Aesthetics is generally a subject no one understands or likes or reads. Creative people, in particular, find it stifling. ""If you ask whether I approve of aesthetics,"" remarked John Berryman, ""the answer is no."" Yet the greatest minds, from Kant to Hegel, from Dilthey to Croce, have pondered the complexities involved re the tastes, standards of value, and processes of art. The philosophers, psychologists, and critics collected here (all of their essays are taken from The British Journal of Aesthetics), are in implicit agreement on one thing, namely that aesthetics is of fundamental importance to any culture and that the techniques of analysis or formulations are excessively difficult. The essays are very learned, very dry, and extremely rarefied--even the normally muscular and biting William Empson in ""Rhythm and Imagery in English Poetry"" tends to sound as if he were speaking to a scholarly band of pilgrims on Mount Parnassus. Thus the volume has little to say to the standard-dissolving modern world and the various anti-styles in painting, music, and literature which everywhere jostle with one another and vie for our attention. (Symptomatic figures like McLuhan, Sontag, and Cage are nowhere mentioned.) But it has a great deal to say on the timeless nature, function, and form of art, and the depth and wide-ranging speculations of the contributors are always rigorous and rewarding.