Late Nineteenth Century Social Philosophy

Late Nineteenth Century Social Philosophy

The post-Revolutionary philosophers of the early Nineteenth Century were prescient in foreseeing the social problems of the Industrial Age. By mid-century, the philosophical emphasis had shifted from social reform to epistemological reform of philosophy itself, shifting philosophy away from idealism to materialism. New philosophers began to base their ideas upon empirical ideas and objective reasoning borrowed from science. Even Hegel, one of the last of the idealist philosophers, stated that, “Philosophy must assume a regular structure as teachable as geometry,” and he wanted philosophy to be based upon a “definite methodical procedure.”

Auguste Comte (1798-1857) was a disciple of Henri Saint-Simon (Claude Henri de Rouvroy, comte de Saint-Simon) (1760-1825), who shifted from Utopian thinking about society to a scientific study of society. As the founder of “sociology,” Comte rationalized the study of human behavior by using scientific methodology. People and their actions could be examined, facts could be gathered, hypothesis could be formed, and theories could be put forward and tested. The goal was to study society as it was and not to imagine society, as it should be. The importance of the Positivism of Comte is that the philosopher stressed actual observation and careful study of society. In contrast to Comte’s more scientific approach, Pierre-Joseph Proudhon (1809-1865) was more political in his critique of society in his What is Property? (1840) and The Philosophy of Poverty (1846). Rather than putting forward utopian ideals, Proudhon anticipated Marx by examining society and expressing outrage (“Property is theft.”) at the growing class stratification, as the industrialist class enjoyed runaway wealth and the lower classes enjoyed endless repetitive labor. Like Saint-Simon, Proudhon imagined the disappearance of the state, but he wanted to substitute the authority of the state with the direct participation of the people who would decide their own affairs.

Although Proudhon sounded a bit less totalitarian than Hegel who believed that the nation and the state were one and the same and morally superseded the community, he, too, was an authoritarian. Women, he believed, should be submissive to men and take care of them, and while, serving men, women should also should have children and nurture them as well. He was typical of men of his age in his ideas about women and the use of authority. Proudhon, as a non-too-successful professional publisher and writer, also had strong opinions about accumulated wealth. He equated slavery with murder and property with robbery. As Proudhon stated in What is Property? “ and robbery are synonymous terms; that every social advantage accorded or rather usurped in the name of superior talent or service, in inequality and extortion…”

Most socialists (and anarchists) defined socialism as direct government achieved through suffrage. Putting aside the fact that women and people of color could not vote, suffrage had its problems, because the mass of people were not well-educated or informed, they would not know how to vote for their own interests. Proudhon preferred to create a form of government that would create an equilibrium between freedom of the people and the role of the government. Arrested during the Revolution of 1848, sent into exile to Belgium during the Second Empire, Proudhon took the idea of equilibrium and applied it to war, advocating force to bring about equilibrium among nations, much to the dismay of his admirers. “Reforms always,” he stated, “Utopias never,” announcing pragmatism and positivism. A prolific letter writer and self-publisher of his many works, Proudhon was a native of Besançon, in Franche-Comté, the territory of Gustave Courbet. Sometimes writing as an art critic, Proudhon published his ideas about Courbet’s paintings of a region that was very familiar to him. Proudhon is perhaps better known for his association with Courbet than for his philosophical ideas today, because he was overshadowed by his one-time colleague, Karl Marx.

Karl Marx brushed Proudhon aside as a “bourgeois socialist” who would not advocate revolution. It is difficult today to ascertain Proudhon’s knowledge of German philosophy. Hegel had yet to be translated into French, however, Victor Cousin was teaching about Kant, for example, at the Sorbonne, and, from Proudhon’s own words, it would seem Cousin would have been his source of German thought. However, the main difference between Kant, Hegel and Marx and the socialists was that the Germans created structured models for their philosophical thought and the socialists were less systematic.

The social philosophers were futurist; they looked forward, envisioning a better life. They were less idealist than materialist in that they dealt with real social problems in a relatively practical fashion. Hegel and Marx, in contrast, were determinists. The future they posited was determined by the triadic forces of the dialectic. It was Marx, who dominates the discussion of social theory and philosophy today with his application of the Hegelian dialectic to economics, to the “secret engine” of culture. As Marx stated,

“…New relations in production, superior to the former ones, never come into being before their material reason for existence has developed in the womb of old society. Humanity puts to itself only the riddles that it can solve, for on looking closely at the matter, one will find that the riddle is put only when the material conditions of its solution already exists…”

Although Karl Marx 1818 – 1883) wrote often with Frederic Engels, (1820 –95) it is Marx who is the better-known philosopher. Together Marx and Engels wrote The German Ideology, 1846 and the Manifesto of the Communist Party, 1846. On his own, Marx wrote Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts, 1844, Wage-Labor and Capital, (usually referred to as Das Capital) 1849, The Eighteenth Brumarie of Louis Bonaparte, 1852, Grundrisse, 1857-88, Wages, Price and Profit, 1865, The Civil War in France, 1871, and Critique of the Gotha Program, 1875. Although Marx would live in bourgeois comfort in suburban London, his place of exile, and spent his days writing in seat G7 in the British Museum Library, he wrote movingly on the plight of the working classes during the Industrial Revolution. By the time Marx was forced out of his native Prussia for his revolutionary ideas, industry and capitalism had been the basis of modern society for over one hundred years and its consequences were plain to see.

