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The Concept of the Beautiful

Agnes Heller - Edited by Marcia Morgan


The main purpose of this book is to explicate the problematic relationship between the heterogeneity of what is experienced as beautiful and the homogeneity of the conceptualization of that experience, or attempt at such a conceptualization in the era of modern philosophy. While the heterogeneity of what is experienced as beautiful was permitted, and indeed celebrated, in the dominant ancient conception—for example, in the Symposium and Phaedrus of Plato—the need for homogenization in the later appropriation of Plato and in the Enlightenment period relegated the beautiful to the privileged domain of artworks. In her analysis Agnes Heller provides a unique and significant emphasis on the original 'life content' of the experience of the beautiful, which becomes lost in the modern system of the arts.

This book details the history of the concept of the beautiful, starting with what Agnes Heller distinguishes between the 'warm' metaphysics of beauty and the 'cold' one—inspired by Plato's Janus-faced relationship to beauty—and ending with a fragmented yet hopeful vision propagated by Friedrich Nietzsche, Walter Benjamin, and Theodor W. Adorno, among others. In between these two historical parentheses—the metaphysical Plato on one hand and the post-metaphysical Nietzsche, Benjamin, and Adorno on the other hand—lay a plenitude of figures and intellectual developments, all of which contributed to the demise of the concept of the beautiful in the Western metaphysical tradition. The most important of these figures and developments are examined in this book.

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Lexington Books
Pages: 220
978-0-7391-7047-2 • Hardback • January 2012 • $84.00 • (£54.95)
978-0-7391-7048-9 • eBook • February 2012 • $79.00 • (£52.95)
Agnes Heller, born in 1929 in Budapest, is an influential and internationally recognized philosopher. For her work in political philosophy and ethics she has been awarded the Lessing Prize (Hamburg, 1981), the Hannah Arendt Prize (Bremen, 1995), the Sonning Prize (Copenhagen, 2005), and the Goethe Medal (Weimar, 2010). She is Professor Emeritus at the New School for Social Research in New York.

Marcia Morgan is assistant professor in philosophy at Muhlenberg College in Pennsylvania and lectures regularly on invitation in Europe and the United States. In 2010 she was awarded the Edna Hong Research Scholarship from the Kierkegaard Library of St. Olaf College for her forthcoming book on Kierkegaard.
Editor’s Essay
The Concept of the Beautiful, by Agnes Heller
Introduction: What Went Wrong with the Concept of the Beautiful?
Chapter 1: The Platonic Concept of the Beautiful
Chapter 2: Enlightenment, or the This-Worldly Concept of the Beautiful
Chapter 3: Kant's Concept of the Beautiful
Chapter 4: Departure and Arrival: Hegel's Adventure
Chapter 5: The Fragmentation of the Concept of the Beautiful

Agnes Heller's voice resounds in this pedagogic journey through the history of philosophical conceptions of the beautiful. Her choice of philosophical theories follows a continental strain, from Plato through Hume, Burke, Kant, and Hegel, to Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Freud, Benjamin and Adorno. Her interpretations are original, offering us new insight to her philosophy as a whole and into a world that many claim has no beauty left within it. She engages the pessimistic conclusion deeply but ultimately surpasses it, persuasively and without sentimentality.

Lydia Goehr, Professor, Department of Philosophy, Columbia University

Heller’s text is an impressive interpretation of a very particular slice of aesthetic theory. . . . The text is especially oriented towards specialists in philosophical aesthetics or critical theory, and thus would be a welcome addition to any academic library. Those working in theological aesthetics may. . . find great value in its presentation, particularly in the introductory essay by Morgan.
Catholic Books Review