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


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.

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  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.


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

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