Vast new wealth had been accumulated by the new commercial class, and an abyss of poverty subjugated the lower classes. Like many observers of his time, Marx foresaw a pending social and economic revolution—for human misery can be contained only so long. As a German national living in England, Marx would have witnessed the activities of Reformists, politicians and writers, such as Charles Dickens, and philosophers, such as Jeremy Bentham. The British thinkers repeatedly warned of the consequences of the environmental and social horrors that had descended upon the so-called “advanced” industrial nations.

Kant and Hegel are considered idealists, reaching towards some kind of absolute or universal. Marx, on the other hand, was a thoroughgoing materialist: for him, reality was grounded in existence, knowledge was the result of reality, and therefore the mind could never be independent of history. If the mind constructed reality, then the constructions must always be changing, along with history. If this was the case, then consciousness could never be absolute or universal and must be subjected to changing conditions. For Marx, these conditions were capitalism, the greatest social change since the breakdown of the Roman Empire into feudalism, and the middle class, the first new class since the beginning of human history. Capitalism had created a society based upon the abstraction of money, labor, goods, value, and, ultimately—human beings.

Also read: “Early Nineteenth Century Utopian Philosophy”

If you have found this material useful, please give credit to

Dr. Jeanne S. M. Willette and Art History Unstuffed. Thank you.

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Hegel and His Impact on Art and Aesthetics


Hegel and his Impact on Art and Aesthetics

Like any aesthetician, G. W. F. Hegel does not get involved in any particular movement or style or work of art, but, that said, he was very definite about the kind of art where Beauty could be found. Like Emmanuel Kant, Hegel brings art and freedom together and anticipates the idea of art-for-art’s sake. For Hegel, the Idea is always opposed to Nature. The mind is contrasted to the mindlessness of matter or nature. The mind creates art, which gives an idea to nature. This idea is the unity of the externality or objectivity of nature and the subjectivity or personal vision of the artist. As with Kant, the spectator of the work of art is as important as the art maker for Hegel. Beauty in art is the emanation of the Absolute or Truth through an object. Beauty can be shown only in a sensuous form called the Ideal, which transcends the Idea to become a special form. Like all of Hegel’s triads, nothing is lost: nature and idea are the Other to one another but together they create an organism, the work of art.

The contemplative mind strives to see the Absolute. In order to see Beauty, this detached mind must transcend nature. By freeing itself, the mind perceives the spiritual content of the work of art, which must also be free in order to be Beautiful. Kant insisted that the higher form of beauty had to be free and independent and Hegel followed suit. Hegel insisted that, to manifest Beauty, art must expel all that is external or contiguous or unnecessary. Remember, in Hegel’s system, each part of the triad must be “pure” and can contain only its dialectical opposite. For art to reveal Beauty is to reveal Truth, which can only be pure. This is why art can never imitate nature, which is, mindless and irrational. Nature must be reversed with its antithesis, the idea, which brings about the inner unity necessary for spiritual content: nature, idea, spirit = art.

If art must be free, then art should show, not just Beauty and Truth, but Freedom itself, which is the property of the free mind. Hegel, true to his age, is a child of Neoclassicism and, like many Germans, was looking back to a Golden Age when human beings were free. Part of being “modern” is being un-free. Society has demands, which are placed upon people who have lost their sense of wholeness and self-actualization. Thinking along the same lines as Friedrich Schiller’s “alienation,” Hegel felt that his own age was a diminished one. Therefore, the artist should take subject matter from the past, a heroic age populated by characters that were free of the social restrictions so prevalent of the industrial age.

Ancient peoples, Hegel assumed could determine their own destinies and could make their own lives on their own terms. While the current times were particular to the modern period, the primeval era could manifest life in its universal and essential form. By stripping the process of living down to its basics, one is nearing the first cause of life, the logic of existence in which one is in the process of becoming. One can “become” only if one is free, linking the rational with the free to the universal. Hegel explained art’s predilection for the depiction of the high-born because those individuals are free, assuming that the lower classes are unsuited to being represented because, being subservient to their masters, they can never be free and therefore, never universal. Stripping away the elitist assumptions that princes are preferential to peasants as subject matter in art, it is possible to note that Hegel was insisting that the artist attempt to reach the universal through art.

