BAUMGARTEN’S AESTHETICA. MARY J. GREGOR. Although the content of Alexander Gottlieb Baumgarten’s. Aesthetica1 seems to be familiar in German. L’estetica (Aesthetica) [Alexander Gottlieb Baumgarten] on *FREE* shipping on qualifying offers. Book by Alexander Gottlieb Baumgarten. Aesthetica. by Alexander Gottlieb Baumgarten. Publication date Usage Public Domain Mark Topics bub_upload. Publisher Kleyb.

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But Baumgarten’s denomination of the field was an adult baptism: In particular, Aristotle defended the arts from Plato’s charge that they are cognitively useless, trading in mere images of particulars rather than universal truths, by arguing that it is precisely the arts, or at least poetry, that deliver universal truths in a readily graspable form, unlike, for example, history, which deals merely with particular facts Aristotle, Poeticschapter 9, a37—b And if experience of the arts can reveal important moral truths, then it can also be important to the development of morality, the other pole of Plato’s doubts.

Some variant of this response to Plato was the core of aesthetics through much of subsequent philosophical history, and indeed continued to be central to aesthetics through much of the twentieth century.

In the eighteenth century, however, two alternative responses to Plato were introduced. One may be regarded as taking up Aristotle’s idea in the Poetics that “katharsis,” purification or purgation, of the emotions of fear and pity, is a valuable part of our response to a tragedy; this led to an emphasis on the emotional impact of aesthetic experience that was downplayed in the cognitivist tradition.

This line of thought was emphasized by Jean-Baptiste Du Bos in his Critical Reflections on Poetry, Painting, and Musicpublished in France in and widely known throughout Europe even before it was translated into other languages. The other innovation was the idea that our response to beauty, whether in nature or in art, is a free play of our mental powers that is intrinsically pleasurable, and thus needs no epistemological or moral justification, although it may in fact have epistemological and moral benefits.

It became central to the aesthetic theories of Kant and Schiller in the Critique of the Power of Judgment and the Letters on the Aesthetic Education of Mankind This article will chronicle the interaction between the traditional theory of aesthetic experience as a special form of the cognition of truth and the newer theories of aesthetic experience as a free play of cognitive and sometimes other mental powers and as a vicarious experience of emotions in eighteenth-century Germany.

The traditional idea that art is a special vehicle for the expression of important truths is the basis for the work of the philosopher who established the framework for German thought for much of the 18 th century, namely, Christian Wolff — Originally appointed to teach mathematics at the Pietist-dominated university of Halle, Wolff was inspired by both the mathematical and philosophical genius of Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz —but published a vast systematic statement of a philosophy that was constructed partly although by no means wholly on Leibnizian lines in a way that Leibniz himself never did.

Wolff’s collected works over thirty volumes in German and forty in Latin include German versions of his logic, metaphysics, ethics, political philosophy, and teleology as well as a four-volume encyclopedia of mathematical subjects.

In addition, there are expanded Latin versions of the logic, the components of metaphysics including ontology, rational cosmology, empirical psychology, rational psychology, and natural psychology, as well as another four-volume mathematical compendium, seven volumes on ethics, and no fewer than twelve volumes on political philosophy and economics. In all of this vast output, the only thing that might look like a work specifically in aesthetics is a treatise on architecture included in his encyclopedia of mathematics.

Wolff certainly does not have the idea of the fine arts as a domain of human production and response that differs in some essential way from all other forms of human production and response, thus he does not have the idea of aesthetics as a discipline that will focus on what distinguishes the fine arts and our response to them from everything else. Nevertheless, in the course of his works he introduces some ideas about both the fine arts and our response to them that will be seminal for the next half-century of German thought.

The two key ideas that Wolff takes from Leibniz are, first, the characterization of sensory perception as a clear but confused rather than distinct perception of things that could, at least in principle, be known both clearly and distinctly by the intellect; and, second, the characterization of pleasure as the sensory, and thus clear but confused, perception of the perfection of things.

Leibniz then says that sensory perception is clear but indistinct or confused knowledge, and illustrates his general thesis about sense perception with a remark about the perception and judgment of art: This illustration would be decisive for Wolff and all of those whom he in turn influenced. The second idea that Wolff took over from Leibniz is the idea that pleasure is itself the sensory perception of the perfection existing in an object. For Leibniz and all his followers, there is one sense in which all of the properties of actually existing objects can be regarded as perfections, since they held that the actual world is the one selected to exist by God from among all possible worlds precisely because it is the most perfect; thus each object and all of its properties must in some way contribute to the maximal perfection of the actual world.

But they also used the concept of perfection in a more ordinary way, in which some actual objects have specific perfections that others do not, and it is this sense of perfection that Leibniz employed when he stated that. Leibniz also holds that the perfection that we perceive in other objects is in some sense communicated to ourselves, although he does not say that our pleasure in the perception of perfection is actually directed at the self-perfection that is thereby caused.

