Beauty, Aesthetic Experience, and Emotional Affective States

by Andrej Démuth (Author)
Monographs 200 Pages
Series: Spectrum Slovakia, Volume 17


The monograph is focused on the subjectivity of aesthetic experience and the problem of rational interpretation of emotionality. The text studies why does an aesthetic experience exist, what is its content and what is its informational role and structure? Has beauty any cognitive value? Can we analyse beauty? In what sense we can think about the information content of aesthetic experience? The second topic of the book is a cognitive role of emotionality and its research. Why we have emotions? What can they tell us about yourself and about the world?
The methodology of the study is designed as a phenomenological research of subjective experience that is combined with the newest results in Cognitive science research.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • Contents
  • The Issue of Emotionality and Aesthetic Experience as its Specific Example
  • Part One: Forgotten Emotionality and the Issues in Its Research
  • Chapter 1. Suppression of the Issue of Emotionality and Its Causes
  • 1.1. Metaphysical Status of Emotions
  • 1.2. The Epistemic Issue of Emotions
  • 1.3. Subjectivist Issue of Emotionality
  • Chapter 2. The Significance and Ontic Priority of the Emotionality Issue
  • 2.1. The Fundamentality of Emotionality
  • 2.2. Ontic Priority of Emotionality
  • 2.3. Ontological Priority of Emotionality
  • Chapter 3. Aesthetic Experience as an Example of Emotionality
  • 3.1 Aesthetic Experience Has Somatic Manifestations
  • 3.2. Aesthetic Experience Is Perceived Subjectively
  • 3.3 Aesthetic Experience Motivates Our Actions
  • 3.4. Expression of Aesthetic Experience
  • 3.5. Cognitive Function of Aesthetic Experience
  • Part Two: Preparatory Analysis for the Investigation of Aesthetic Experience
  • Chapter 4. The Exposition and Structure of Issue of Beauty and Aesthetic Experience
  • 4.1. The Historical Approaches to the Investigation of Beauty – Prelude
  • 4.1.1. Idealism
  • 4.1.2. Classical Concepts of Beauty
  • 4.1.3. Subjectivist Approach
  • 4.1.4. Beauty as a Value without Purpose
  • 4.1.5. Aesthetics as an Independent Philosophical Discipline
  • 4.2. Contemporary Approaches to the Investigation of Aesthetic Experience
  • 4.2.1. Phenomenology of Beauty
  • 4.2.2. Experimental and Empiric Aesthetics
  • 4.2.3. The Psychology of Beauty
  • 4.2.4. Evolutionary Aesthetics
  • 4.2.5. Neurophenomenology and Neuroaesthetics
  • 4.2.6. Cultural Anthropology and Comparative Aesthetics
  • 4.2.7. Computational Aesthetics
  • 4.3. Terminological Definition of Research
  • 4.3.1. Beauty Is Not Art
  • 4.3.2. Aesthetic Experience Is Not Beauty
  • 4.3.3. What Is an Experience?
  • 4.3.4. Aesthetic Experience
  • 4.4. Structural Issues of Research
  • 4.4.1. What Do We Like? – What Features Are Common to Beautiful Things?
  • 4.4.2. What Is the Course of an Aesthetic Experience? – What Do We Experience in It?
  • 4.4.3. What Is Aesthetic Experience about?
  • 4.5. Methods Used
  • 4.5.1. The Phenomenological Approach
  • 4.5.2. The Cognitive-Scientific Approach
  • 4.5.3. The Hermeneutic Approach
  • 4.5.4. The Evolutionary Approach
  • 4.6. Preliminary Research Outline
  • The Analysis of Beauty and Aesthetic Experience from the First and Third Person Point of View
  • Part Three: A Phenomenological-Existential Analysis of Aesthetic Experience from the First Person Point of View
  • Chapter 5. The Content of the Aesthetic Experience
  • 5.1. Husserl – Aesthetic Experience Is Somatic
  • 5.2. Heidegger – Aesthetic Experience Is Understanding
  • 5.2.1. What Do “Beautiful Things” Have in Common?
  • 5.2.2. Liking
  • The Temporality of Aesthetic Experience – Merleau-Ponty Interlude
  • Aesthetic Experience Enriches
  • 5.2.4. What Matters to Us in Experiencing Beauty?
  • Part Four: Aesthetic Experience from a Neuroscientific Perspective
  • Chapter 6. Inside the Brain
  • 6.1. What Do Various Aesthetic Experiences Have in Common?
  • 6.1.1. The Brain Centres Active during Aesthetic Experience and Aesthetic Assessment – the Neurobiology of Beauty
  • Structural Level
  • The Medial Orbitofrontal Cortex
  • The Insular Cortex
  • The Nucleus Accumbens
  • Other Areas of Activity
  • Cell Level
  • Biochemical Correlates of Aesthetic Experience
  • Dopamine
  • 6.1.1:2.3. Opioids
  • Oxytocin
  • Vasopressin
  • Conclusions about Neurobiochemical Intersections
  • 6.2. What Happens in Aesthetic Experience?
  • 6.2.1. Pleasant Feelings as Reward – Rolls’s Theory of Emotions
  • 6.2.3. Evolutionary Teleology
  • 6.2.4. Social Aspects of Evolutionary Experience
  • 6.2.5. Fashion
  • 6.2.6. Commonality or Originality – the Problem of Aesthetic Experience
  • 6.3. More Distant Areas Involved in Reward System
  • 6.3.1. Schillerian Interlude – Correlations between Beauty and Goodness
  • 6.3.2. The Beauty Dilemma
  • 6.4. What Matters to Us in Aesthetic Experience from an Evolutionary Perspective?
  • 6.4.1. (Beauty) Reward Stems from Enjoyment
  • 6.4.2. Reward Systems from Existence (1)
  • 6.4.3. A Short Interlude – Sexual Behavioural Strategies or a Lesson on Game Theory as an Insight into the Purpose of Attractiveness
  • 6.4.4. Reward Systems from Existence (2)
  • 6.4.5. Existence of the Line vs. Existence of the Individual?
  • 6.4.6. The Importance of Beauty to an Individual
  • 6.4.7. Beauty as a Search for a Better and Superior World
  • An Attempt to Summarize the Meaning of Emotion and an Outline of the Philosophy of Emotionality from a Second Person Point of View
  • Part Five: The Cognitive Aspects of Emotions and the Importance of Their Expression
  • Chapter 7. Why do we have emotions?
  • 7.1.1. Emotions Draw Attention to the Information That Is Important for the Subject
  • 7.1.2. Emotions and Drawing Attention to Our Own State
  • 7.1.3. Art as the Expression of the (In)Visible
  • 7.2. Philosophy of Emotionality from the Second-Person Perspective
  • Chapter 8. Conclusion
  • References
  • About Author
  • Series index

