In On the Genealogy of Morals (1887), Friedrich Nietzsche misquotes Stendhal’s definition of beauty. Beauty is not, as the German philosopher claims, “a promise of happiness” (72). Rather, Stendhal proposes in a footnote to his book De l’amour (1822)—in a chapter entitled “La Beauté détrônée par l’amour”—that “la beauté n’est que la promesse du bonheur” (40). Nevertheless, Nietzsche’s misquotation of Stendhal and his subsequent interpretation of the French author’s aesthetics have held sway in later philosophy, such that Stendhal is regularly recruited to endorse views about beauty quite dissimilar from his own. This article approaches Stendhal as a philosopher in order to develop a clearer sense of what the author really meant by characterizing beauty as “only a promise of happiness.” Through close readings of De l’amour and Rome, Naples, et Florence, it is proposed that Stendhal’s restrictive only allows for and even recommends so-called mere judgments of beauty, or the experience of beauty as a completed pleasure in reflective contemplation, as opposed to the Nietzschean reading of Stendhal, which would define judgments of beauty as forepleasures to future satisfactions. More importantly, this article aims to recover what Stendhal still has to teach present-day philosophers and critics about judgments of taste.

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