The Role of Aesthetics for Ethics in Architecture and Design, by Manja Unger-Büttner

Surely, there are ways in philosophy to expand its existing reflections to designed objects, particularly built ones. One of them is philosophy of technology. I would like to talk about the meta-ethical correlation between aesthetics with architecture and philosophy of technology.

As an industrial designer and philosopher I derive benefit from philosophy of technology for several years now. In my work I consider not only technical and functional objects and their impacts, but also objects that are valued by their aesthetic design, their aesthetical impact on people and their interplay with other objects in their surroundings. Objects that occupy space and have visible duration are evaluated inevitably by aesthetic criteria [1]. Utility appears not to be the only aspect for evaluating objects. Aesthetics can be an important link between technology development, design and architecture. Thus, it is a connecting as well as separating element between philosophy of technology and philosophy of architecture and design (in German you have a special word for architecture, design as well as styling: Gestaltung). Could aesthetics here be seen as upholding the autonomy of these two directions of philosophy? There are tendencies in German philosophy to open aesthetics towards “aisthetis” at large.

Aesthetics not only as a part of perception, but rather a fundamental feature of perception – aisthesis [2]. In contrast, the philosopher Martin Seel points how important it is to be able to determine the difference between aesthetic and non-aesthetic reality and perception. If aesthetics was as a new fundamental theory for disciplines such as ontology, epistemology and even ethics, aesthetics would not be able to do its “job” [3] – and thus to remain autonomous.

The task of aesthetics, in fact, is to explain and defend a number of differences without which both our theoretical and our ethical life would be infinitely poorer: the difference between experience and aesthetic experience, between mere things and aesthetic objects, between artifacts and aesthetic artifacts, between artists and other designers [4].

Perceptual objects that are called ‘beautiful’ are excellent opportunities for aesthetic contemplation [5]. Aesthetic perception, this way thrown back on itself, shows the location of every perception: the standpoint/point of view of the perceiving person. Thus, aesthetic perception points back to a fundamental finding in the ethically oriented view on art, technology and design: perspectivity.

Aesthetics deals with forms and opportunities of practice. So it deals with possible forms of successful life. Therefore it seems right to consider aesthetics as a part of broadly understood ethics. It is a part of analyzing what could be a good life [6]. More about this connection between aesthetics, ethics and architecture I would like to show in my presentation at the 2014 ISPA-Conference.

Manja Unger-Büttner


1 See Dorschel, Andreas: Gestaltung – Zur Ästhetik des Brauchbaren. Heidelberg 2003, p. 65.

2 See Welsch, Wolfgang: Ästhetisches Denken. Stuttgart 1990; Barck, K./Gente, P./Paris, H./

Richter, S.: Aisthesis. Wahrnehmung heute oder Perspektiven einer anderen Ästhetik. Leipzig 1990.

3 See Seel, Martin: p. 38.

4 See ib.

5 See ib., p. 14.

6 See ib., p. 15.

Harvard Citation Guide: Unger-Büttner, M. (2014) The Role of Aesthetics for Ethics in Architecture and Design, International Society for the Philosophy of Architecture, [blog] 30 April 2014, Available at: [Accessed: 01 June 2014].

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