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Chapter 1
Suppression of the Issue of Emotionality and Its Causes

It is surprising how large a part of our experiences and inner life is represented by emotions and, in spite of this, emotions and subjectively perceived experience are the very things of which we speak very little or, rather, which is neglected in communication. Frequently, emotions are considered insubstantial – something which is a part of our inner life and experience on one hand but, on the other hand, viewed very often as something that causes complications in life and creates obstacles to our efficient function in the world rather than supporting it. We disregard emotions; attempt to withdraw from them, to get over them and, in a certain sense, to overlook them. If we do not act in such a way, unnecessarily manifested or poorly understood emotionality frequently leads to misunderstandings, conflicts or distortions of reality which could have been avoided if this information had been perceived in a purely rational context. In diplomacy, communication or science, but also in other areas, emotionality is more a barrier than an element that contributes to the solution of problems.

Emotions are very often likened to colours. Emotionality colours the perceived experience, gives it a distinct and subjectively specific character, helps us to personally identify it or establish a relationship with it; however, it is something that is considered by many as unimportant. The colour of a chair has almost no impact on its purpose. In the majority of cases, the colour of things does not change (neither adds to, nor subtracts from) the function, structure, essence or value thereof, and although there are things, symptoms and phenomena in which the colour of characters or manifestations matter to a significant extent (colour of traffic lights, communication or elsewhere), it is mostly believed that colours (similarly to specific emotional states) are mere inessential properties – accidental subjective experience, which can be neglected,1 despite that (as phenomenologists point out – Husserl, Sokolowski 1977, 96) every visual experience, or, rather, every area that is visually perceived is and always must be coloured in some manner. Similarly, the reflected experience is always somehow marked by the relationship we have towards it – either the potential or actual emotional constituent. This omnipresence of colours (and emotions) and its (theirs) metaphorical expansion beyond the visual experience (for ←11 | 12→instance, to music) in itself is so remarkable that it should draw the attention of thinkers and encourage us to examine it more thoroughly. Despite all of this, it is not the case.

It seems that any reflexively perceived experience is, carries or, at least, can cause an emotional state and, even in those fields and areas, in which we would probably not have expected it. Mathematical calculations seem to be emotionally neutral, similar to wood shaving, for instance. Whilst evaluating the beauty or achievements of a person close to us, we feel clearly identifiable emotional states. At first glance, it seems that physical work with wood or intellectual operations with numbers might not cause such emotions. However, our first glance might be deceiving. It is clear that the scent of shavings, chemicals produced by the body during physical activity, as well as a reflection on how the wood yields to sharp blade of the instrument or on the contrary, how the wood resists the blade can evoke (and frequently evokes) states of body and mind that could be called emotions. Similarly, mathematical operations with usually emotionally fully neutral numbers can evoke various emotions depending on the success or failure of their solution or simply in the context of the previous experience of the person performing these operations.2 Many of us possess such experiences – it is only necessary to recall one’s studies, important tests or simply our joy when our expectations are met.

