Thursday, May 04, 2006


Alain De Botton and Objective Beauty

I was interested to come accross a little article in The Observer (23.04.06) about media friendly philosopher Alain De Botton putting the wind up 'house designers and developers by branding their work second-rate'.

Botton delivered a lecture at the Royal Institute of Architecture on 'The Question of Beauty in Architecture', arguing that archietects are 'neglecting the need to design beautiful buildings'. Botton told The Observer: 'The silence about beauty has allowed property developers to come in and say, "Ah well, don;t tell us our buildings are ugly, because who are you to say? Maybe you're a snob, or maybe that's just your own view".' In other words, De Botton seems to be saying that builders are using a subjective view of beauty to reject any criticism of their work. If you think their houses are ugly, that's just your subjective point of view. In which case, it would seem that in attacking this move, De Botton must be defending an objective theory of beauty. Unfortunately, his next reported comment to The Osberver seems to buy into a subjective view of beauty: "But he said a public consensus was now forming about what makes good or bad housing. 'Lots of people basically agree that windows are too small on the current generation of Barratt homes. That's not a mystery, that's not a subjective point of view - you could almost make it into a science...'" Here De Botton seems to tie his critique to whether or not enough people can agree with each other about what they like, and appears to reveal that his paradigm of objectivity is narrowly scientific. If beauty is objective, then it is what it is irrespective of human agreement; although human agreement might be a good indicator of what the objective truth of any given aesthetic question might be.

For a defence and exploration of the objectivity of beauty cf:

Thomas Dubay, The Evidential Power of Beauty, (Ignatius, 1999)

C.S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man, (Fount), 'Men Without Chests' @

Peter S. Williams, 'A Theistic Account of Aesthetic Value' @ (My first article on beauty, written during my MPhil at UEA)

Peter S. Williams, 'Intelligent Design, Aesthetics and Design Arguments' @ (an article published by ISCID)

Peter S. Williams, 'Aesthetic Arguments for the Existence of God' @ (An article published by Quodlibet Journal)

Peter S. Williams, I Wish I Could Believe In Meaning: A Response to Nihilism, (Damaris, 2004)

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