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Most popular. Wolff affirms the classical dictum that beauty is truth; beauty is truth perceived through the feeling of pleasure. Wolff understands beauty to consist in the perfection in things, which he understands in turn to consist in a harmony or order of a manifold. We judge something beautiful through a feeling of pleasure when we sense in it this harmony or perfection.
Beauty is, for Wolff, the sensitive cognition of perfection. Thus, for Wolff, beauty corresponds to objective features of the world, but judgments of beauty are relative to us also, insofar as they are based on the human faculty of sensibility. Though philosophical rationalism forms the basis of aesthetics in the early Enlightenment in France and Germany, thinkers in the empiricist tradition in England and Scotland introduce many of the salient themes of Enlightenment aesthetics. Lord Shaftesbury, though not himself an empiricist or subjectivist in aesthetics, makes significant contributions to this development.
He maintains that aesthetic response consists in a disinterested unegoistic pleasure; the discovery of this capacity for disinterested pleasure in harmony shows the way for the development of his ethics that has a similar grounding. Thinkers of the period find in our receptivity to beauty a key both to understanding both distinctively human nature and its perfection.
As in the domain of Enlightenment ethics, so with Enlightenment aesthetics too, the step from Shaftesbury to Hutcheson marks a step toward subjectivism. If beauty is an idea in us, rather than a feature of objects independent of us, then how do we understand the possibility of correctness and incorrectness — how do we understand the possibility of standards of judgment — in this domain?
But if a judgment of taste is based on, or expresses, subjective sentiments, how can it be incorrect? Hume develops the empiricist line in aesthetics to the point where little remains of the classical emphasis on the order or harmony or truth that is, according to the French classicists, apprehended and appreciated in our aesthetic responses to the beautiful, and thus, according to the classicists, the ground of aesthetic responses.
Immanuel Kant faces squarely the problem of the normativity of judgments of taste. Influenced by Hutcheson and the British empiricist tradition in general, Kant understands judgments of taste to be founded on a distinctive sort of feeling, a disinterested pleasure. However Kant continues to maintain that judgments of beauty are like cognitive judgments in making a legitimate claim to universal agreement — in contrast to judgments of the agreeable.
The question is how to vindicate the legitimacy of this demand. The order and harmony that we experience in the face of the beautiful is subjective, according to Kant; but it is at the same time universal and normative, by virtue of its relation to the conditions of human cognition. The emphasis Kant places on the role of the activity of the imagination in aesthetic pleasure and discernment typifies a trend in Enlightenment thought.
Whereas early in the Enlightenment, in French classicism, and to some extent in Christian Wolff and other figures of German rationalism, the emphasis is on the more-or-less static rational order and proportion and on rigid universal rules or laws of reason, the trend during the development of Enlightenment aesthetics is toward emphasis on the play of the imagination and its fecundity in generating associations. Denis Diderot is an important and influential author on aesthetics. Like Lessing in Germany, Diderot not only philosophized about art and beauty, but also wrote plays and influential art criticism.
Diderot is strongly influenced in his writings on aesthetics by the empiricism in England and Scotland, but his writing is not limited to that standpoint. Diderot repeats the classical dictum that art should imitate nature, but, whereas, for French classicists, the nature that art should imitate is ideal nature — a static, universal rational order — for Diderot, nature is dynamic and productive. For Diderot, the nature the artist ought to imitate is the real nature we experience, warts and all as it were. This critique exposes the artistic rules represented by French classicists as universal rules of reason as nothing more than conventions marking what is considered proper within a certain tradition.
In other words, the prescriptions within the French classical tradition are artificial , not natural , and constitute fetters to artistic genius. Diderot takes liberation from such fetters to come from turning to the task of observing and imitating actual nature. In elevating the aesthetic category of expressiveness, Lessing challenges the notion that all art is imitation of nature.
His argument also challenges the notion that all the various arts can be deduced from a single principle. For some, especially for critics of the Enlightenment, in this point Lessing is already beyond the Enlightenment. Certainly it is true that the emphasis on the individual or particular, over against the universal, which one finds in other late Enlightenment thinkers, is in tension with Enlightenment tenets.
Herder following Hamann to some extent argues that each individual art object has to be understood in its own terms, as a totality complete unto itself. But, according to the point of view taken in this entry, the conception of the Enlightenment according to which it is distinguished by its prioritization of the order of abstract, universal laws and principles, over against concrete particulars and the differences amongst them, is too narrow; it fails to account for much of the characteristic richness in the thought of the period.
Indeed aesthetics itself, as a discipline, which, as noted, is founded in the Enlightenment by the German rationalist, Alexander Baumgarten, owes its existence to the tendency in the Enlightenment to search for and discover distinct laws for distinct kinds of phenomena as opposed to insisting that all phenomena be made intelligible through the same set of general laws and principles.
Aesthetics in Germany in the eighteenth century, from Wolff to Herder, both typifies many of the trends of the Enlightenment and marks the field where the Enlightenment yields to competing worldviews. The Beautiful: Aesthetics in the Enlightenment 3. The True: Science, Epistemology and Metaphysics in the Enlightenment In this era dedicated to human progress, the advancement of the natural sciences is regarded as the main exemplification of, and fuel for, such progress.
The Beautiful: Aesthetics in the Enlightenment Modern systematic philosophical aesthetics not only first emerges in the context of the Enlightenment, but also flowers brilliantly there. Bibliography Primary Literature Bacon, F. The New Organon Novum Organum , ed.
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