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Classification of Arts and Early Modern Sciences

Emerging Into The Nineteenth Century

By the end of the eighteenth century one can detect a clear separation between theorizing about classification in the arts and in the sciences. Thinkers preserved in the sciences the ideal of external objectivity but grappled with whether this ideal could be achieved. Most importantly, the scientific community developed theories that preserved the ideal in the face of epistemological shortcomings by positing meta-constraints on what could count as a satisfactory theory of kinds. In the arts, classification shifted away from external objectivity to more subjective and intersubjective forms of classification. This shift was facilitated by the distinction between the fine arts and useful arts and more generally by the development of new and separate theories of art. Aesthetics emerged as an independent field of inquiry with its own set of kinds and categories. The early modern period witnessed the development of separate and new ways of classifying in the arts distinct from the sciences.

By the nineteenth century the arts and the sciences were conceived of as separate disciplines with distinct classificatory systems. And as such a new question arose: How is it determined whether some activity or thing should be classified as science or as art, as scientific or as artistic? Separating art and science by how they classify does not entail that they use different conceptions of what it means more broadly to classify at all. In fact, this article has assumed the contrary. Furthermore, separating art and science does not imply that the two domains are utterly distinct. As Leo Tolstoy wrote at the close of the nineteenth century, "Science and art are as closely bound together as the lungs and the heart, so that if the one organ is vitiated the other cannot act rightly" (p. 277).



Aristotle. The Complete Works of Aristotle. Edited by Jonathan Barnes. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1984.

Baumgarten, Alexander. Aesthetica. 1750. Hildesheim, Germany: G. Olms, 1961.

Boyle, Robert. Selected Philosophical Papers of Robert Boyle. Edited by M. A. Stewart. Manchester, U.K.: Manchester University Press, 1979.

Burke, Edmund. A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful. Edited by James T. Boulton. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1958.

Descartes, René. The Philosophical Writings of Descartes. Translated by John Cottingham et al. 3 vols. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1985–1991.

Hume, David. Essays Moral, Political and Literary. Edited by Eugene F. Miller. Indianapolis: Liberty Classics, 1985.

Hutcheson, Francis. An Inquiry concerning Beauty, Order, Harmony, Design. Edited by Peter Kivy. The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1973.

Kant, Immanuel. Critique of Judgment. Translated by Werner S. Pluhar. Indianapolis: Hackett, 1987.

Leibniz, Gottfried Wilhelm. New Essays on Human Understanding. Translated and edited by Peter Remnant and Jonathan Bennett. Cambridge, U.K., and New York: Cambridge University Press, 1981.

Locke, John. An Essay concerning Human Understanding. Edited by Peter H. Nidditch. New York: Oxford University Press, 1975.

Tolstoy, Leo. What Is Art? Translated by Aylmer Maude. London: Oxford University Press, 1930.


Barasch, Moshe. Modern Theories of Art. Vol. 1: From Winckelmann to Baudelaire. New York: New York University Press, 1990. Excellent historical approach to developments in theory of art.

Gaut, Berys, and Lopes, Dominic, eds. The Routledge Companion to Aesthetics. London and New York: Routledge, 2001. Excellent general resource, including separate articles on key historical figures in the philosophy of art.

Lawrence, George. Taxonomy of Vascular Plants. New York: Macmillan, 1951. Although dated, this text contains an excellent history of classificatory systems in the sciences.

Wittkower, Rudolf, and Margot Wittkower. Born under Saturn. New York: Norton, 1963. A history of artists and how they have been viewed from antiquity to the end of the early modern period.

Marc A. Hight

Additional topics

Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Chimaeras to ClusterClassification of Arts and Early Modern Sciences - Aristotelian Background, Medieval Academia, Early Modern Context, Early Modern Classification In The Arts, Early Modern Classification In The Sciences