ÆSTHETICS (αἴσθησις,) feeling as dependent on physical sensibility, perception
by the senses,—applied by Plato (Phœdo, CXI.) to vision of an intellectual
order, αἴσθησις τῶν θεῶν. (1) Commonly, the science of the beautiful, or
philosophy of the fine arts. (2) In the philosophy of Kant it is kept to its
primary meaning, as concerned with knowledge obtained through the sensory.
Æsthetics is the science of the beautiful or the philosophy of the fine arts.
Philosophy deals with the principles of all experience and activity; and, as
concerned with the experience of the beautiful and with its representation or
creation in works of arts, it is called Æsthetics. Its sphere is, in one sense,
a subdivision of the province of Psychology, which deals with all forms of
experience. And, indeed, æsthetical investigations form no small part of many
psychological treatises, e.g., the works of Stewart, Reid, and Hamilton.
Properly, however, the point of view of æsthetics is different from that of
psychology. The latter regards æsthetic experience as one among other forms of
human experience, to be classified accordingly. Æsthetics, on the other hand,
seeks for a philosophy of this particular form of experience, seeks, on the one
hand, to account for its subjective nature as experience, by tracing the
principles that underlie it; and, on the other, to answer the question whether
there is an objective correlate to
the experiences,—whether there is or is not an absolute beauty. It is only
recently however, and especially in Germany, that the province of
been clearly defined. Baumgarten was the first definitely to limit its sphere.
Here, as elsewhere, it is to Aristotle that we owe the elements of subsequent
teaching. He laid the foundation of Æsthetics in his
Rhetoric and Poetics.
Plato had not distinguished the Æsthetical from the Ethical, but had found the
two in his corruption of καλοκάγαθία. He had also, in his
discredit upon the work of the artist, which he regarded as mere imitation. He
had, however, maintained the existence of an absolute beauty—αὐτὸ
archetypal idea in which all beautiful things participated. Aristotle, on the
contrary, distinguished carefully between the conceptions of the beautiful and
the good, defended the calling of the artist, and denied the existence of an
In modern times, the greatest work on Æsthetics is Kant's
Critique of Judgment,
which is an account of the necessary and universal principles of
experience, an application of the critical or transcendental principle to the
particular form of experience. Kant has been followed by Schelling and Hegel,
and by the transcendental school generally. Besides discussions specifically
philosophical, there is a great deal of æsthetical investigation in the works
of Lessing (who, in his critical accounts of individual works of art, has
emphasised general æsthetic principles), Goethe, Schiller, Jean Paul, and in
England in the writings of Ruskin. Bain and Spencer have applied the principle
of evolution to Æsthetics (Baumgarten's
Æsthetica, 2 vols., Frankfort,
1750-8; Burke, The Sublime and Beautiful; Alison, On Taste; Lord Jeffrey, art.
"Beauty," Ency. Brit., 8th ed.; Bain, Emotions and Will; Cousin,
Beautiful, and Good; Spencer, Principles of Psychology, II. 627; Sully,
of Psychology, p. 531, and art. "Æsthetics,"
Ency. Brit., 9th ed., Danieron,
Cours de Æsthetique; M'Vicar, The Philosophy of the Beautiful. For an account
of the various theories: Bain, Mental and Moral Science; and for German
theories, Lotze, Geschichte der Æsthetik Deutschlands).
The term TRANSCENDENTAL ÆSTHETIC is used by Kant in
its etymological sense, to denote the science of the à priori conditions of
sensuous experience, i.e. of perception. This is the title of the first part of
the Critique of Pure Reason, where is an account of the principles which make
perception possible, viz., Space and Time. Kant says:—"The science of all the
principles of sensibility, à priori, I call transcendental
of Pure Reason, pt. I., note; Meiklejohn, p. 22). By transcendental
Kant means all that is essential to the action of the sensory, distinct from
physical, sensibility, and the sensation consequent upon impression made on the
sensory organ. What is involved besides he designates "the pure forms of
sensuous intuition,"—these are space and time.