Dates: 1915-1985

Nationality: American

Monroe Curtis Beardsley (December 10, 1915 – September 18, 1985) was an American philosopher of art. He was born and raised in Bridgeport, Connecticut, and educated at Yale University (B.A. 1936, Ph.D. 1939). He taught at a number of colleges and universities, including Mt. Holyoke College and Yale University, but most of his career was spent at Swarthmore College (22 years) and Temple University (16 years).

His work in aesthetics is best known for its championing of the instrumentalist theory of art and the concept of aesthetic experience. Beardsley was elected president of the American Society for Aesthetics in 1956. He also wrote an introductory text on aesthetics and edited a well-regarded survey anthology of philosophy. Amongst literary critics, Beardsley is known for two essays written with W.K. Wimsatt, “The Intentional Fallacy” and “The Affective Fallacy,” both key texts of New Criticism. His works also include: Practical Logic (1950), Aesthetics (1958), and Aesthetics: A Short History (1966).

Wikipedia contributors, ‘Monroe Beardsley’, Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 26 October 2010, 01:51 UTC, <>

Beardsley is best known for his work in aesthetics—and this article will deal exclusively with his work in that area—but he was an extremely intellectually curious man, and published articles in a number of areas, including the philosophy of history, action theory, and the history of modern philosophy.

Three books and a number of articles form the core of Beardsley’s work in aesthetics. Of the books, the first, Aesthetics: Problems in the Philosophy of Criticism (1958; reissued with a postscript, 1981), is by far the most substantial, comprehensive, and influential. More than that, it’s also the first systematic, well-argued, and critically informed philosophy of art in the analytic tradition. Given the wide range of topics covered in Aesthetics, the intelligent and philosophically informed treatment accorded them, the historically unprecedented nature of the work, and its effect on subsequent developments in the field, a number of philosophers, including some of Beardsley’s critics, have argued that Aesthetics is the most impressive and important book of 20th century analytic aesthetics.

The Possibility of Criticism, the second of the three books, is more modest in scope and less groundbreaking. Exclusively concerned with literary criticism, it limits itself to four problems: the ‘self-sufficiency’ of a literary text, the nature of literary interpretation, judging literary texts, and bad poetry.

The last of the books, The Aesthetic Point of View, is a collection of papers, most old, some new. Fourteen papers, largely on the nature of the aesthetic and art criticism, are reprinted, and six new pieces are added. The new pieces are of special interest, because they constitute Beardsley’s final word on the topics covered, and the topics are themselves central ones: aesthetic experience, the definition of art, judgments of value, reasons in art criticism, artists’ intentions and interpretation, and art and culture.

Wreen, Michael, “Beardsley’s Aesthetics”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2010 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = <>

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