Nevertheless, this does not mean that every state of consciousness is emotional. A large number of the states of an organism are not conscious (cell myelination, for instance) and not all states of consciousness must inevitably be characterized by emotionality. However, many states (I assume all states reflected on by the subject) have the potential to become such. But despite the fact that our reflexive consciousness is fully emotional, or at least emotional to a certain extent, the emotions are not at the centre of scientific discourse or scientific research, but far from it. We try to overlook them, eliminate their deceptive or distorting influence, subjective distortions, and if emotions are to be scientifically defined, then this task is predominantly left to psychologists and psychiatrists, who observe them, particularly in cases when their intensity and nature is inconvenient or limiting in some way or when they endanger the individual or one’s environment.

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Emotions are perceived as subjective and distorting. Thus we try to ignore them. The reason for this probably lies in the belief that feelings or emotions do not represent a significant part of scientific research; on the contrary, they are an obstacle. If we attempt to focus our scientific attention on them and put them at the centre of scientific interest, we face a number of issues that complicate our research in several contexts. The very first is the metaphysical status of emotions.

1.1.Metaphysical Status of Emotions

Many people consider emotions very ephemeral and hard to embrace as part of our lives. Some emotions are distinct and clearly visible not only for the subject experiencing them, but for others as well. They are manifested externally, they colour our behaviour or they themselves are results of certain states, processes or behaviour. Their visible manifestations allow others to recognize the state of the subject. That is the reason why Darwin (1998) and some of his followers (Ekman 1972; Ekman, Friesen, O’Sullivan et al. 1987; Ek-man, Sorenson, Friesen 1969; Izard 1971; Fridlund 1994; Hess, Thibault 2009) believed that emotions actually do exist. They provide information on our state of mind or eventual intentions and allow the anticipation of behaviour, but also allow us to sympathize. If we see a person with significantly dilated pupils that are fixed on a real or virtual object, with accelerated and deep breathing, gradually reddening face, light sweat, increased muscle tone of expressive muscles, closing or closed eyes and parted and crimson lips – we can assume that this person is excited.3 Although we cannot determine (without context) what (or who) has caused the excitement, whether it is pleasant or unpleasant, nor its content, we have some knowledge of the existence of higher blood pressure, accelerated pulse, levels of certain hormones and many other physiological phenomena that can be measured or clearly observed in a given person. If we then observe that the eyes are squinted, the eyes and lips are “hardened”, the jaws clenched or teeth bared that indicates a change from excitement to anger. In such a way, emotions allow us to look “inside”, they give information on the internal state and intentions of their bearer. They express the state of the organism or mind (if we believe that the mind and its contents are different from the organism and its states) – they are a window into the deeper levels of our existence.

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Even though many of us intuitively associate emotions with an introspectively accessible first-person experience, there is an influential philosophical and psychological tradition, which considers it meaningful to speak of emotions (similarly to ideas) only in regards to their observable (and therefore external) manifestations. Classical behaviourism questioned the meaningfulness of reflections on internal, externally unmanifested aspects of emotionality (James 1904). The way emotionality exists is observable in its manifestations (James 1890). Thus emotions are merely externally observable manifestations of behaviour that are only theoretically related to certain internally (but, again, observable and describable) experienced states (Charles, Bybee, Thompson 2011).

Therefore, a portion of thinkers understand emotionality as a set of observable physical manifestations (changes in physical states) of the organism reacting to sensorially perceived external or internal stimuli (James-Lange theory – James 1884, Lange 1887), or possibly more subtly – as a response of the cortex to a thalamically transmitted cascade of arousal patterns and to permanent hypothalamic behaviour control (Cannon-Bard theory – Cannon 1927). In both cases, it is the imminent response of the organism to perceived changes in the external or internal environment, depending on the nature of the external stimuli and physiological patterns, as well as on the eventual individual peculiarities of the percipient (soft version of (neo)behaviourism – black box theory).

Thus if we want to explore emotionality, we should focus on research of its observable manifestations – changes in appearance or behaviour, and not only on those we observe as common observers in the lifeworld, but also on that, which causes them – on research into the processes taking place in the brain, CNS, blood circulation, galvanic skin resistance, etc. Then, individual emotions are merely a generic name for the coexistence of certain manifestations, and not an individual entity.


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2019 (October)
Philosophy Psychology Cognitive Science Aesthetics Emotionality
Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2019. 200 S.

Biographical notes

Andrej Démuth (Author)

Andrej Démuth studied philosophy and psychology. He is a professor of philosophy and the Head of the Department of Philosophy at the Trnava University. He is the author of many books and articles on cognition and the relationship between reflected and non reflected knowledge and he regularly gives invited lectures at universities in Slovakia and abroad. His research focuses on modern philosophy, epistemology and cognitive studies.


Title: Beauty, Aesthetic Experience, and Emotional Affective States