So, we're doing a project in philosophy class, discussing what exactly an "aesthetic experience" is. I understand, that it is a very personal definition that everybody has, but I'm sure there are some common definitions out there. So what I would like to know is, what definitions of the term "aesthetic" you've come across and if you could give an example of an "aesthetic experience". Is there a difference between an aesthetic and an artistic experience?

Thanks in advance!

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    Welcome to Philosophy.SE! This kind of polling questions are not a good fit for the SE format (see the help center and tour). May I suggest rewriting to "What are common philosophical definitions...?"? Thanks.
    – user2953
    Nov 5, 2015 at 14:22

2 Answers 2


Bishop (then Father) Robert Barron has a talk he did about 10 years ago where he discusses this in Aquinas and Joyce. He says (referring back to Aquinas - a summary of these ideas can be found on the IEP Aesthetics article) that an aesthetic experience consists in three things:

  1. Proportion - the internal balance and relationships within a thing
  2. Radiance - the thing seizes the attention of beholders
  3. Wholeness - a thing should not lack anything relevant to its essence

(This is a very crude summary, please read the article linked above).

While a matter of taste does come into play, these three criteria do stand up remarkably well.

Bishop Barron gives as the archetypal example of an aesthetic experience the main character in Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man seeing a girl on the beach exhibiting the three Thomist principles of beauty.


This was a main topic for the analytic aesthetician Monroe Beardsley. In general, the philosophical work done by focusing on the "aesthetic experience" rather than the "aesthetic object" is that it relocates the aesthetic qualities in the experience of the viewer rather than in the object. This move was prefigured by Kant, who did not use the actual term "aesthetic experience," but who considered the key feature of a aesthetic object to be the fact that it inspires/necessitates a "judgement of taste" (which is arguably the same thing, or at least a close cousin).

This opens the door for the resolution of aesthetic paradoxes such as the existence of "found art" --objects that only appear to be art within the proper context--, or the fact that two people can judge the same piece of art very differently. If it is the experience rather than the object that has aesthetic qualities, then these problems are less damning then if the aesthetic qualities are held to physically inhere in the actual art object.

The main difference between the terms "artistic" and "aesthetic" is that the first is a term from natural language, while the second is intended to be a technical term with an exact philosophical definition. In practice, however, neither term is well-defined. Beardsley's own definition holds that an aesthetic experience is the gratification experienced upon correctly and completely experiencing an aesthetic object. However, this definition is arguably circular, or at the least, dependent on some prior definition of aesthetics.

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