Chapter 2. "Art As Idealization" by Aristotle

Table of Contents
Ideas of Interest from Aristotle's Ăsthetics
Ăsthetic Selections
Rhetoric Bk. I [Beauty Relative to Us]
Related Ideas
Topics Worth Investigating

Aristotle adapted from University of St. Andrews

About the author …

Aristotle (384-322 B.C.) studied at Plato's Academy for over twenty years. On one occasion when Aristotle was the only student in attendance, Plato lectured anyway—noting in passing that if Aristotle was present, the better half of Athens was present. Upon Plato's death, at the order of Philip of Macedon, Aristotle was required to tutor the young Alexander, the future Alexander the Great. Apparently many years later, Alexander repaid the debt with specimens, supplies, and money garnered from his extensive expeditions. With this support, in 335 B.C. Aristotle founded at the Lyceum (Apollo's Temple), the Peripatetic School so named from the covered walkways. Upon the death of Alexander, Aristotle was suspected of impiety, and he left Athens lest he follow the similar fate of Socrates' last days.

About the works …

These short selections relating to Aristotle's Šsthetics are taken from Nicomachean Ethics,[1] Metaphysics,[2] Poetics,[3] and Rhetoric.[4] Where Plato plied imaginative insight, Aristotle sought method, classification, and evaluation. Aristotle, as Plato does, argues that the origin of the artistic impulse is imitation. Yet, he thinks that art seeks the universal in the individual representation; hence, art is, in a sense the idealization of nature. Thus, good art does not "just" copy nature. The various arts are distinguished, he thinks, according to the means of rhythm, language, and harmony. The notion of katharsis[5] is essential to mimesis as the pleasure derived from an essentially cognitive process. For him, art is the product, not the creative process, whose source is intellectual desire and whose effect is more intellectual than emotional. The import of these short reading selections continue to be elucidated in contemporary Šsthetic debates.

Ideas of Interest from Aristotle's Ăsthetics

  1. Explain what Aristotle means when he states that the master of any art seeks excellence through the intermediate relative to us, not the object. What kind of mean forms the standard of good art?

  2. What is Aristotle's argument against Šsthetic relativity?

  3. How does Aristotle distinguish between the good and beautiful? Does Aristotle believe beauty has a formal cause?[6]

  4. According to Aristotle what do the various forms of poetry, music, and dance have in common? And how do they differ?

  5. How does Aristotle account for the origin of poetry? Is poetry's origin essentially emotional or intellectual? What, according to Aristotle, is the pleasure appropriate to tragedy?

  6. Why does Aristotle consider poetry more philosophical than history?

  7. What are the main factors Aristotle enumerates as subject for criticism in poetry?

  8. What does Aristotle mean when he notes that beauty is relative to the individual in terms of life-span. Is the selected passage from the Rhetoric an instance of Šsthetic relativism?



Aristotle, Nichomachean Ethics. 367-323 B.C. Translated by W.D. Ross. In The Works of Aristotle. London: Oxford University Press. 1915. Volume 9.


Aristotle, Metaphysics. 350 B.C. Translated by W.D. Ross. In The Works of Aristotle. London: Oxford University Press. 1915. Volume 9.


Aristotle, Poetics. 350 B.C. Translated by S.H. Butcher. 3rd. Ed. London: MacMillan & Sons. 1902.


Aristotle, Rhetoric. 350 B.C. Translated by W. Rhys Roberts. London: Oxford University Press. 1924


Katharsis is "that moment of insight which arises out of the audience's climactic intellectual, emotional, and spiritual enlightenment, which for Aristotle is both the essential pleasure and essential goal of mimetic art." Leon Golden. Aristotle on Tragic & Comic Mimesis. Atlanta, Georgia: Scholars Press. 1992. 1.


The pattern, shape, or essence or of a thing, and the structural relationships of the parts— for Aristotle, the abstract universal. Ed.