1902 Encyclopedia > Aesthetics > The Intuitivists. Third Earl of Shaftesbury. Francis Hutcheson.

Aesthetics
(Part 26)



(VI) ENGLISH WRITERS ON AESTHETICS (cont.)

The Intuitivists. Third Earl of Shaftesbury. Francis Hutcheson.


Lord Shaftesbury is the first of the intuitive writers on beauty. His views are highly metaphysical and Platonic in character. The Beautiful and the Good are combined in one ideal conception, much as with Plato. Matter in itself is ugly. The order of the world, wherein all beauty really resides, is a spiritual principle, all motion and life being the product of spirit. The principle of beauty is perceived not with the outer senses, but with an internal --that is, the moral -- sense (which perceives the good as well). This perception affords the only true delight, namely, spiritual enjoyment. Shaftesbury distinguished three grades of the Beautiful, namely (1.) Inanimate objects, including works of art; (2.) Living forms, which reveal the spiritual formative force; and (3.) The source from which these forms spring, God.

In his Inquiry into the Original of our Ideas of Beauty and Virtue,
[Francis] Hutcheson follows many of Shaftesbury’s ideas. Yet he distinctly disclaims any independent self-existing beauty in objects apart from percipient minds. "All beauty," he says, "is relative to the sense of some mind perceiving it." The cause of beauty is not any simple sensation from an object, as colour, tone, but a certain order among the parts, or "uniformity amidst variety." The faculty by which this principle is known is an internal sense which is defined as "a passive power of receiving ideas of beauty from all objects in which there is uniformity in variety."

Thus Hutcheson seems to have supposed that beauty, though always residing in uniformity in variety as its form, was still something distinct from this, and so in need of a peculiar sense distinct from reason for the appreciation of it. But his meaning on this point is not clear. This faculty is called a sense, because it resembles the external senses in the immediateness of the pleasure it experiences. The perception of beauty, and the delight attending it, are quite as independent of considerations of principles, causes, or usefulness in the objects, as the pleasurable sensation of a sweet taste.

Further, the effect of a beautiful object is like the impression of our senses in its necessity; a beautiful thing being always, whether we will or no, beautiful. In the second place, this sense is called internal, because the appreciation of beauty is clearly distinct from the ordinary sensibility of the eye and ear, whether emotional or intellectual and discriminative, many persons who possess the latter intact being totally destitute of the former.

Another reason is, that in some affairs which have little to do with the external senses, beauty is perceived, as in theorems, universal truths, and general causes.

Hutcheson discusses two kinds of beauty -- absolute or original, and relative or comparative. The former is independent of all comparison of the beautiful object with another object of which it may be an imitation. The latter is perceived in an object considered as an imitation or resemblance of something else. He distinctly states that "an exact imitation may still be beautiful though the original were entirely devoid of it;" but, curiously enough, will not allow that this proves his previous definition of beauty as "uniformity amidst variety" to be too narrow. He seems to conceive that the original sense of beauty may be "varied and overbalanced" with the secondary and subordinate kind.

Hutcheson spends a good deal of time in proving the universality of this sense of beauty, by showing that all men, in proportion to the enlargement of their intellectual capacity, are more delighted with uniformity than the contrary. He argues against the supposition that custom and education are sources of our perception of beauty, though he admits that they may enlarge the capacity of our minds to retain and compare, and so may add to the delight of beauty.





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