Comparison of Aesthetics: 3. The unity of the universal and the particular

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The present term paper provides a comparative and critical analysis of Schiller’s, Kant’s, and Hegel’s aesthetics, particularly concerning the unity of the universal and the particular. The paper will address basic concepts and theories from these philosophies, such as Kant’s doctrine of the free play of imagination, Schiller’s doctrine of the play drive, Hegel’s doctrine of the Ideal of beauty. The comparative analysis will be placed in the context of relations between universal and particular.

Kant’s doctrine of understanding is central to his aesthetic philosophy because it conceptualizes the basic schema of perceiving beauty and the sublime. Understanding is deeply connected with the faculty of judgment, which involves finding the universal for a given particular (Critique of the Power of Judgment Introduction IV 179). However, according to Kant, aesthetic judgments and understanding are essentially different from judgments that pertain to transcendental analysis and synthesis outlined in the Critique of Pure Reason. The latter are premised on the schematics of a priori concepts of Reason. In contrast, aesthetic understanding cannot be deduced a priori from either phenomena or absolute judgments of pure reason. This means that aesthetic understanding differs both from moral and scientific ones.Aesthetic understanding, as it pertains to judgments on beauty, is based on other imperatives. As Kant puts it: The judgment of taste is therefore not a cognitive judgment; hence not a logical one but rather an aesthetic one…” It reveals basic determinants for human’s faculty such as totality and universality; however, for Kant, it “cannot be other than subjective” (Critique of Power Judgment 89).

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An aesthetic judgment is based on a disinterested feeling of pleasure. This feeling depends on the free play of imagination and a sensory understanding of beauty. The universality of judgments of beauty comes from this sensory understanding, but it is not the same as the universality and necessity found in a priori concepts like those discussed in the Critique of Pure Reason. Because aesthetic judgments are subjective, they cannot be proven, and their universality is therefore formal. These judgments are based on sensus communis (common sense), as discussed in Critique of the Power of Judgment §20-22.

In turn, this subjective universality” is based on the “free play” of imagination, which is not grounded in understanding or a priori concepts. Imagination synthesizes aesthetic phenomena and produces degrees of pleasure or displeasure depending on its intensity. The free play of imagination goes beyond the general functions of sensual intuition, which rely on identifying objects in terms of their spatial and temporal relations. Instead, it relies on disinterested feelings and emotions to form subjective synthesis without any concepts. According to Guyer’s metacognitive interpretation (Guyer 98-99), this view seems to be the most adequate.

This kind of “lawfulness without law” transmits universality through the manifestation of an object’s general qualities that should be focused on to produce aesthetic judgment (Critique of the Power of Judgment 125).

Schiller is another notable representative of the Classic German tradition. He takes Kant’s duality of the subject’s cognition as the starting point of his aesthetic theory. The basic opposing forces that constitute human identity are sensual and formal/rational drives. According to Schiller, aesthetic understanding cannot be produced by these faculties separately, but only through the unity of Form and Sinn, which he conceptualizes as ‘the play drive’ (Spieltrieb). However, these subjective dimensions are embedded in a historical interrelation between the person and their condition, which creates absolute preconditions for the play drive to be realized in beauty or what Schiller calls a ‘living form.’

The play drive creates a unity between passive and active subjective origins, resulting in the unity of reason and feeling. These elements are embedded in aesthetic objects such as art, music, and more. Schiller uses this conceptualization to address the notion of beauty, arguing that it represents the aesthetic totality of sensual and rational experiences. In other words, beauty embodies both feeling and thought within subjective play drive. When perceived, beauty results in a happy unification of sensual and rational experiences (Schiller 189). Sensing and thinking form a circle of aesthetic freedom that raises an aesthetically educated personality (Schiller 161). If these theoretical assumptions focused on the play drive are applied to society, Schiller believes it will produce an ideal state where beauty governs.

It is evident that Kant’s and Schiller’s theories represent different approaches to philosophical problems such as subjectivity, objectivity, and history. Kant’s aesthetic philosophy takes the critique of pure reason as its starting point in attempting to answer the question of how aesthetic judgments are possible.

Kant postulates a duality between external objects and their subjective perception as aesthetic: beautiful, ugly, or sublime. According to Kant, beauty is premised on the subjective free play of imagination that synthesizes sensual intuition without cognitive concepts. However, Kant does not limit his aesthetic philosophy to mere subjectivity.

