Eighteenth-Century Aesthetics and the Reconstruction of Art
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This collection of essays explores the rise of aesthetics as a response to, and as a part of, the reshaping of the arts in modern society. The theories of art developed under the name of 'aesthetics' in the eighteenth century have traditionally been understood as contributions to a field of study in existence since the time of Plato. If art is a practice to be found in all human societies, then the philosophy of art is the search for universal features of that practice, which can be stated in definitions of art and beauty. However, art as we know it - the system of 'fine arts' - is largely peculiar to modern society. Aesthetics, far from being a perennial discipline, emerged in an effort both to understand and to shape this new social practice. These essays share the conviction that aesthetic ideas can be fully understood when seen not only in relation to intellectual and social contexts, but as themselves constructed in history.
thoughts characterizing imaginative works is best understood, he says, by analogy with nature, that is, where nature works, as Pliny said, in minimis "and where the matter almost imperceptible makes us doubt whether she has a Mind to show or hide her Address."54 Delicacy of thoughts analogously conveys much in few words and induces us to interpret their half-hidden sense. It "keeps us in suspense to give us the pleasure of discovering it all at once, when we have knowledge enough," just as
extracts from classical, medieval, and early modern writings. What holds these pieces of text together as elements of a history is the framework provided by Tatarkiewicz's relatively orthodox conception of aesthetics, by this means treated as a category applicable to many kinds of writing from a variety of periods and cultures. To whatever extent the modern system of the fine arts can be traced back beyond the Renaissance to the Greeks (and beyond) or related to the productions of other cultures,
avowed principle of art" which bears on the case at hand (235-6, 240, 246, 241). However, not only are these "general rules of art" never specified 3 Philosophical exegesis and criticism of Hume's essay typically praise its astuteness and the ingenuity of Hume's proposed solution, but go on to explain why they find his case for aesthetic objectivity ultimately unconvincing. Among the most interesting discussions of Hume's theory are Peter Kivy, "Hume's Standard: Breaking the Circle/' British
standard of the natural, m y reply would be to insist that in a Gadamerian sense (implicit in both Hume's and Kant's accounts of good taste) a totally unprejudiced (i.e., unculturated) view would be a blind and unaesthetic one. Moreover, since the natural standard was defined not platonistically but in terms of universal sentiment while our actual notion of taste is essentially differential and distinctive, the whole idea of a natural universal taste is ridden with fundamental conflict. For a
the sole cause of the sensations he has of them, is nothing like the ideas he forms of them. And by this means your mind will be delivered from all those small images flitting through the air, called intentional species, which worry the imagination of Philosophers so much/'12 In the following sections of the Optics Descartes continues to press his attack on the notion that sight somehow apprehends the forms of things. "Observing that a picture can easily stimulate our minds to conceive the