Aesthetics and human flourishing in the good society: Perspectives from applied social science and critical theory on the social value of aesthetic practices | Intellect Skip to content
Volume 3, Issue 2
  • ISSN: 2042-793X
  • E-ISSN: 2042-7948



The central claim in this article is simple: aesthetic activities make society better. They are essential for the so-called good society. Specifically it is argued that aesthetic reflection contributes to what Maeve Cooke calls ‘human flourishing’. Vocabularies from the two dominant discourses in social analysis are surveyed: (1) Applied Social Science, which is, generally speaking, empirically grounded and sits within a tradition of Positivism in relation to social analysis and (2) Critical Theory, which is more theoretical, speculative and sits within a Marxian tradition of social theory. First, I introduce the instrumental use of aesthetic practices and vocabularies that I want to oppose. This is done through a brief account of some ways in which creative practice can be used in forms of neo-liberal governance. Second, I survey and compare the use of aesthetics in Applied Social Science and Critical Theory. As I discuss, despite their differences both employ an understanding of the good society based on human flourishing. I conclude by offering three ways in which aesthetic practices contribute to human flourishing: (1) through fostering individual flourishing; (2) as a form of political imagination; and (3) as a model of discourse not regulated by truth.


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