Kant attempts to give universal validity to the connectedness of spontaneous aesthetic understanding with common sense. He also tries to overcome duality by claiming that the ‘free play’ of imagination ascribes certain objective aesthetic characteristics to objects in aesthetics, without proof.

Regarding the notion of the sublime, Kant resolves the aforementioned duality by linking it with cognitive concepts. However, he asserts that the concept of sublime in nature is far from being as significant and consequential as that of its beauty” (Critique of the Power of Judgment §23 130).

Obviously, the philosophical dualism that underlies Kant’s view of the free play of imagination contrasts sharply with Schiller’s proto-dialectical intention to bridge the gap between opposites of form and content, as well as between subjective and objective. Schiller’s concept of the play drive overcomes Kant’s opposition between sensual and rational by celebrating their unity in aesthetic content.

As we remember, Kant claimed that sensual intuitions used to produce aesthetic judgments should be devoid of any rational meaning. Schiller goes even further by claiming that aesthetic perfection is based on the unity of formal/rational and sensual drives.

According to Schiller, the passive and active dimensions of subjectivity are united to produce an intensive aesthetic synthesis. This synthesis creates an intact personality with proper aesthetic education.

Therefore, as we can observe, Schiller does not confine his reasoning to the subjective dimension alone. This approach is insufficient for comprehending the objectivity of aesthetics.

Moreover, Schiller was significantly influenced by the French Revolution and introduced a historical dimension to aesthetic issues. The person and their condition are historically grounded, and understanding this leads to the discovery of absolute or universal aesthetic truths.

Hegel’s theory of aesthetics presents a significantly different approach to aesthetic objects. Firstly, Hegel rejects the centrality of the subjective position in aesthetic judgments and instead focuses on the concrete reality of aesthetic objects, specifically their form and content.

The choice of this perspective is generally connected with Hegelian dialectical method and his objective idealism. In this approach, all partial relations and substances are conceptualized in their relation to the agency of Absolute Spirit.

There is no denying the importance of the fact that concepts, according to Hegel, are not subjective preconditions of thought and synthesis but rather ideal structures of the real world. Therefore, aesthetic objects should also be understood in terms of their linkage with ideal totality. As Hegel stated, Works of art are all the more excellent in expressing true beauty; the deeper is the inner truth of their content and thought” (Hegel 74).

That means Hegel posits aesthetic meaning not in the subjective mind, but in the real aesthetic product. He claims that only those products with aesthetic beauty and value are perfectly adequate to present the Idea in them. In this way, sensual and formal dimensions are dialectically tied to produce conceptual unity.

Hegel’s account of beauty is extensively based on the aforementioned conceptualization, especially concerning the notion of Schein (appearance). According to Hegel, an aesthetic object is regarded as the phenomenal dimension of the ideal concept in which the sensual represents a dialectical structure of the concept with its struggle of oppositions and their overcoming.

According to Hegel, The beautiful is characterized as the pure appearance of the Idea to sense” based on these preconditions. This statement bears a significant resemblance to Plato’s idealism, but it differs in its development of dialectical integrity between universal and particular (Hegel 111).

The sensual particularization of the Ideal in aesthetic objects is not meant to provide examples of paradigmatic instances, but rather, as Hegel states, to actualize universality as it is. A work of art is both sensational and ideal. Hegel directly states that Of course the work of art presents itself to sensuous apprehension. It is there for sensuous feeling, external or internal, for sensuous intuition and ideas, just as nature is… But nevertheless the work of art, as a sensuous object, is not merely for sensuous apprehension; its standing is such that although it may be sensual in nature, it also serves spiritual apprehension; spirit should be affected by it and find some satisfaction in it.” (Hegel 35).

There is no denying the importance of the fact that Hegel, Kant, and Schiller share a common tradition of Classical German Philosophy regarding their views on aesthetics. Both Schiller and Hegel used Kant’s philosophy as a starting point for their own research into aesthetic problems.

Both Schiller and Hegel criticized Kant for the duality between subjective and objective that is characteristic of his aesthetic theory. Hegel also criticized Kant for tangible subjective formalism, which makes subjective powers and faculties the main arbiter of aesthetic judgment. Unlike Kant, Hegel posits aesthetics in the realm of objective spirit, which is structured independently of subjective conditions.