But Hegel was a also creature of history. The idea of “princes” should not be taken so literally in the modern era, an era badly suited to the classical art of the past. Hegel understood that the antique forms were indissolubly linked to their own time. Greek and Roman sculpture expressed the ideal in universal poses of repose, rather than with active poses linked to a particular action. But in the modern age, the new society did not lend itself to rest and repose, which could be found only in the spirit of the artist or in his personality. The modern age has come to realize that any hope of freedom or infinity is impossible and the human mind has no escape, except into itself. The new subjectivity of the spirit produces a new kind of art in which the artist imprints him or herself upon the art. the result is Romantic art which is the art of modern Europe. Unlike ancient art which needs the sensuous manifestation of the classical statue, Romantic art gives rise to an independent spirituality or mind which leaves behind its traces as sensuous remnants. It then logically follows that sculpture is not the appropriate receptacle for the spirit of the Romantic artist. Clearly, Hegel could not conceive of a form of sculpture that was allowed to transcend its traditional role of starting with and then transcending nature into idealism. Sculpture was, despite its attempt at perfection of form, too bound to the “real.”


Painting, in its two-dimensional flatness, is the most suitable manifestation for the spirit, mind, and personality of the artist. Painting is appearance, rather than actuality or matter and, as a mental process of the artist, is subjective. The external world is allowed to enter into the subjective world of art because concrete reality is transformed through art. Hegel allows for the ugly, the grotesque, suffering and evil in Romantic art as the other necessary element in his dialectic. Beauty must contain ugliness, just as Truth conceals Lie, and for reconciliation to take place beauty and ugliness must be reconciled into a concrete unity that is a higher form of Beauty, which is also Truth.

Although Hegel’s ideas on art and aesthetics were inspiration for those who believed in “art-for-art’s-sake” or the avant-garde, his deterministic philosophy was politically very retrograde and repressive. There is another way to view Hegel’s “princes.” As with his colleague at the University of Berlin, Johann Gottleib Fichte, Hegel believed that Germany’s destiny was to become the dominant power in Europe, due to the forces of history, which had passed England and France and had progressed to Germany. A snob and a social climber, the consummate academic ego, Hegel was enamored of power and, during the French occupation of Germany, was thrilled by Napoléon. Like Fichte, he believed that Germany was a chosen nation and that it had the moral right to pursue its hegemonic dominance ruthlessly with “absolute privileges over all others. It should behave as the spirit willed it and will be dominant in the world…” With Hegel, war and dominance as historical tools of historical progress entered into European thought. Because his philosophy was based in history, Hegelian aesthetics also impacted upon art history and art criticism. The basic structure of art history has followed his model of successive and contrasting movements.

The history of art has been told as a succession of conflicting styles by Heinrich Wölfflin and as a tale of successive and contrasting movements by history based upon formalist models. The ancient produced the modern, the universal produced the particular, the timeless produced the contingent and modern art is the synthesis of these conflicting forces. As a synthesis, Romantic art must be independent and begins to exist on its own. Hegel’s aesthetics inspire the theory of the avant-garde: thesis, antithesis, synthesis—Neoclassicism, Romanticism, Realism, and so on. One avant-garde movement, assigned the positive position, opposed another avant-garde movement, the negative or counter position, resulted in a dialectic, which pushed art ever forward and towards an absolute of purity. The result of the influence of Hegel, art criticism, especially under the American art writer, Clement Greenberg, was model of artistic progression from representation towards abstraction. By using the avant-garde and its oppositional stance as the engine of change, art history in the Twentieth Century has been Hegelian in structure.

If you have found this material useful, please give credit to

Dr. Jeanne S. M. Willette and Art History Unstuffed. Thank you.

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Hegel, Art and the Dialectical Method



Paradoxically, G. W. F. Hegel created a tripartite philosophical system that attempted to flee the static universe of Emmanuel Kant by positing universal and transcendent Absolutes. For Hegel the subjective mind or spirit created or evolved into the objective mind or spirit that manifested itself by creating a world that was external. The dialectical of subjective and objective spirit produced the human spirit that was expressed through art, religion and philosophy. Hegel was determined to avoid debate and argument, often the basis of philosophy. As opposed to putting forward different epistemological systems, Hegel thought that the role of philosophy was to explain the universe. Rather than getting bogged down in debates over where knowledge could be located, in the realm of the Ideal (Plato) or the Material (Aristotle), Hegel retreated into abstractions, which were based upon the logical and reasonable method of deduction.

