Springer Nature is making Coronavirus research free. View research | View latest news | Sign up for updates

Beauty in science: a new model of the role of aesthetic evaluations in science

  • 499 Accesses

  • 3 Citations


In Beauty and Revolution in Science, James McAllister advances a rationalistic picture of science in which scientific progress is explained in terms of aesthetic evaluations of scientific theories. Here I present a new model of aesthetic evaluations by revising McAllister’s core idea of the aesthetic induction. I point out that the aesthetic induction suffers from anomalies and theoretical inconsistencies and propose a model free from such problems. The new model is based, on the one hand, on McAllister’s original model and on further developments by Theo Kuipers in his “Beauty, a Road to the Truth?”. On the other hand, it is based on empirical findings about affection and emotion, and a naturalistic aesthetic theory. The new model is thus a naturalistic model with a wider explanatory range and much more internal consistency that McAllister’s.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.


  1. 1.

    The subject of beauty and aesthetics in science has been addressed by some authors, Paul Thagard (2005), for example, in the context of a rigorous study, but in general it is not addressed as the central subject.

  2. 2.

    As a matter of fact, from today’s perspective, it is difficult to see how properties like visualizability or tractability by mechanistic analogy can be even considered as aesthetic qualities. This is precisely because the appreciation of such properties is determined by contingent historical contexts. Our contemporary context is one in which visualizability or tractability by mechanistic analogy seem simply deprived of any aesthetic character. This fact supports my labelling them contingencies.

  3. 3.

    In a proof by contradiction, or reductio ad absurdum, one assumes the negation of the statement to be proven and shows that it leads to a contradiction.

  4. 4.

    In a proof by cases one divides the statement to be proven into a finite number of mutually exclusive cases, and then shows independently that in each case the statement holds.

  5. 5.

    Some authors (v. g. Davies 1998 and Miller 2005) challenge the very idea that the aesthetic properties of scientific theories are genuinely aesthetic. I believe that this challenge can be dismissed (see Montano 2010), but that discussion is beyond the scope of this paper.

  6. 6.

    He draws our attention to the case of iron, steel and concrete structures in architecture, which were introduced for practical reasons but gained aesthetic significance as they appeared recurrently in architectural designs.

  7. 7.

    For a detailed presentation of a naturalized approach to aesthetic experience see Montano (2010, Ch. 3).

  8. 8.

    It must be noted that Kuipers (2002) offers a formal analysis of the aesthetic induction as well, but since Kuipers’ model suffers from the same problems as McAllister’s, I pursue a different direction here.

  9. 9.

    Strictly speaking, we should write AP(t), for an aesthetic canon changes over time and the degree of critical adequacy changes with it. However, an aesthetic canon changes at a much slower rate than the individual degrees of preference; for the sake of simplicity the slow change in critical adequacy is neglected and the parameter treated as a constant.


  1. Aigner, M., & Ziegler, G. M. (2004). Proofs from The Book. Springer.

  2. Ax, A. F. (1953). The physiological differentiation between fear and anger in humans. Psychosomatic Medicine, 15(5), 433–442.

  3. Cohen, I. B. (1985). Revolution in science. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

  4. Damasio, A. R. (1994). Descartes’ error: Emotion, reason, and the human brain. New York: G. P. Putnam.

  5. Davies, D. (1998). McAllister’s aesthetics in science: a critical notice. International Studies in the Philosophy of Science, 12(1), 25–32.

  6. Dirac, P. (1980). Why we believe in the Einstein theory. In B. Gruber & R. Millman (Eds.), Symmetries in science (pp. 1–11). New York: Plenum Press.

  7. Ekman, P. D. (Ed.). (1994). The nature of emotion: Fundamental questions. New York: Oxford University Press.

  8. Feynman, R. P., & Weinberg, S. (1999). Elementary Particles and the Laws of Physics: The 1986 Dirac Memorial Lectures. Cambridge University Press.

