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

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    Present term paper provides comparative and critical analysis of Schiller’s, Kant’s and Hegel’s aesthetics, especially as far as the issue of the unity of the universal and the particular is concerned. Among basic concepts and theories of these philosophies, which are to be addressed, one should mention Kant’s doctrine of the free play of the imagination, Schiller’s doctrine of the play drive, Hegel’s doctrine of the Ideal of beauty etc. The comparative analysis of philosophers’ aesthetics 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 basic schema of perceiving beautiful and sublime.  Understanding is deeply connected with the faculty of judgment, which is ‘finding the universal for the given particular’.  (Critique of the Power of Judgment Introduction IV 179). However, aesthetic judgments and understanding, according to Kant, are essentially different from judgments pertinent to transcendental analysis and synthesis, which are outlined in the Critique of Pure Reason. As we remember, the latter are premised on the schematics of a priori concepts of Reason. In contrast, aesthetic understanding is not deductible a priori neither from phenomena, neither from absolute judgments of pure reason, which means that aesthetic understanding differs both from moral and scientific ones.   Aesthetic understanding, as it is pertinent to judgments of beautiful, is based on other imperatives and as Kant puts it, ‘The judgment of taste is therefore not a cognitive judgment, hence not a logical one, but is rather aesthetic (…)” and it reveals basic determinants of understanding as human’s faculty, that is totality and universality, however for Kant it ‘can not be other than subjective. (Critique of the Power of Judgment 89).

    An aesthetic judgment is premised on disinterested feeling of pleasure, which depends not on cognitive concepts, but on free play of imagination and sensational understanding of the beauty. The latter gives universality to judgments of beauty, however, it is not the kind of universality and necessity pertinent to a priori concepts as in the Critique of Pure Reason. However, due to their subjective nature, which is in its turn based on sensus communis (common sense) , judgments based on aesthetic understanding can not be proved and, hence, their universality is formal (Critique of the Power of Judgment §20-22).

    In its turn this ‘subjective universality’ is premised on the ‘free play’ of imagination, which is not based on understanding and a priori concepts. Imagination simply synthesizes aesthetic phenomena and, depending on its intensity, produces certain degrees of pleasure or displeasure. Free play of imagination goes beyond general functions of sensual intuition, which rests on identifying objects in terms of their special and temporal relations. Being aware of their identity, it does not base further subjective synthesis on any concepts, but on disinterested feeling and emotions. In this view, a ‘metacognitive’ interpretation, presented by Guyer seems to be the most adequate (Guyer 98-99).  This kind of ‘lawfulness without law” transmits universality through the manifestation of object’s general qualities, which should be focused on, to produce aesthetic judgment (Critique of the Power of Judgment 125).

    Schiller, another notable representative of Classic German tradition, takes Kant’s duality of subject’s cognition as a starting point of his aesthetic theory. Basic opposing forces that constitute human identity are sensual and formal/rational drives. Aesthetic understanding, according to Schiller, can not be produced by these faculties separately, but only through the unity of Form and Sinn, which Schiller conceptualizes as ‘the play drive’ (Spieltrieb). These subjective dimensions, however, are embedded in historical interrelation between Person and his Condition, which creates absolute preconditions for the play drive to be realized in beauty or as Schiller calls it a ‘living form’.

    Play drive, which constitutes the unity of passive and active subjective origins, creates the unity of reason and feeling, which are embedded in aesthetic objects, such as products of art, music etc. Based on this conceptualization, Schiller addresses the notion of beauty, arguing that it represents aesthetic totality of sensual and rational or, to put in other words, feeling and thought, embedded in subjective play drive. Therefore, beauty may be perceived and when it is, the result is happy unification of sensual and rational (Schiller 189). Sensing and thinking, hence form the circle of aesthetic freedom, which raises intact aesthetically educated personality (Schiller 161). These theoretical assumptions focused on the play drive, if applied to society will, according to Schiller, produce ideal state, where beauty will govern.

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

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

    He tries to give it a universal validity showing the connectedness of spontaneous aesthetic understanding with common sense. Moreover, in his attempts to overcome the duality, Kant claims that the ‘free play’ of imagination ascribes certain objective aesthetic characteristics to aesthetics objects, but without proof.

    And as far as the notion of sublime is concerned, Kant overcomes the abovementioned duality by connecting it with cognitive concepts, but still, according to Kant, ‘the concept of sublime in nature is far from being as important and rich in consequences as that of its beauty” (Critique of the Power of Judgment §23 130).

    Obviously, that philosophical dualism, which lies at the bottom of Kant’s view of the free play of imagination, is in sharp contrast to Schiller proto-dialectical intention of bridging the gap between opposites of form and content, and between subjective and objective. Schiller’s concept of the play drive overcomes Kant’s opposition between sensual and rational, celebrating their unity in aesthetic content.

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

    Passive and active dimensions of subjectivity, according to Schiller, are united to produce intensive aesthetic synthesis, which creates intact personality with proper aesthetic education.

    Hence, as we see, Schiller does not limit his reasoning to subjective dimension, which is not appropriate to understand the objectivity of the aesthetic.

