Aesthetic as Science of the Perceptual

1994-01-13

In our discussion on MDOP of chapter 12 of Peikoff's book Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand (led off by my essay), John Enright says that the original definition of aesthetics as the "science of the beautiful" is not accepted by aestheticians today. I would disagree (Arthur Danto of Columbia, arguably the most famous aesthetician living today, always asks his beginning aesthetics students the following question on exams: "What is beauty?"). But this is beside the point, really. I think actually that I have misrepresented Baumgarten's original contribution to aesthetics (I have never actually read Baumgarten, only commentary on his work, so I may be writing in ignorance here). From what I know, Baumgarten coined the word aesthetic to be an analog of the word logic. Logic (from the Greek logikos, 'of reason') was originally or primarily developed mainly to interpret the conceptual/linguistic arguments of philosophy (or so it seems to me) -- logic is a tool for analyzing discursive presentation of ideas, esp. philosophical ideas. Similarly, aesthetic (from the Greek aisthetikos, 'of perception') was originally envisaged by Baumgarten to be the perceptual counterpart of logic -- to be a tool for analyzing perceptual knowledge, and especially the perceptual presentation of views about man and reality in the form of art.

Unfortunately, aesthetic never really developed along the lines envisaged by Baumgarten. However, I think it might be a fruitful line of investigation. After all, man's knowledge comes in two basic forms: conceptual and perceptual. Do we not need methods for interpreting both forms? The highest kind of conceptual knowledge is philosophy -- the highest kind of perceptual knowledge is art. This is all terribly speculative, of course...


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