Hegel wrote in a deliberately obtuse manner in his major works, The Phenomenology of the Spirit, 1807, The Science of Logic (1813-16) and Encyclopedia of the Philosophical Sciences, 1817, refusing to make philosophy either easy or accessible. He wanted to put philosophy on the same basis as the sciences as a new kind of truth reached through process of trial and error or thesis and antithesis, producing an agreement or synthesis, which is a resolution of conflicts. Science proceeded via this deductive manner from hypothesis to testing to theory. The theory that resulted from the process of deduction would stand as a thesis until it was tested by a new antithesis. Theories are never proven. Theories are always in the process of being tested. Borrowing deduction from science, Hegel, like a scientist, sough the truth. The mind had to be always active and always evolving towards an ultimate goal. Art was part of the mind’s journey towards the truth.

Being conscious means having a mind, but Hegel disagreed with Kant’s static philosophy and insisted that contemporary history had to be taken into account as it affected the mind. Unlike Kant, Hegel located his philosophy in history. Kant’s categories of the mind were static and ahistorical and immobilized by his architectonic system, but Hegel’s concept of the mind was dynamic and he considered the functions of the mind to be development, over time, or across history. IF the mind is not independent of reality but is experiencing things or content, then the mind changes constantly, so that the self and the object are not distinct but dialectic and complementary structures within an experience. In other words, there is no object without a self and no self without an object. For Hegel, the Ultimate Truth is that consciousness is not substance but a prime metaphysical concept.

Personen / Gelehrte / Deutschland / Hegel / Porträts

Georg Hegel in 1828

Hegel developed the Begriff or the notion or concept generated within content and reflects its uniqueness. The mind creates culture and therefore, logically, the mind is not independent and can never get away from its other or content. Hegel’s other major concept is Being, or experiencing content, meaning that the mind is always changing and shaping forms. Hegel disliked the formalism of traditional rationalism, which forces content to conform to arbitrarily chosen concepts, ignoring mediating character of experience. Opposing Kant’s architectonic structure of categories, Hegel considered the Search for “truth” to be both a developmental and an empirical inquiry. The mind is an inner force creating and shaping outer forms.

The result of Hegel’s challenges to Kant was several conclusions. First, truth was a historical or genetic approach, the evolution or necessary outcome of series of conflicts and corrections. Second, Negation actually had the power to advance mind to higher levels. And third, Experience “carries the process of its own dissolution within itself…” For Hegel, the Self was a process of dissolution and the Spirit was our own experience, in other words, a living process. Thus True Reality was the process of reinstating self-identity or the process of self’s becoming. Reality was related to science, which is a process in its entirety or a total system of knowledge. The result is the Whole or Reality itself, which is actual knowledge. Paraphrasing Kant, Hegel remarked, “Content is nothing but the transformation of form into content, and form is nothing but the transformation of content into form…”

Truth, for Hegel was an historical approach, an evolution to particular stage, or a necessary outcome of series of conflicts and successive corrections of concrete universals or notions, which are contextual and more precise than abstract universals. Thesis, antithesis and then synthesis—this is the “progress” of history. These contradictions between thesis and antithesis are levels of consciousness. According to Hegel, “The truth is the whole”, in other words, truth is realized in the form of system. The idea that represents the absolute as spirit (Geist) is the total system of knowledge or reality itself. “I” am transcended as well as “my object.”

Transcendence is the synthesis of idea and nature or Spirit. Hegel did not allow for dualism and always sought synthesis or the absolute spirit. Hegel put forward the concept of Weltgeist or a world spirit or the “universal mind.” According to Hegel, “Our epoch is a birth-time, and a period of transition. The spirit of man has broken with the old order of things hitherto fore prevailing, and with old ways of thinking…” The paradox in Hegel is the conflict between history itself, which is always pushing the human mind forward, from thesis to antithesis, and the ultimate goal with is abstract and beyond time. It is here that beauty, the ultimate goal of art, can be found.

Read also “Kant and Reason” and “Friedrich Schiller” and “Hegel” and “Hegel and His Impact on Art and Aesthetics” and “Hegel and the Dialectical Method”

If you have found this material useful, please give credit to

Dr. Jeanne S. M. Willette and Art History Unstuffed. Thank you.

[email protected]

Hegel and the Dialectical Method



Within the architectonic model, Kant’s categories were isolated from each other and appeared to impose themselves upon the structure. However useful the categories were in explaining Kant’s theory of human reason, Hegel wanted to find a starting point, a first cause. For Hegel, “cause” was “reason”—-what is the reason that this event happened? The “reason” has a “consequence”—-because of this, that happened. Therefore the first cause must be reason and the world is the consequent of reason. Reason, for Hegel is not an ideology, as it was for the Enlightenment philosophers. Reason is an abstraction, which becomes part of a process, which produces a consequence. It follows that each category must be logically deduced from the other, so that they all relate, with each emerging from the other. The categories, then, had to be a single unified whole. The key concept of Hegel is the “organic,” which has less to do with the natural and more to do with the logical deduction of one thing from another, due to a process that binds all elements together into an organic whole. The whole that is produced is composed of necessary parts, none of which can be discarded.

