interpretation of Kant’s formalism is the result.  Such a distortion has been treated as the standard view of Kant’s formalism in Philosophy of Art for the last century.

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19 réflexions sur “Beauty in the thought of Jennifer McMahon

  1. You are always nice. Thank you very much my dear Christine 💜 . I think to remake the style of this painting, in my next creation

  2. Love both your paintings!! The last one reminds me of a spring snow falling on green ground shoots. Very beautiful, Ahmed! Interesting philosophy about Kant’s view on beauty! 🎶💛 Christine

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