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To browse Academia. Skip to main content. By using our site, you agree to our collection of information through the use of cookies. To learn more, view our Privacy Policy. Log In Sign Up. Chris van Rompaey. First, the term in one form or another appears frequently throughout the Aesthetica, beginning with the opening paragraph. Second, the way it is referred to is likely to strike the present-day reader as a little odd: Baumgarten speaks not so much of beauty per se, but of the art of thinking beautifully, a puzzling notion to say the least.

Dagmar Mirbach Hamburg: Felix Meiner, Holther Berkeley: University of California Press, Its implications for the subjectivity of aesthetic judgement were particularly far- reaching. No longer could excellence inhere absolutely in the art object itself; consensus as to the merits of a particular artwork had to be explained by other means.

At the same time, he held certain reservations that are more than mere quibbles over particular details. Baumgarten published what he had completed of the Aesthetica in two volumes, the first in , and the second in The project remained unfinished at the time of his death in Like Spinoza and Wolff before him, Baumgarten was an exponent of the modus geometricus or geometric method.

As well as being organised hierarchically into parts, topics and sections the entire work is set out in sequentially numbered paragraphs. This system of numbering makes it easy for Baumgarten to refer, as he frequently does, to the content of earlier paragraphs, as well as to the similarly numbered passages of his other works such as the Meditationes philosophicae Reflections on Poetry , the Ethica and the Metaphysica.

The Metaphysica, I should point out, has recently been translated into English, along with the detailed marginal notes made by Kant in his copy of the text. This and all subsequent translations from the Aesthetica are my own.

So what is the function of the parenthetical phrases? This, however, implies that what we have is a string of synonyms, that any of the terms might be substituted for any other without loss of meaning.

But is, for example, the theory of the liberal arts identical to lower gnosiology, or the art of thinking beautifully to the science of sensible cognition? Surely it makes more sense to treat each of the parenthetical terms as an aspect of aesthetics, and to regard them as functioning in aggregate.

That is to say, aesthetics is the science of sensible cognition as it applies to all the listed instances. For the present-day reader, however, there are some gaps that need filling in. This will involve, as a first step, turning to the earlier Reflections on Poetry.

What, then, do we learn about sensible cognition, lower gnosiology, an analogue of reason and thinking beautifully from the Reflections? In some cases quite a lot, in others very little. It is brought up again — and dismissed — in the Aesthetica as grounds for a possible objection to treating the theory of beauty as a science.

We might now usefully consider each of the parenthetical phrases. What it is and how it comes about is fully explicable by using logic and the resources of reason; thus it is a perfectly legitimate object of study for philosophy. What he means is that aesthetics itself is analogous to reason, that the processes involved in rational thought have their exact parallel in the study and practice of aesthetics. The difficulty at a syntactic level is that the Latin gerund, unlike the English, cannot be qualified by an adjective.

This is more or less what Baumgarten means when he calls aesthetics an analogue of reason. Important as the notion of thinking beautifully is, it is not the only type of reference to beauty in the early part of the Aesthetica.

A closer look at particular instances will help clarify the nature of this interrelation. First, though, we might consider an example where what is emphasised is the separation of the faculties. This is its beauty, and what must be guarded against, as such, is its imperfection. There are several remarks to be made here. Not only is it a domain of theoretical enquiry, it is also a praxis. And this, as it turns out, is precisely the case. While no explicit link to the Reflections is indicated, it is in the Refections that we find a detailed account of what constitutes the perfection of sensible cognition, at least as far as poetry is concerned.

Interestingly, though, the perfection that pertains to aesthetics is not absolute; there is a limit to the degree of perfection attainable by means of sensible cognition alone. And while these concealed perfections may be of interest to the philosopher, they are, Baumgarten insists, of no concern to the practising aesthetician.

It remains to consider further just what the perfection of sensible cognition actually means, and also the nature and extent of its relation to the intellect. To expand on this, though, it will first be useful to return to the Reflections. Following a short preface, Baumgarten begins the Reflections with a series of annotated definitions.

Selecting the most relevant for our present purpose we have: Discourse: a series of words which designate connected representations. Sensate representations: representations received through the lower part of the cognitive faculty. Perfect sensate discourse: discourse whose various parts are directed toward the apprehension of sensate representations.