The first principle of the world, Hegel reasoned, must be Being. Being is both universal and necessary. All things have being and Being must be the highest possible abstraction. Having located the first cause, or first category, the philosopher then had to develop a mechanism from which other categories could be deduced from Being. These categories, unlike Kant’s, could not be arbitrary; they had to be necessary and universal, not just because they sounded “logical,” but also because the categories were linked through deduction. The method of deduction was the Dialectical Method. The Method was the philosopher’s way of avoiding pictorial thinking or the tendency of humans to think in images or things. For example, Kant’s philosophical structure was like a building or resembled an architectonic model. One could easily imagine a house within which the categories become rooms. Although one can certainly envision Hegel’s dialectic, the dialectic is process orientated and dynamic, compared to a more static model. Hegel invented the dialectical method, based upon his realization that every concept necessarily contains its own opposite, hidden away, and that this opposite must be extricated or deduced and revealed from the first term. For Hegel, his categories had to be objective and ontological, meaning that they had to be a proiri and independent.


Hegel with his students in Berlin

Therefore, Hegel began with Being. If Being was to be the starting point, it must be the primal cause. Being must necessarily be the first category because, without being, nothing else could exist. Being, Hegel reasoned, as an abstract and pure category contains Nothingness and therefore can be ultimately reduced to Nothingness–its logical opposite. But to have deduced nothingness from being is to also say that being and nothingness are the same. Being passes into Nothingness; Nothingness passes into Being. This passing (process) is called Becoming. In other words, from Being and Nothingness, we can deduce Becoming. These are the first three Categories of Hegelian Logic. It is not we, however, who deduce these categories; the categories necessarily deduce themselves.

The first triad: Being, Nothingness, Becoming is based upon a founding affirmative, the thesis, the founding negative, the antithesis, and the process that resolves the contradiction or the dialectic between the two, the founding synthesis. These are the three highest and most abstract categories, universal and existing by virtue of necessity and deduced by the method of deduction. Equally obvious is the consequence of the system which unfolds in three parts: the powers of Reason will always force the system forward. The Dialectic will push onward until a point is reached when no contradiction or antithesis is possible. At that point one has reached the Absolute. Here in the final category all distinctions are merged, because as the dialectic moves forward, nothing is lost, all is retained and assimilated. The unity of the Absolute is necessary, grounded in the Logic of the thesis/antithesis conflict itself. The antithesis will never discard the thesis and the synthesis will contain both the thesis and the antithesis, carrying the sequence of triads forward towards the Absolute. The terminus of Hegel’s system is the category of the Absolute Idea, where nature and idea are transcended be the Spirit.

Read also “Kant and Reason” and “Friedrich Schiller” and “Hegel” and “Hegel and His Impact on Art and Aesthetics” and “Hegel, Art, and the Dialectical Method”

If you have found this material useful, please give credit to

Dr. Jeanne S. M. Willette and Art History Unstuffed. Thank you.

[email protected]

Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel


Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770 – 1831)

It has been said that all philosophy is simply a series of footnotes on the ideas of Plato and Aristotle. It can also be said that all modern philosophy is a series of footnotes no the work of Emmanuel Kant. Writing in the early Nineteen Century, G. W. F. Hegel inherited the philosophy of Kant and accepted the (Copernican) notion that the mind constructed the world but then proceeded to modify much that was Kantian in his own philosophical system. In The Phenomenology of the Spirit (1807), Hegel assumed the universe was rational and that through a progress of deduction, human beings would eventually find and agree upon the truth.

The question was the starting point for the process of deducing the truth. Kant had introduced the notion of the Thing-in-Itself, a concept that Hegel found difficult to accept. Like Plato, Kant assumed there were what Plato called “Forms” that were beyond the reach of human consciousness. The forms are unseeable and unknowable and exist only as ideas. Ideas are “beings” that produce the world. All existence is Appearance and all appearance is dependent upon the world. According to Plato, Things of the world are mere “copies” of Universals or Ideas. Copies of the form/idea are made by and/or through Images of Ideas being stamped upon Matter by God(s). Matter, for Plato was formless; matter was emptiness. Matter is “not-being”, something that has not yet arisen from Idea. Matter is primordial and independent. The Thing comes into being only when matter is acted upon.