  9. Frijda, N. H. (1986). The emotions. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

  10. Haken, W. (1976). Every planar map is four colorable. Bulletin of the American Mathematical Society, 82(5), 711–713.

  11. Hardy, G. H. (1992). A mathematician’s apology. Cambridge Univ. Press.

  12. Hillman, D. J. (1962). The Measurement of Simplicity. Philosophy of Science, 225–252.

  13. Kaku, M., & Thompson, J. T. (1997). Beyond Einstein: The Cosmic Quest for the Theory of the Universe. Oxford University Press.

  14. Kline, M. (1990a). Mathematical Thought from Ancient to Modern Times, Vol. 1 (1st ptg.). Oxford University Press.

  15. Kline, M. (1990b). Mathematical thought from ancient to modern times, vol. 2. USA: Oxford University Press.

  16. Kuipers, T. (2002). Beauty, a road to the truth. Synthese, 31(3), 291–328.

  17. LeDoux, J. E. (1996). The emotional brain: The mysterious underpinnings of emotional life. New York: Simon & Schuster.

  18. Levenson, R. (1994). The search for autonomic specificity. In P. D. Ekman & J. Richard (Eds.), The nature of emotion: Fundamental questions. New York: Oxford University Press.

  19. McAllister, J. (1996). Beauty and revolution in science. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.

  20. McAllister, J. (1998). Is beauty a sign of truth in scientific theories? American Scientist, 86, 174–183.

  21. McAllister, J. (2005). Mathematical Beauty and the Evolution of the Standards of Mathematical Proof. In M. Emmer (Ed.), The visual mind II. MIT Press.

  22. Miller, D. (2005). Beauty, a road to the truth? Poznan Studies in the Philosophy of the Sciences and the Humanities, 83(1), 341–355.

  23. Montano, U. (2010). Beauty in Mathematics. The Netherlands: Dissertation, University of Groningen.

  24. Nahin, P. J. (2011). Dr. Euler’s Fabulous Formula: Cures Many Mathematical Ills. Princeton University Press.

  25. Newton-Smith, W. H. (1981). The rationality of science. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.

  26. Nickles, T. (2003). Thomas Kuhn. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

  27. Popper, K. R. (2002). The Logic of Scientific Discovery. Routledge

  28. Robinson, J. (2005). Deeper than Reason: Emotion and its Role in Literature, Music and Art. Oxford University Press

  29. Rota, G. C. (2005). The phenomenology of mathematical beauty. In M. Emmer (Ed.), The Visual Mind II, 2, 3–14.

  30. Shaftesbury, A. A. C., third earl of. (1711). Characteristics of men, manners, opinions, times. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

  31. Thagard, P. (2005). Coherence in Thought and Action. MIT Press

  32. Zajonc, R. B. (1980). Feeling and thinking: preferences need no inferences. American Psychologist, 35(2), 151–175.

  33. Zajonc, R. B. (1994). Evidence for nonconscious emotions. In P. D. Ekman & J. Richard (Eds.), The nature of emotion: Fundamental questions. New York: Oxford University Press.

  34. Zajonc, R. B. (2000). Feeling and thinking: Closing the debate over the independence of affect. In J. P. Forgas (Ed.), Feeling and thinking: The role of affect in social cognition (pp. 31–58). New York: Cambridge University Press.

  35. Zajonc, R. B. (2001). Mere exposure: a gateway to the subliminal. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 10(6), 224–228.

  36. Zangwill, N. (2010). Aesthetic judgment. In E. N. Zalta (Ed.), The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Retrieved from

Download references

Author information

Correspondence to Ulianov Montano.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Montano, U. Beauty in science: a new model of the role of aesthetic evaluations in science. Euro Jnl Phil Sci 3, 133–156 (2013).

Download citation


  • Beauty in science
  • Aesthetic induction
  • Aesthetic evaluations in science
  • Aesthetics and science
  • Affection
  • Emotion