Poem: perfect sensate discourse. Poetic: whatever can contribute to the perfection of the poem. While nothing is said at this stage about either beauty or aesthetics, a clear link is established between the notion of the poetic and the perfection of sensate discourse. The more poetic a discourse, the greater its perfection and hence, looking ahead to the Aesthetica, the Baumgarten, Reflections, pp.

Writing further of poetic representations, Baumgarten notes that they are by definition clear, but at the same time confused. A sensate representation, therefore, can never be distinct; poetic or otherwise, it is necessarily confused, and if lacking in poetic qualities may well be obscure. While all representations that qualify as poetic are clear, some will be clearer than others. The clarity of a representation is of two types, extensive and intensive.

Of these it is the former that interests Baumgarten. A representation is said to be extensively clearer than another when more is represented. It is, in other words, more fully determinate. A couple of examples will help illustrate how this measure of poetic intensity works. Because images are sensate representations, they are, therefore, poetic.

Descriptions that aim for definitional precision, however, are to that extent more distinct and thus less poetic. Whatever particular art one has in mind, it becomes a question of the clarity and extent of sensate representations in relation to the distinctness of conceptual content: the greater the latter, the less perfect the former.

Once again, sensation and intellect emerge as radically disjunct domains. Beauty, such a critic appears to be saying, is a matter for the intellect alone and can only be corrupted by the intrusion of the senses. Much of the early part of the Aesthetica is devoted to the kind of direction required for thinking beautifully.

Here, too, Baumgarten is at pains to emphasise the interdependence of the faculties. Indeed, these are not only able to coexist with the higher faculties which are naturally important, but are also required by them as an indispensible condition. The role played by nature here should not be overlooked.

It is thus absurd, he implies, to value one over the other. He is dismissive of the debate, evidently current at the time, as to whether great art is the product of pure genius or systematic training. Certainly, he agrees, without a beautiful spirit, a gift that can only be bestowed by the Muses, labouring at an art is a futile activity.

But genius without discipline and the right type of application is equally unproductive. This in itself is hardly remarkable. Mutual antagonism thus gives way to complementarity. I have only touched on the complex interplay of genius, innate sensibility, practice, rules and laws that constitutes, for Baumgarten, the making of the aesthetician. A much fuller investigation is needed before the details of this interrelation can be presented with any adequacy.

But one thing is now a little clearer. Even if we were to agree with Beiser, that the Aesthetica is essentially the realisation of what had already been formulated in the Reflections, we would have to acknowledge the ambitious scale of that realisation. Not only that, but realisation in this instance involves much more than fleshing out the implicit content the earlier text. The Reflections deals largely with what the perfection of poetic sensibility is, not how it is to be attained.

The Aesthetica, on the other hand, as is evident even from the first few sections, offers a detailed and novel account of how the aspiring aesthetician might master the art of thinking beautifully. That in itself is sufficient reason to keep translating. Works Cited Baumgarten, Alexander Gottlieb. Part 1. Frankfurt-on-Oder: Johann Christian Kleyb, Dagmar Mirbach. Hamburg: Felix Meiner, Miriam Sutter Medeiros. Courtney D. Fugate and John Hymers. London: Bloomsbury, Reflections on Poetry.

Karl Aschenbrenner and William B. Berkeley: University of California Press, Oxford: Oxford University Press,


18th Century German Aesthetics

Immanuel Kant — German philosopher. Christian Wolff — German aesthetician. Baumgarten was born in Berlin and educated at Halle, where he became professor before moving in to a chair at Frankfurt.



Alexander Gottlieb Baumgarten , born July 17, , Berlin , Prussia [Germany]—died May 26, , Frankfurt an der Oder , German philosopher and educator who coined the term aesthetics and established this discipline as a distinct field of philosophical inquiry. As a student at Halle, Baumgarten was strongly influenced by the works of G. Leibniz and by Christian Wolff, a professor and systematic philosopher. He was appointed extraordinary professor at Halle in and advanced to ordinary professor at Frankfurt an der Oder in The problems of aesthetics had been treated by others before Baumgarten, but he both advanced the discussion of such topics as art and beauty and set the discipline off from the rest of philosophy.

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