Explanation pp 307-325 | Cite as

Are There Aesthetic Explanations?

Part of the Synthese Library book series (SYLI, volume 302)


The answer to this question depends naturally on the meaning of the expression “aesthetic explanation”. There can be at least three different meanings: (1) the aesthetic value (the beauty) of explanations; (2) an explanation of aesthetic phenomena from the standpoint of non-aesthetic disciplines, and (3) an explanation of aesthetic issues that is based on an aesthetic theory. Each meaning leads to different theoretical considerations and involves different aspects of both explanation and aesthetics. Let me elaborate:
  1. 1.

    The expression “beautiful (or for that matter, ugly) explanation” implies the relevance of aesthetic considerations to explanation. To say of an explanation that it is beautiful is an expression of approval; it praises the explanation in question in terms of, e.g., coherence, harmony, parsimony, and so forth. One may hold, as many do, that beauty is the main criterion for determining the worth of an explanation (see, e.g., Lipton’s contribution to this volume).

  2. 2.

    “Aesthetic explanation” may further mean an explanation of aesthetic matters without reference to the nature of the explanation itself. Aesthetic issues may be explained on the basis of non-aesthetic theories such as biological and psychological theories and given accordingly biological or psychological explanations. However a biological explanation of beauty is still biological and not an “aesthetic” explanation it is limited to biological aspects of aesthetic issues.

  3. 3.

    “Aesthetic explanation” may also mean an explanation that is based on an aesthetic theory just as a psychological explanation is an explanation that is based on a psychological theory and a physical explanation is based on a physical theory. However, this kind of analogy between aesthetics and other disciplines is far from being self-evident. The notion of explanation that is based on an aesthetic theory is dubious; it raises difficulties that are unique to the aesthetic domain.



Sexual Attraction Medium Order Psychological Explanation Aesthetic Appreciation Aesthetic Theory 
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© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2001

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