     Moreover, significantly affected by French Revolution, Schiller introduces historical dimension to aesthetical issues. Person and its Condition are historically grounded and understanding this results in finding absolute or universal aesthetic truths.

    Hegel’s theory of aesthetics presents significantly different approach to aesthetic objects. First of all, Hegel rejects centrality of subjective position to aesthetic judgments and focuses on concrete reality of aesthetic objects, that is, their form and content.

     The choice of this perspective is generally connected with Hegelian dialectical method and his objective idealism, where 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 ideal structures of the real world. Aesthetic objects, hence, should also be understood in terms of their linkage with ideal totality. As Hegel states, “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 that Hegel posits aesthetic meaning not in subjective mind, but in real aesthetic product, claiming that only those products have aesthetic beauty and value, which are perfectly adequate of the Idea presented in them. In this way, sensual and formal dimensions are dialectically tied to produce conceptual unity.

    Hegel’s account on beauty is extensively based on the abovementioned conceptualization, especially, as far as notion of Schein (appearing) is concerned. Aesthetic object is regarded by Hegel as appearing or phenomenal dimension of the ideal concept, in which sensual represents dialectical structure of the concept with its struggle of oppositions and their overcoming.

    Based on these preconditions, Hegel states that ‘The beautiful is characterized as the pure appearance of the Idea to sense”, which significantly resembles Plato’s idealism, however, being distinct in developing dialectical integrity of universal and particular (Hegel 111).

    Sensual particularization of the Ideal, as it occurs in aesthetic objects is not designed to provide examples of paradigmatic instance, but, as Hegel states, to actualize universality as it is.  A work of art is simultaneously sensational and ideal and 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 of such a kind that, though sensuous, it is essentially at the same time for spiritual apprehension; spirit is meant to be affected by it and to find some satisfaction in it. (Hegel 35).

    There is no denying the importance of the fact that Hegel’s, Kant’s and Schiller’s views on aesthetic have much in common, as they belong to common tradition of Classical German Philosophy. Schiller and Hegel took Kant’s philosophy as the starting point for their own research into aesthetical problems.

    Both Schiller and Hegel criticized Kant for the duality between subjective and objective, which is characteristic of his aesthetical 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 aesthetical in the realm of objective spirit, which is structured independently of subjective conditions.

    Hegel’s dialectics of universal and particular is the main driving force of understanding interrelation between sensual and ideal in aesthetic objects. As it was noted above, in Hegel’s aesthetics Idea realizes itself in art through externalization in sensual material. Ideal, hence, takes certain form and content to present its universality in aesthetic particularity. Hegel claims that particular to become a realization of idea is premised on the interplay between form and content, which results in concrete meaning.

     Kant’s vision of interrelation between universal and particular is presented in completely different system of coordinates. Kant’s theory of aesthetics is not dialectical, but rather formalist. He places particular into 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, which results in subjective perception of external objects as beautiful or sublime. Particular for Kant is not located in external objects, but in subjective perception of these objects. Therefore, the notion of beauty is not universal, but subjective. However, Kant tries to overcome this antinomy by conceptualizing universal character of the beautiful.

    This is done similarly to proving objectivity of transcendental subject’s concepts in his Critique of Pure Reason. According to Kant, they are necessary generalizations, which enforce universal meaning on sensual intuitions through their synthesis with a priori concepts.

    Similarly, in his aesthetical theory Kant claims that aesthetic judgment’s universality is premised on common sense and homogeneous nature of imagination. However, it is evident that these compromises are formal, rather than dialectical and eventually, Kant’s philosophy fails to conceptualize the interrelation between universal and particular in aesthetics. For instance, Kant discriminates between objective universal validity (logical judgments) and subjective universal validity (aesthetical judgments), which are both subjective in nature, however, it is still uncertain how their universality is different: “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 bear the same universality as logical judgment and hence, aesthetic objects become ‘things in themselves’, which are impossible to perceive objectively.

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

     As Hegel, Schiller tries to unite oppositions between rational and sensual through dialectical analysis of form and sense drive. However, the unity of universal and particular in this respect is realized on subjective level, resulting in ‘play drive’, which is crucial to forming of aesthetically educated personality. Hence, Schiller realization of the unity of universal and particular lacks dialectical copulation between form and content, which results in Fichtean-like emphasis on Subjectivity, rather than dialectical synthesis, which is provided by Hegel.

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

    However, subjectivity (particular), which produces them, transforms them into genuine aesthetic objects by means of ideal synthesis. As a result, ideal meaning is realized in concrete material content, which externalizes its sensual connotations and focuses on their aesthetic components. This idea is essentially important in terms of finding criteria for the evaluation of aesthetic objects. It helps discriminate between genuine products of art, which are beautiful and sublime from those, which fail to meet any aesthetic criteria.

    To sum it up, we have completed the analysis of Kant’s, Hegel’s and Schiller’s aesthetics pertinent to the issue of interrelation between universal and particular in aesthetic objects.

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

    Works Cited

    Kant, Immanuel.    Critique of the Power of Judgment. Translated by Guyer, Paul and Matthews, Eric. Cambridge: The Cambridge Edition of the Works of Immanuel Kant in Translation, 2001.
    Hegel, G.W.F. (LFA) 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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