Theoria and the aesthetic in Aristotle (Wonkish).

When I blogged about the relationship between virtue ethics and creativity last week, I was sceptical of the ability of Aristotelian theory to incorporate creativity in the way that we would like. Hume’s theory seemed to be a much safer bet to me. Reading Peter Goldie today, however, helped me to see otherwise. In particular, he cited Sarah Broadie’s claim that for Aristotle, contemplation or theoria  ultimately involves ‘any sort of detached… pondering, especially when not directed to a practical goal’.

If that’s true, it seems clear that Aristotle was wrong to think that this only gave him room to accommodate intellectual virtues pursuing knowledge, because the artist and the appreciator of art both do something similar. According to many theories of aesthetics, the essence of artistic appreciation and creation is valuing art ‘for its own sake’, without any practical concerns. And detached contemplation seems to be the epitome of the artistic experience. So art can be added to Aristotle’s theory of value through the avenue of the value of theoria. If Goldie is right, creation and appreciation of it are prime examples of virtues.

Another consideration in Goldie’s favour: apparently Irwin notes that theoria in Greek is cognate with theasthai, which roughly means ‘to gaze upon’. It’s hard to use concepts like that without having theatre and paintings in mind.


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