But there is certainly a nascent view here that the perception of beauty in art, although not only in art, is both intrinsically pleasurable and also instrumentally valuable because it leads to self-improvement. This is the background from which Wolff’s own hints toward aesthetics emerged.

After expounding the formal principles that are the basis of all truth, the principles of non-contradiction and sufficient reason, Wolff introduces the concept that is the substantive basis of his ontology, namely the concept of perfection.


It is however composed of many parts, and these and their composition are aimed at the hands displaying correctly the hours and their parts. Thus in a clock one finds manifold things, that are all in concordance with one another. Here Wolff defines perfection in both formal and substantive terms: When we turn to Wolff’s conceptions of the perfections of the particular forms of art that he mentions, we will see that he always has in mind both formal and substantive perfections for any particular art.

We should also note here that Wolff identifies order in things with truth. Since everything has its sufficient ground why it is, there must also always be a sufficient ground for why in simple things the alterations succeed one another just so and not otherwise, and why in composite things their parts are juxtaposed just thus and not otherwise, and also their alterations succeed one another just so and not otherwise.

Accordingly truth is nothing other than order in the alternations of things while the dream is disorder in the alteration of things. But there is nevertheless a strongly cognitivist cast to Wolff’s aesthetics. Wolff next defines clarity and distinctness and indistinctness in cognition.

This means that at least in principle a purely intellectual or conceptual representation is always a better source of knowledge of its object than is a sensory representation of it. Wolff’s successors will struggle to avoid the limitations on the cognitive significance of aesthetic response that follow from his definition of pleasure as a kind of sense perception and the limits he places on the cognitive significance of sense perception.

While Wolff’s basic account of pleasure is problematic, he does provide a straightforward account of beauty. Wolff defines beauty as the perfection of an object insofar it can be perceived by us with and through the feeling of pleasure: This definition enunciates a clear position on the ontological status of beauty, which will often be vexed in the eighteenth century.

Beauty is an objective property, founded in the perfection of things, but it is also a relational rather than intrinsic property, for it is attributed to perfection only insofar as there are subjects like us who can perceive it sensorily.


Given perceivers like us, beauty is coextensive with or emergent from perfection, but in a universe without such perceivers perfection would not be equivalent to beauty.

Thus far we have considered only Wolff’s most abstract definition of perfection and therefore of beauty, namely that it is the coherence of a manifold insofar as we can perceive that through the sensation of pleasure.

When he mentions or discusses specific arts, Wolff invokes more specific conceptions of perfection and thus of the beauties of those arts. In the case of the visual arts of painting and sculpture, Wolff locates their perfection in imitation or veridical representation, while other arts find their perfections in the fulfillment of intended uses.

He uses the examples of painting and architecture in the German metaphysics to illustrate his claim that pleasure arises from the intuition of perfection. For since a painting is nothing other than a representation of a given object on a tablet or flat surface, everything in it is harmonious if nothing can be discerned in it that one does not also perceive in the thing itself. Wolff’s discussion of architecture makes it clear that in order for us to perceive it as beautiful, a building must display both the formal perfection of coherence as well as the substantive perfection of being suitable, indeed comfortable for its intended use.

This locates the harmony or agreement in which perfection always consists in the relation between the intentions of the architect and the building that results from his plans and supervision. However, as he proceeds Wolff makes it clear that the intention of an architect is always to produce a structure that is both formally beautiful as well as useful and comfortable, so the perfection that subsists in the relation between intention and outcome in fact consists in the perfection of both form and utility in the building itself.

These definitions form the basis for a requirement of perfection in the utility of a building.

This is the basis for the requirement of formal rather than utilitarian perfection in a building. Throughout the remainder of the treatise, baumgaften conceptions of perfection are at work.

Wolff does not explicitly extend this complex analysis of perfection to other arts, although it is not difficult aeathetica imagine how that extension might aesthetic Finally, we must ask about the moral and religious implications of Wolff’s contributions to aesthetics. As we have seen, Wolff equates perfection, which is the object of pleasure in all contexts including those subsequently labeled aesthetic, with an objective sense of truth.

However, and in this regard most unlike the German aestheticians of the next several generations who are so strongly influenced by him in other regards, he has nothing to say about the arts that are typically paradigmatic for those who ground their aesthetics on the notion of truth rather than that of play, namely literature, especially poetry and drama.

Thus he does not consider the paradox of tragedy, formulated by Du Bos and then discussed by virtually every other eighteenth-century writer on literature, nor does he emphasize the moral benefits of uplifting literature, as so many others do.

Indeed, he has nothing explicit to say about the moral benefits of aesthetic experience, nor does he directly consider the religious abumgarten of such experience in any of his discussions of it.

Nevertheless, it is clear that aesthetic experience does have religious significance for Wolff, because his philosophy culminates in a religious teleology. For Wolff, the most perfect and therefore most orderly of all possible worlds exists for a reason, namely to mirror the perfection of God, and sentient and cognizant beings such as ourselves exist for a reason, namely to baumgrten and admire the perfection of God that is mirrored in the perfection of things in the world and of the world as a whole.

