1902 Encyclopedia > Aesthetics > Aesthetics in France: The Systems of the Spiritualists; Victor Cousin; Théodore Simon Jouffroy; Charles Lévêque.

(Part 23)


The Systems of the Spiritualists. Victor Cousin. Théodore Simon Jouffroy. Charles Lévêque.

The only elaborated systems of aesthetics in French literature are those constructed by the spiritualists, that is, the philosophic followers of Reid and D. Steward on the one hand, and the German idealists on the other, who constituted a reaction against the crude sensationalism of the 18th century. They aim at elucidating what they call the higher and spiritual element in aesthetic impressions, and wholly ignore any capability in material substance or external sensation of affording the peculiar delights of beauty.

The lectures of Cousin, entitled Du Vrai, du Beau, et du Bien, the Cours d’Esthetique of Jouffroy, and the systematic treatise of Lévêque, La Science du Beau, are the principal works of this school.

The last, as the most elaborate, will afford the student the best insight into this mode of speculation. The system of Lévêque falls into four parts – (1.) The psychological observation and classification of the effects of the Beautiful on human intelligence and sensibility; (2.) The metaphysic of beauty, which determines whether it has a real objective existence, and if so, what is the internal principle or substance of this objective entity; and further seeks to adjust the relations of the Beautiful, the Sublime, the Ugly, and the Ridiculous in relation to this principle; (3.) The application of these psychological and metaphysical principles to the beauty of nature, animate and inanimate, and to that of the Deity; (4.) Their application to the arts.

The influence of the Germans in this mode of systematizing is apparent. All the characters of beauty in external objects, as a flower, of which the principal are size, unity and variety of parts, intensity of colour, grace or flexibility, and correspondence to environment, may be summed up as the ideal grandeur and order of the species. These are perceived by reason to be the manifestations of an invisible vital force. Similarly the beauties of inorganic nature are translatable as the grand and orderly displays of an immaterial physical force. Thus all beauty is in its objective essence either spirit or unconscious force acting with fullness and in order.

It is curious that Lévêque in this way modifies the strictly spiritual theory of beauty by the admission of an unconscious physical force, equally with spirit or mind, as an objective substratum of the Beautiful. He seeks, however, to assimilate this as nearly as possible to conscious energy, as immaterial and indivisible. The aim of art is to reproduce this beauty of nature in a beautiful manner, and the individual arts may be classified according to the degree of beautiful force or spirit expressed, and the degree of power with which this is interpreted. Accordingly, they are arranged by Lévêque in the same order as by Hegel.

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