1902 Encyclopedia > Aesthetics > Scientific Problems in Aesthetics. Whence Our Experience of Beauty?

(Part 3)


Scientific Problems in Aesthetics. Whence Our Experience of Beauty?

In the scientific discussion of aesthetic subjects, the anti-thesis of subject and object in human cognition is accepted as a phenomenal distinction, without any inquiry into its ontological meaning. Inquirers no longer discuss the essence of beauty, looked on as a transcendental conception above all experience, but seek to determine in what the Beautiful, as a series of phenomena, clearly and visibly consists. Aesthetic speculation becomes, accordingly, more purely psychological. First of all, the unity of beauty is questioned. It is asked whether all objects which appear beautiful are so because of some one ultimate property, or combination of properties, running through all examples of beauty, or whether they are so called simply because they produce some common pleasurable feeling in the mind. This is a question of induction from facts and consequent definition, lying at the very threshold of aesthetic science. It has been most vigorously disputed by British writers on the subject, and many of them have decided in favour of the plurality and diversity of elements in beauty. Again, it has been asked in which category of our experience, objective or subjective, beauty originates. By some it has been referred to an objective source, whether to sensation, as a direct result of physiological action, as by Burke, or to something distinctly perceived by means of sensation, as a certain relation of unity, symmetry, &c., among the parts of an object, its colours, forms, and so on, as probably by Aristotle, Diderot, Hogarth, and most writers. By others the source of beauty has been sought in the inner life of the mind itself, in certain ideas emotions which have become reflected on external objects by association. This is the doctrine of Alison. A third class recognize both of these sources, attributing the effects of beauty partly to the pleasurable effects of external stimulation, partly to the activities of perception, and partly to multitudinous associations of ideas and feelings from past experience. This class includes Dugald Stewart, Professor Bain, and Mr. Herbert Spencer. A third question in the general scientific theory of beauty which is closely related to the last and largely determined by it, is the precise nature of the mental faculty or activity concerned in the perception and appreciation of the Beautiful. This, too has been widely discussed by English writers, -- answers to the other two questions frequently appearing as the necessary implications of the solution of this one. By those who affirm that beauty is a simple property or conjunction of properties in external objects, the subjective perception of this property has been regarded either as a unique faculty (the internal sense), or as the rational principle acting in a certain way. By the school of Alison, who find the source of beauty in a certain flow or ideas suggested by an object, the perception of the same, as a property of the object, would be explained as the result of inseparable association, producing a kind of momentary delusion. And this same effect of association, in producing an apparent intuition of one simple property, would be made use of by those later writers who resolve the nature of beauty into both objective and subjective elements. It is noticeable, too, that while some writers have treated the appreciation of beauty as purely intellectual, others have confined themselves to the emotional element of pleasure. With respect to the Ludicrous and the Sublime, as distinguished from the Beautiful, there seems to have been a tacit agreement that both of these are unique and single properties, whether originally in the object of sense, or reflected on it from the mind; and various theories have been suggested in explanation of the characteristic effects of these properties on human sensibility and thought.

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