Archive Authors E.J. Hutchinson Nota Bene Philosophy

Beauty and Cognition, Again

Several months ago, I wrote a brief post on beauty’s relation to cognition, rather than desire, in Thomas Aquinas. Aesthetics, that is, must have its relation to the rational and the real,1 rather than to some unspecified or underdeveloped sense of longing.

Perhaps some confirmation is found in the first chapter of Paul’s letter to the Philippians, where he writes:

καὶ τοῦτο προσεύχομαι ἵνα ἡ ἀγάπη ὑμῶν ἔτι μᾶλλον καὶ μᾶλλον περισσεύῃ ἐν ἐπιγνώσει καὶ πάσῃ αἰσθήσει

And this I pray, that your love would abound still more and more in all knowledge and discernment

As Marvin R. Vincent notes in his commentary, this is the only place in which the noun αἴσθησις is used in the New Testament. It is no coincidence that, in its only use, it is closely connected to ἐπίγνωσις, “knowledge.” Vincent again, who identifies the word here with “spiritual perception” rather than sense perception:

Paul prays for the abounding of love in these two aspects, advanced knowledge and right spiritual discernment; an intelligent and discriminating love; love which, however ardent and sincere, shall not be a mere unregulated impulse. Even natural love as a quick perception, an intuitive knowledge; but without the regulative principle of the spiritual reason, it is not secure against partial seeing and misconception, and results which do not answer to the purity of its motives. Ἐπίγνωσις is the general regulator and guide. Aἴσθησις applies ἐπίγνωσις to the finer details of the individual life, and fulfils [sic] itself in the various phases of Christian tact.


  1. That is, the aesthetic object must be susceptible of analysis beyond “[x] produces a pleasant feeling in me.” 

By E.J. Hutchinson

E.J. Hutchinson is Assistant Professor of Classics at Hillsdale College.