(III) GERMAN WRITERS ON AESTHETICS
German Writers on Aesthetics. Systematic Treatises. Baumgarten.
The first of the Germans who attempted to fit a theory of the Beautiful and of Art into a complete system of philosophy was Baumgarten. Adopting the Wolffian principles of knowledge, as modified by Leibnitz, he thought he was completing that system by setting over against logical knowledge, whose object is truth, aesthetic knowledge, which has to do with beauty. The former is conceptive knowledge (begreifendes Erkennen), the act of the understanding, and its result as the science of clear conceptions is embodied in logic. Aesthetic has to do, not with clear, but confused conceptions (verworrene Vorstellungen), namely, sensuous knowledge. The beautiful is defined by Baumgarten as the perfection of sensuous knowledge, and the ugly is that which struggles against this perfection; and, consistently with this view, he first employed the term aesthetic (aesthetica) to denote a theory of the Beautiful. He held that perfection, as harmony of object with its conception or notion (Begriff), presents itself under three aspects:-- (1.) As truth for pure knowledge; (2.) As beauty for obscure perception; (3.) As gooness for the capacities of desire or will.
It will be seen at once by the thoughtful student that this mode of dealing with impressions of beauty, &c., simply as intellectual elements (confused conceptions), must fail to account for their emotional aspects -- feeling, which is the very soul of the aesthetic impression, being radically distinct from conception and knowledge. Still Baumgarten did service in separating so sharply the provinces of logic, ethics, and aesthetics, and in connecting the latter with the impressions of the senses. The details of his aesthetics are mostly unimportant. From Leibnitzs theory of a pre-established harmony, and its consequence that the world is the best possible, Baumgarten concluded that nature is the highest embodiment of beauty, and that art must seek as its highest function the strictest possible imitation of nature. Baumgarten had several disciples in this conception of aesthetics, as Sulzer and Moses Mendelssohn.
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