According to Aristotle, the Form, the Universal of a Thing, is also its End or Purpose. The final cause (end) (thing) is identical with the formal cause (form). A purpose must logically exist prior to the execution of the form. This conclusion leads Aristotle to the distinction between potentiality and actuality. Matter in itself is absolutely formless, the substrate of things. In other words, matter is actually nothing but it is also potentially all things. Matter gains actuality—becomes a “thing”—by acquiring Form. Form is actuality, for Aristotle. With the Greeks, the world process is crucial: there is the end, the form, and the universal. A “thing” is a combination of matter and form. Without form, which must always be Universal, the thing cannot exist. Compared to the universality of form, the object/matter must be particular.

All things strive towards their own ends. Form molds matter and impels it to a higher state of existence. The end must be present at the beginning; otherwise the end could not exert propelling force. There is no new element, in other words, for the new must be present as a potentiality of the old. The ancients considered development to be the process by which that which was latent or hidden came to light. For the ancients, and for Plato and Aristotle, the world was driven by this dualism between idea and actuality, by these contradictions, which drive development. These ancient ideas will be Hegel’s starting point and the source of his famous Dialectical Method, an invention that allowed him to ground truth and reality in the process of deductive Logic.

An idealist, who learned from Kant, Hegel accepted Kant’s Copernican Revolution or Kant’s concept of the self or Self as an enduring entity, that is independent of events and stands alone in a condition of self-awareness. This “awareness” is the awareness of the object. This recognition of the object results in the realization of the difference between the self and the “other”. This moment is the origin of consciousness or being, an awareness of object as “other-than-me”. Things are content, and Hegel distinguished between the object, as it is “in itself,” and the object as it is for an observer. Although the concept of duality originated in ancient philosophy, modern philosophy credits René Descartes with the “Cartesian split.” Since Descartes, Western thought assumed a split between mind and matter.

It was David Hume who questioned Greek idealism, exposing the inherent weakness of the dualism between mind and matter by returning to the question of how do we know reality? Or what is knowledge? Hume explored the most basic concept upon which all knowledge depends: cause and effect, both of which must be both universal and necessary. True, we experience what we name “cause” and then we experience what we call “effect.” But we have done nothing more than placed a convenient label upon the events that transpired. We have not established knowledge. Experience in itself is never universal nor is experience in itself ever necessary. The connection between cause and effect is an assumption and any “knowledge” is therefore illusionary. Hume determined that knowledge could never arise out of experience and thus exposed the metaphysical base of philosophy. Kant immediately understood the implications of Hume’s thought: once the metaphysics of philosophy had been revealed as a “faith based” system, any knowledge of the world was now impossible. We knew nothing but our own beliefs and belief is not knowledge.

In order to correct David Hume and to put philosophy back on track, Kant proposed space and time as conditions that are both universal and necessary. The universal and necessary conditions of Space and Time give us objects. Space and Time are a priori conditions, they preexist thought and make thought possible. Space and Time are perceptions of our own minds and do not exist apart form us and are forms of our own perceptive faculty. Space and time are Forms of sensations and these forms are filled with sense data. The objects perceived by us through space and time are not real objects: they are Appearances. Thought is conceptual and non-sense-based concepts—synthetic a priori judgments—are derived, not from experience, but from constructions made by the mind. These concepts are the result of formal judgments of Logic.

We arrive at these concepts thorough the epistemological operations of the mind, Kant called “categories”, and there were twelve of them. The twelve categories were subjective, and, because they were universal, were necessarily static, and unchanging. However, as Hegel noticed, these categories were not deduced one from another and were therefore arbitrary models made up by Kant in order to show the way the mind worked. If the categories were not Logical, then the Reason-based philosophy of Kant was not on a firm base. And this is the problem Hegel wanted to solve: to build a Logical base for the foundation of the Categories.

Read also “Kant and Reason” and “Friedrich Schiller” and “Hegel and the Dialectical Method” and “Hegel, Art, and the Dialectical Method” and “Hegel and His Impact on Art and Aesthetics”

If you have found this material useful, please give credit to

Dr. Jeanne S. M. Willette and Art History Unstuffed. Thank you.

[email protected]

Schiller: Naive and Sentimental Poetry

Art and Nature

Schiller’s “Naïve and Sentimental Poetry”