Hegel’s dialectics of the universal and particular is the primary driving force in understanding the interrelation between the sensual and ideal in aesthetic objects. As noted earlier, in Hegel’s aesthetics, the Idea realizes itself in art through externalization in sensual material. The Ideal thus takes a specific form and content to present its universality in aesthetic particularity. Hegel argues that for the particular to become a realization of idea, it is premised on the interplay between form and content resulting in concrete meaning.

Kant presented his vision of the interrelation between the universal and particular within a completely different system of coordinates. His theory of aesthetics is not dialectical, but rather formalist. Kant places the particular into a subjective dimension, stating that it is based on human faculties of sensual perception.

Aesthetic judgments, according to Kant, are premised on the ‘free play’ of imagination. This results in a subjective perception of external objects as beautiful or sublime. For Kant, the particular beauty is not located in external objects but in the subjective perception of these objects. Therefore, the notion of beauty is not universal but subjective. However, Kant attempts to overcome this antinomy by conceptualizing the universal character of beauty.

In his Critique of Pure Reason, Kant proves the objectivity of transcendental subject’s concepts in a similar way. He argues that these concepts are necessary generalizations that give universal meaning to sensual intuitions through their synthesis with a priori concepts.

Similarly, in his aesthetic theory, Kant claims that the universality of aesthetic judgment is based on common sense and the homogeneous nature of imagination. However, it is clear that these compromises are formal rather than dialectical. Eventually, Kant’s philosophy fails to conceptualize the interrelation between universal and particular in aesthetics. For example, Kant distinguishes between objective universal validity (logical judgments) and subjective universal validity (aesthetic judgments), both of which are subjective in nature. However, it remains uncertain how their universality differs: But from a subjectively universal validity, i.e., from aesthetic universal validity, which does not rest on any concept, there cannot be any inference at all to logical universal validity” (Critique of the Power of Judgment 110).

Aesthetic judgments do not have the same universality as logical judgments. Therefore, aesthetic objects become things in themselves” that are impossible to perceive objectively.

Hegel’s conceptualization of the universal and particular in aesthetics has much in common with Schiller’s doctrine of the play drive.

Like Hegel, Schiller attempts to reconcile the opposition between rationality and sensuality through dialectical analysis of form and the drive for sensory experience. However, in this context, the unity of the universal and particular is achieved on a subjective level, resulting in what Schiller calls play drive.” This concept is crucial to the formation of an aesthetically educated personality. Nevertheless, Schiller’s realization of the unity between universal and particular lacks a dialectical connection between form and content. As a result, his emphasis on subjectivity resembles that of Fichte rather than providing a dialectical synthesis as Hegel does.

The aforementioned theories of universal and particular are extremely important for understanding the aesthetic meaning of art and are useful for analyzing aesthetic phenomena. The aesthetic dimension of art consists of the sublimation of its sensual concreteness. Fine arts, sculpture, and music, when dealt with formally, represent physical things such as color, sound or chemical substances.

However, subjectivity – which produces them – transforms objects into genuine aesthetic pieces through ideal synthesis. Consequently, ideal meaning is realized in concrete material content that externalizes its sensual connotations and focuses on their aesthetic components. This concept is crucial when finding criteria to evaluate aesthetic objects as it helps distinguish between genuine art products that are beautiful and sublime from those that fail to meet any aesthetic criteria.

In summary, we have analyzed the aesthetics of Kant, Hegel, and Schiller regarding the interrelation between universal and particular in aesthetic objects.

Each philosopher utilizes a unique approach to these problems. Schiller and Hegel share the intention of synthesizing aesthetic form and content to achieve a better understanding of aesthetic activity and its ideal dimension. In contrast, Kant builds his conceptualization on the subjective power of aesthetic judgment, which depends on the free play of imagination as the only instance to decide on the aesthetic characteristics of a given object. This results in Kant giving aesthetic characteristics to any natural thing (mountains, oceans, etc.) that may become an object of subjective aesthetic judgment.

Works Cited

Kant, Immanuel. Critique of the Power of Judgment. Translated by Paul Guyer and Eric Matthews. Cambridge: The Cambridge Edition of the Works of Immanuel Kant in Translation, 2001.

Hegel, G.W.F. Aesthetics: Lectures on Fine Arts, 2 vols., Translated by T.M. Knox. Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 1975.

Schiller, Friedrich. On the Aesthetic Education of Man, in a Series of Letters. Translated by Elizabeth M. Wilkinson and L.A. Willoughby. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1967.

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Comparison of Aesthetics: 3. The unity of the universal and the particular. (2016, Sep 04). Retrieved from

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