The perfection that is added to the natural world through human artistry is also part of the perfection of the world that emanates from and mirrors the perfection of God. Thus, in admiring the perfection of art we are performing part of our larger function in the world, namely admiring the perfection of God.

L’estetica (Aesthetica): Alexander Gottlieb Baumgarten: : Books

The chief aim of the world is this, that we should cognize the perfection of God from it. Now if God would attain this aim, he also had to arrange the world in such a way that a rational being could extract from the contemplation of it grounds that would allow him to infer with certainty the properties of God and what can be known about him. Several sections later, he uses the metaphor of the mirror to describe the relation between God, the world, and we who look at the mirror:.


Now if the world is to be a mirror of the wisdom of God, then we must encounter divine aims in it and perceive the means by which he attains these aims…. And accordingly the connection of things in the world with one another makes it into a mirror of [God’s] wisdom….

This might seem to leave no room at all for the human creation of art, which all eighteenth-century writers will conceive of as a production of genius that is the complete opposite of anything mechanical. But for Wolff our ability to produce works of art is another manifestation of the perfection of the world—of which we are a part—and baaumgarten turn of God. And no doubt Wolff hardly thought it necessary to spell out the moral benefits of such adsthetica recognition.

Yet Wolff’s conception of perfection was broad aesthetia to include successful adaptation to an intended purpose, and thus in his analysis of our experience of architecture he emphasized our sense of the utility of structures as well as a sensory response to the kind of abstract form that could be considered an object of cognition.

18th Century German Aesthetics

But it was the idea that aesthetic experience is a sensory apprehension of truth that dominated in Wolff’s most general statements. AfterWolff’s philosophy enjoyed an influence in most parts of Germany similar to that which the philosophy of Locke exercised in most quarters in Britain by then and in France beginning a decade or two later.

So the history of German aesthetics after Wolff is a history of the attempt to find room for a fuller account of aesthetic experience within a framework that privileges the idea of cognition, and only gradually was room found for the idea that the free play of our mental powers, including not only imagination but at least for some authors also emotion, could be equally important. This might be understood as an early form of debate over how much room there is for the free play of imagination in aesthetic experience.

Yet in the s and s their debate was intense, not just because Gottsched was a self-important controversialist who clearly enjoyed being on center stage, but also because their debate about the proper scope and power of the imagination was both theoretically interesting and reflected a tectonic shift in German taste.

This shift is away from the French classicism represented by Racine and Corneille to the freer forms of Milton and Shakespeare, which in turn lead to the pan-European romanticism of the later eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. He began teaching philosophy there inbut fled the Prussian draft the next year and settled in the Saxon city of Leipzig, where Leibniz had earlier studied.

So Gottsched may never have met Wolff. However, although he eventually held the professorship in logic and metaphysics in Leipzig, Gottsched was also the professor of poetry, and by far the greatest part of his boundless energy was devoted to literature and philology. The practical aim of the Critical Poetics was to elevate the tone of German popular theater and moderate the Baroque excesses of the upper-class theater by recommending the model of the classical French theater of Racine and Corneille.

The theoretical basis of the work was the Wolffian principle that the theater and other forms of poetry Gottsched had little to say about the emerging medium of the novel should be used to convey important moral truths through images that would make them accessible and engaging for a wide audience. Gottsched, Schriftenp.

The improvement of the human heart is not a work which can happen in an hour. It requires a thousand preparations, a thousand circumstances, much knowledge, conviction, experiences, examples and encouragement….

It would become a central theme of German Enlightenment aesthetics that even if people know the general truths of morality in some abstract way, the arts can make those truths concrete, alive, and effective for them in a way that nothing else can. The Critical Poetics opens with a brief history of poetry rather than with a statement of theoretical principles, but its first chapter concludes with a similar suggestion that the point of poetry is to make moral truths alive through their presentation in a form accessible to our senses: The manner of writing is, especially in tragedy, noble and sublime, and it has rather a superfluity than a lack of instructive sayings.

Even comedy teaches and instructs the observer, although it arouses laughter. In the first of these chapters, Gottsched defines a poet as one who produces imitations of nature:. A poet is a skilled imitator of all natural things; and this he has in common with painters, connoisseurs of music, etc. He is however distinguished from these by the manner of his imitation and the means through which he achieves it. The painter imitates nature with brush and colors; the musician through beat and harmony; the poet, however, through a discourse that is rhythmic or otherwise well arranged; or, which is much the same, through a harmonious and good-sounding text, which we call a poem.

All of these capacities require cultivation; once they have been cultivated, the artist can better fulfill his double task of imitation: Thus far, Gottsched has not made special use of Wolffian terms. In other words, although judgments of taste are made on the basis of clear but indistinct concepts, which is to say sensory perceptions and feelings rather than clear and distinct concepts, they nevertheless.

These laws, which are investigated, discovered, and confirmed through lengthy experience and much reflection, are unbreakable and firm, even if someone who judges in accordance with his taste sometimes gives preference to those works which more or less violate them.