On the Aesthetic Education of Man was written as a series of letters to the Duke of Augustenburg and was published in 1795 and 1801, and published just before “Naïve and Sentimental Poetry,” also written in 1795. Called “one of the greatest essays in the German language” by writer Thomas Mann, Über naive und sentimentalische Dichtung, a highly influential essay was a response to his friendship with Germany’s most celebrated Romantic poet, Göethe, comparing himself as a poet to his friend as a poet. Johann Wolfgang von Göethe had written the quintessential work of German Romanticism, the rather overwrought, Sorrows of Young Werther, the fictional version of his many youthful love affairs. However, as he matured, Göethe assumed a mantle of dignity, of near-Olympian calm, and repudiated Romanticism as “sick” and extolled (neo) Classicism as “healthy.” The famous friendship got off to a rocky start. Göethe spurned the advances of the younger poet whose dramatic plays were associated with Romanticism. And Schiller, for his part, viewed Göethe with antipathy, distrusting the apparent ease with which poetry apparently flowed from this distinguished inhabitant of Olympia. Nevertheless, the younger poet who experienced creative agonies and self-doubts was driven by a need to understand Göethe and pursued the poet. The two men eventually succeeded in achieving a meeting of the minds and their consequent correspondence and collaboration is of great importance to German literature. “Naïve and Sentimental Poetry,” published in the journal, Die Horen, seems to pit Göethe, the naïve poet, against Schiller, the sentimental poet. The essay is an early and influential effort to sort out types of artists, as makers and as psychologies. The words “Naïve and Sentimental” refer to both poets and to poetry, not to themes, subject matter, or content. These types of artists are seen by Schiller as opposites, somewhat like Kant’s antinomies—a way of organizing the world in terms of contrasts–as personifying two different modes of creativity.

As can be seen in The Aesthetic Education of Man, Schiller was a student of human psychology and feelings and was an astute observer of states of mind long before the profession of psychology was established. Naïve and Sentimental Poetry, published just after Aesthetic Education in Die Horen, is a companion piece, expounding on some of the same themes. Once again, Schiller returned to the ideal period of ancient Greece when humans lived in harmony with nature. The poet was writing at the end of the eighteenth century, at the end of an era, the last years of a time when untouched “nature” still existed in modern Europe. Already in England, the Enclosure Movement was well underway, fencing in fields, walling in pastures, blocking the population from “trespasssing” on private property. The Commons were closing in the name of profit. The Industrial Revolution was also spreading across England, with factories springing up in the countryside, already belching smoke and cinders. The German territories were, as yet, undisturbed; but Schiller seemed to have sensed something coming, for, like his counterpart, Caspar David Friedrich, began to contemplate nature as if it were a quality with psychological implications. He begins his essay on this theme of “interest in nature:”

This kind of interest in nature takes place, however, only under two conditions. First, it is entirely necessary, that the object which infuses us with the same, be nature or certainly be held by us therefor; second, that it (in the broadest meaning of the word) be naïve, i.e., that nature stand in contrast with art and shame her. So soon as the last is added to the first, and not before, nature is changed into the naive.

It is here that the famous “compare and contrast” methodology of art historical discourse begins, for Schiller’s comparative pairing of nature and art and of contrasting poets will be copied by the early twentieth-century art historian, Aby Warburg, who was also fascinated by psychological themes. That being said, Schiller’s ultimate purpose went beyond his purpose of understanding two kinds of genius and two means of artistic creation. He analyzed modes of perception, ways of being, and ways of living in the world, ways of relating and responding, not only to nature itself but also to one’s own inner nature, to the structure of one’s own mind. In establishing between psychological types, Schiller paved the way for later thinkers, such as Freud and Jung, Nietzsche and Dilthey, and James. But Schiller’s aesthetic is also a moral philosophy. The essay was an examination of the human being and the human condition in a world that is so modern it had yet to be defined, discussed or understood. Schiller’s predecessor in grappling with the new place of nature in the newly industrialized society was Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778) who advocated a turning away from the artificiality of French society to the simplicity of nature to rediscover the “natural” human being, free of civilization and its “discontents,” as Freud would express it later. Rousseau, a precursor of Kant on the subject of ethics and of Schiller on the subject of nature, published the Discourse on the Origin and Basis of Inequality Among Men, or the “Second Discourse,” in 1755, where he explored not so much inequality itself but human nature and how social orders allow inequality to exist. Like Schiller after him, Rousseau returned to “natural man.” He imagined that, in a state of nature, “primitive man,” as the philosopher termed him, there was no inequality. However, in the “Second Part,” as Rousseau continued to speculate,

But from the moment one man began to stand in need of the help of another; from the moment it appeared advantageous to any one man to have enough provisions for two, equality disappeared, property was introduced, work became indispensable, and vast forests became smiling fields, which man had to water with the sweat of his brow, and where slavery and misery were soon seen to germinate and grow up with the crops. Metallurgy and agriculture were the two arts which produced this great revolution. The poets tell us it was gold and silver, but, for the philosophers, it was iron and corn, which first civilised men, and ruined humanity.

Like Engels would posit a hundred years later, classes emerge when the establishment of agriculture, which, in turn, evolves into private property. Both Rousseau and Engels searched for and located an original sin which precipitated the Fall. Rousseau wrote with bitter words,

Such was, or may well have been, the origin of society and law, which bound new fetters on the poor, and gave new powers to the rich; which irretrievably destroyed natural liberty, eternally fixed the law of property and inequality, converted clever usurpation into unalterable right, and, for the advantage of a few ambitious individuals, subjected all mankind to perpetual labour, slavery and wretchedness.

