The Stoic Theory of Beauty

By Aiste Celkyte


Author: Celkyte, Aiste (Lecturer, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam)

Reference: The Stoic Theory of Beauty. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2020, 224pp, ISBN 9781474461610

The monograph aims to show that the Stoa, an ancient Greek philosophical school, made a substantial line of enquiry into the nature of aesthetic properties, and thus there are good reasons to analyse and discuss the sub-field of the Stoic thought that could be called ‘Stoic aesthetics.’ This study of Stoic views on beauty begins with the question of indifferents and the challenge it poses for aesthetics. The controversial Stoic theory of values states that ‘beauty’ is one of the so-called indifferents, that is, the things that do not contribute to human happiness and therefore ought not to be treated as the good. It is argued that a thorough reading of the material shows that beauty is not treated as irrelevant in general; the evidence only shows that beauty is an inferior value to virtue. This leaves the possibility of theorising aesthetic objects. This leads to a systematic interpretation of Stoic aesthetics by looking at other pieces of extant evidence where beauty is mentioned, including the argument ‘that only the beautiful is the good’, theological arguments, the claim that only the wise man is beautiful and the Stoic definition of beauty as summetria. The latter, it is argued, is a succinct formulation of the idea that beauty is a function composition, and this idea has emerged in the previous discussions of various arguments involving aesthetic terms. The monograph ends with a discussion of the Stoic views in ancient Greek philosophical context.