Beauty, a Road to the Truth?

  • Theo A. F. Kuipers
Part of the Synthese Library book series (SYLI, volume 399)


In this chapter I give a naturalistic-cum-formal analysis of the relation between beauty, empirical success, and truth. The analysis is based on the one hand on a hypothetical variant of the so-called ‘mere-exposure effect’ which has been more or less established in experimental psychology regarding exposure-affect relationships in general and aesthetic appreciation in particular. It was initiated by Robert Zajonc (Attitudinal effects of mere exposure. J Pers Soc Psychol Monogr Suppl 9:1–27, 1968). On the other hand it is based on the formal theory of truthlikeness and truth approximation as presented in my From instrumentalism to constructive realism (2000).

The analysis supports the findings of James McAllister in his beautiful Beauty and revolution in science (1996), by explaining and justifying them. First, scientists are essentially right in regarding aesthetic criteria useful for empirical progress and even for truth approximation, provided they conceive of them as less hard than empirical criteria. Second, the aesthetic criteria of the time, the ‘aesthetic canon’, may well be based on ‘aesthetic induction’ regarding non-empirical features of paradigms of successful theories which scientists have come to appreciate as beautiful. Third, aesthetic criteria can play a crucial, schismatic role in scientific revolutions. Since they may well be wrong, they may, in the hands of aesthetic conservatives, retard empirical progress and hence truth approximation, but this does not happen in the hands of aesthetically flexible, ‘revolutionary’ scientists.


Beauty Road to the truth Aesthetic features Truth approximation Mere-exposure effect Aesthetic induction Aesthetic canon Revolutionary science 


  1. Bornstein, R. (1989). Exposure and affect: Overview and meta-analysis of research, 1968–1987. Psychological Bulletin, 106(2), 265–289.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Bornstein, R. (1994). Are subliminal mere exposure effects a form of implicit learning? Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 17, 398–399.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. de Regt, H. (1998). Explaining the splendour of science. Studies in History and Philosophy of Science, 29(1), 155–165.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. de Vos, M. (1999). Diep in het geheim gestoken. Over duistere poëzie. In Mooi, special issue, De Gids 3–4: 166–172.Google Scholar
  5. Derksen, T. (1999). Schoonheid als argument. Over James W. McAllister, beauty and revolution in science. Algemeen Nederlands Tijdschrift voor Wijsbegeerte, 91(3), 168–173.Google Scholar
  6. Kayzer, W. (2000). Het boek over de schoonheid en de troost. Amsterdam: Contact.Google Scholar
  7. Kieseppä, I. (1997). Akaike information criterion, curve-fitting, and the philosophical problem of simplicity. The British Journal for the Philosophy of Science, 48(1), 21–48.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Kuipers, T. (1991). Dat vind ik nou mooi. In R. Segers (Ed.), Visies op cultuur en literatuur. Opstellen naar aanleiding van het werk van J.J.A. Mooij (pp. 69–75). Amsterdam: Rodopi.Google Scholar
  9. Kuipers, T. (1997). The dual foundation of qualitative truth approximation. Erkenntnis, 47(2), 145–179.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Kuipers, T. (2000). From instrumentalism to constructive realism. On some relations between confirmation, empirical progress, and truth approximation (Synthese Library 287). Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers.Google Scholar
  11. Kuipers, T. (2001). Structures in science. Heuristic patterns based on cognitive structures. An advanced textbook in neo-classical philosophy of science (Synthese Library 301). Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers.Google Scholar
  12. Kuipers, T., Vos, R., & Sie, H. (1992). Design research programs and the logic of their development. Erkenntnis, 37(1), 37–63.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Laudan, L. (1977). Progress and its problems. Berkeley: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  14. McAllister, J. (1996). Beauty and revolution in science. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.Google Scholar
  15. McAllister, J. (1998). Is beauty a sign of truth in scientific theories? American Scientist, 86, 174–183.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. McAllister, J. (1999). Waarheid en schoonheid in de wetenschap. Algemeen Nederlands Tijdschrift voor Wijsbegeerte, 93(1), 153–167.Google Scholar
  17. Mull, H. (1957). The effect of repetition upon the enjoyment of modern music. The Journal of Psychology, 43, 155–162.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Niiniluoto, I. (1987). Truthlikeness (Synthese Library 185). Dordrecht: Reidel.Google Scholar
  19. Seamon, J., et al. (1995). The mere exposure effect is based on implicit memory. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 21(3), 711–721.Google Scholar
  20. Sober, E. (1998). Simplicity (in scientific theories). In E. Craig (Ed.), Routledge encyclopedia of philosophy (Vol. 8, pp. 780–783). London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  21. Sober, E. (2000). Philosophy of biology. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  22. Temme, J. (1983). Over smaak valt te twisten. Sociaal-psychologische beïnvloedingsprocessen van esthetische waardering (Accounting for tastes. Social psychological influence processes on aesthetic appreciation). With a summary in English. Dissertation. University of Utrecht.Google Scholar
  23. Thagard, P. (1988). Computational philosophy of science. Cambridge: MIT Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Thagard, P. (1992). Conceptual revolutions. Princeton: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  25. Thagard, P. (2005). Why is beauty a road to the truth? In R. Festa, A. Aliseda, & J. Peijnenburg (Eds.), Cognitive structures in scientific inquiry. Essays in debate with Theo Kuipers (Vol. 2, pp. 365–370). Amsterdam: Rodopi. (Reply by T. Kuipers, 371–374).Google Scholar
  26. Weinberg, S. (1993). Dreams of a final theory. London: Vintage.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Ye, G. (2000). Modeling the unconscious components of marketing communication: familiarity, decision criteria, primary affect, and mere-exposure effect. Dissertation. University of Tilburg.Google Scholar
  28. Ye, G., & van Raaij, F. (1997). What inhibits the mere-exposure effect: Recollection or familiarity? Journal of Economic Psychology, 18, 629–648.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Zajonc, R. (1968). Attitudinal effects of mere exposure. J Pers Soc Psychol Monogr Suppl, 9, 1–27.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Zajonc, R. (2001). Mere exposure: A gateway to the subliminal. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 10(6), 224–228.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Zwart, S. (1998). Approach to the truth. Verisimilitude and truthlikeness. PhD-thesis, Amsterdam: ILLC, 1998. Revised version: Zwart, Sjoerd. 2001. Refined verisimilitude (Synthese Library 307). Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Theo A. F. Kuipers
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Theoretical PhilosophyUniversity of GroningenGroningenThe Netherlands

Personalised recommendations