Source: p. 18 Middle, Beauty: A Very Short Introduction (2011) by Roger Scruton.

That said, we should recognize that the distinction between aesthetic and utilitarian interests is no more clear than the language used to define it. What exactly is meant by those who say we are interested in a work of art for its own sake, on account of its intrinsic value, as an end in itself ? These terms are philosophical technicalities, which indicate no clear contrast between aesthetic interest and the utilitarian approach that is imposed on us by the needs of everyday decision making.
[1.] Other epochs did not recognize the distinction that we now so frequently make between art and craft. [End of 1.]
Our word ‘poetry’ comes from Greek poiēsis, the skill of making things; the Roman artes comprised every kind of practical endeavour. And to take our second platitude about beauty seriously is to be sceptical towards the whole idea of the beautiful as a realm apart, untainted by mundane practicalities.

The entitled question is based on 1 above which lacks an explanation.

2 Answers 2


I should imagine a fairly simple explanation would be that in past epochs judgement of art was solely in the consumer. If one made a pot which was more aesthetically pleasing than another, that pot would be preferred by the consumer of pots over the other. Contrast this with our current distinction of art as a thing judged by a set of standards contained within a fairly small set of selected judges (art critics). The aesthetic of the thing produced under our modern definition of art is largely redundant, certainly as judged by the consumer of the art. Other factors (not immediately relevant to the more utilitarian 'craft') like novelty, shock value etc are considered and their relative weight a matter for appointed judges, not consumers.


Try looking at Benjamin's Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction; Scruton is referring to the 'Cult of Beauty, which was a early modern European cult; it's referred to, for example in one of Hardy's novels. I forget which.

In most ages (epochs) objects of art had a status within the life world of the society, rather than being something placed apart - say in museums or galleries; Benjamin referred to them as cult objects.

For example, the paintings in the Lascaux caves, done 20 thousand years ago, are generally felt to have ritual value.

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