As edifying as the aims of the moral sciences may have been, their scientific status was often held to be deficient. Thus David Hume wrote in 1748 in An Inquiry Concerning Human Understanding that the “great advantage of the mathematical sciences above the moral consists in this, that the ideas of the former, being sensible, are always clear and determinate….” Moral ideas like freedom are often obscure and ambiguous. Thus two people agreeing that freedom is a good thing may have very different interpretations of what the term means and what kind of behavior exhibits it. Accordingly, Hume argues that moral reasoning is not in a position to ascertain determinate relations of ideas as are the mathematical sciences. Being about matters of fact and our sentiments toward them, the moral sciences cannot be demonstrative and are merely “experimental,” by which he means that they arrive at “general maxims from a comparison of particular instances.” Moral reasoning cannot expect to arrive at the kind of certainty and universal agreement that the mathematical sciences can produce. Moral certainty is probabilistic at best. According to Hume, “morals and criticism are not so properly objects of the understanding as of taste and sentiment.”
Wilhelm Dilthey was born in Biebrich on the Rhine in 1833, and died in 1911. The son of the preacher to the Count of Nassau, Dilthey followed family tradition by starting his university studies at Heidelberg in theology. There he was drawn to the philosophical systems of G. W. F. Hegel and Friedrich Schleiermacher by Kuno Fischer. In 1853 Fischer was accused of being a pantheist and his right to teach was withdrawn. As a consequence, Dilthey moved to the University of Berlin, where he came under the influence of Schleiermacher's students Friedrich von Trendelenburg and August Boeckh. Increasingly, Schleiermacher became the focus of Dilthey's interests. In 1859 he was asked to complete the editing of Schleiermacher's letters. That year the Schleiermacher Society also organized an essay competition on his hermeneutics. Dilthey submitted an essay entitled “Schleiermacher's Hermeneutical System in Relation to Earlier Protestant Hermeneutics” in 1860, which was published in part in 1893, but not fully until 1966 (see Dilthey 1996: 31). It was awarded the first prize and led to a second commission, namely, to write Schleiermacher's biography. The first volume of this biography was published in 1870 (Dilthey 1979b). It is a large volume that places Schleiermacher not only in his theological setting but also in the context of the literary and philosophical movements astir in Berlin from 1796 to 1807. The work displays Dilthey's own expanding interests in aesthetical and philosophical issues. He finally wrote his dissertation in philosophy on Schleiermacher’s ethics.
Although Kant considers a pure aesthetic judgment to be reflective in nature, he is also able to account for a wider range of prejudgmental and judgmental aesthetic responses. In the case of works of art, I will show that he allows for both reflective judgments about their beauty and determinant judgments about their meaning. But such an intersection of reflective and determinant judgments should not be seen as supporting the conclusion that their judgmental functions merge. Since determinant judgment proceeds from a given universal to particulars, it clearly involves a subordinating mode of thought. I will argue, however, that reflective judgment, which tends to begin with particulars, is a coordinating mode of thought. Determinant judgment appeals to universals to either describe the nature of particular objects or explain their behavior by subsuming them under the laws of the understanding. Reflective judgment, by contrast, is an expansive mode of thought that appeals not just to the understanding, but to reason as a framework for interpreting particulars. Because Kant calls reflection the power to compare a representation either with other representations or with our own cognitive powers, I want to underscore that reflective judgment is not so much about objects per se as about their relations to us. I will also make a case for the thesis that reflective judgment is orientational in that it enables the apprehending subject to put things in context while discerning his or her own place in the world.
Aesthetics in the broad sense goes back at least as far as Plato’s speculations about different types of beauty and the value of the arts. It is not until the eighteenth century, however, that aesthetics as distinct from traditional philosophical reflection on art comes into its own. This new discipline of aesthetics is more inclusive than a philosophy of the arts per se because it is concerned primarily with the appreciation of the sensory aspects of experience, whether derived from nature or the arts. Nature is also considered in terms of its ability to arouse aesthetic pleasure. In fact, some eighteenth-century thinkers found the purest instances of beauty and sublimity in the contemplation of nature. The variety of aesthetic responses that humans exhibit in relation to both nature and art required a philosophical and psychological reexamination of the human cognitive and critical faculties – one that would give feeling and imagination a larger role than before. Moreover, insofar as aesthetics raises the question of taste, it addresses social conventions concerning fashion, human manners, and other cultural practices that are contiguous with the arts.
The new discipline of aesthetics also introduces a more systematic consideration of the arts themselves. Whereas traditional reflections on art by Plato, Aristotle, Augustine, and others tended to deal with only some of the arts and mainly in terms of their import for philosophy and theology, we now see an increased consideration of the inherent character and unity of the fine arts. As noted by Paul Kristeller in his essay on ‘The Modern System of the Arts’, the modern notion of the arts as the fine arts – the arts of poetry, painting, sculpture, architecture, music, and dance – only came into being at the beginning of the eighteenth century.
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