Is Aesthetics Normative?

Is aesthetics normative? Whilst huge attention has been given to the normativity of ethics, the normativity of aesthetics has received very little sustained attention. At first sight, aesthetics seems to be some importantly different from ethics, such that aesthetics is not normative at all, or not in the same way as ethics, and therefore, the normativity of aesthetics seems to be less of a puzzle or problem than the normativity of ethics.

Normativity has many different dimensions. When we ask whether aesthetics is normative, we could be asking about any of these. Here I will consider three, normativity as involving norms or principles, normativity as involving oughts or reasons, specifically with respect to the normativity of virtue and the normativity of obligation. Along all these dimensions, aesthetics appears, or at least has appeared to some people, quite different from ethics. I argue that this is not so: aesthetics is much more similar to ethics than it first appears, and is a normative domain in very much the same way as ethics.