As one of the originators of the notion of psychological types, Schiller led the way to the nineteenth century and to Modernism, for his world is far more “civilized” than that of R. Both philosophers (who would influence Freud on this point) understood civilization to be necessary and inevitable and unavoidable, the result of Rousseau’s “Social Contract,” but the social system has built a wall of rules, regulations, and conventions that were entirely artificial. Trapped in the social system, blindly following its customs and mores, we are alienated from nature and the natural. We have lost our sense of oneness, our feelings of harmony with our world. Worse yet, we are alienated from ourselves, divided within our own minds, disconnected from the totality of our own being. Responding to a system that purports to be “rational,” we struggle with our irrational side, repressing it until we are alienated not only from the “natural” but also from a part of our own selves. Thus we, as humans in the modern world, are alienated from nature itself, which is neither rational nor irrational; it simply exists, as Schiller wrote, as “subsistence of things through themselves, existence according to its own unalterable laws.” Nature is its own being in a state of purity, which we, in our divided state, can no longer comprehend or connect with. In our alienated condition—alienated from ourselves and from our fellow human beings—we can only respond to nature through the distorting filters of civilization. Our varying modes of perception—“Naïve“ or “Sentimental”—can never encounter nature, the pure state of being. Such unity with us and nature must wait until we reach our own natural state of harmony within ourselves and our natural environment.

Unlike Rousseau, Schiller does not present “Natural Man” as a lost state but a goal we must aim for. This goal cannot be reached in an individual’s lifetime but can be achieved only through successive generations, which must struggle to regain wholeness, harmony, and unity, both internally, within the individual, and externally, with nature. This modern concept of the alienated human being seeking a lost unity would be of great consequence to nineteenth and twentieth Century thought. The author of Frankenstein, Mary Shelley, writing somewhat later than Schiller, also warned that we have become estranged and alienated from ourselves and from nature. As the allegory of the creation of Frankenstein’s monster shows, we have become deluded into playing God through the misuse of technology. G. W. F. Hegel will write of “thesis,” “antithesis,” and “synthesis,” the ultimate Absolute unity. Karl Marx will write of “alienation” of the working class from industrial products and will warn that humans have become so alienated that we are no longer aware of it and exist in a state of “false consciousness.” Marx’s “alienation” was sociological due to economic causes. Jacques Lacan will write of Lack, resulting from the human’s entry into society and the severing of the child from its mother (loss of unity and wholeness). Alienation will become a major theme and perhaps the definition of the condition of Modernity itself.

Thus aesthetic philosophy becomes a moral philosophy and art becomes an arena for self-actualization, a way of thought to counter the evils of artificiality and civilization. For Schiller, in “Naïve and Sentimental Poetry,” all art is inferior to nature but all art must begin with nature. Art becomes a way of reacting to ourselves and a means of responding to nature. Nature takes on a dual meaning: nature is the world surrounding us and our own individual personalities. Art also seems to assume duality, being equated at times with that which is artificial, in other words with a wide range of artifacts, works, and activities, while, at other times, art is the natural product of a creative process. Art was a means of restoring a natural balance in personality. Art was a journey towards a purer morality and an exposition of the nature of artistic genius that rises above artificial rules and ideas on morality. The role of free play of imagination in art and the artist as a genius is indebted to Kant. Six decades later, perhaps thinking of Schiller, Emil Zola famously wrote of “nature seen through a corner of a temperament” to define art, which is, in those terms, a response to nature shaped by the personality of the artist.

Schiller began his analysis of artistic temperaments with a discussion on the innocence of children, writing “…the child is to us a vivid representation of the ideal, not indeed of the fulfilled, but of the commissioned, and it is therefore by no means the conception of its poverty and limits, it is quite to the contrary the conception of its pure and free force, its integrity, its infinity, which moves us. To the men of morality and feeling, a child will for that reason be a sacred object, an object namely, which through the greatness of an idea annihilates every greatness of experience; and which, whatever it may lose in the judgment of the understanding, gains again in the judgment of reason in ample measure…” Once again Schiller was prescient in writing of “childhood,” a new concept which would be fully developed in the nineteenth century. But the philosopher was writing of adults and he carefully distinguished between “childish” and “childlike.” Schiller wrote that “…the naive way of thinking excites in us. It combines the childlike simplicity with the childish; through the latter it exposes a vulnerable point to the understanding and calls forth that smile, whereby we make known our (theoretical) superiority. So soon, however, as we have reason to believe, that the childish simplicity be simultaneously a childlike one…” He used the directness of a child’s open heart and mind to define the naïve artist: “The naïve is a childlikeness, where it is no longer expected, and precisely for that reason, can not be attributed to real childhood in the strictest sense.”

For Schiller both the child and the “childlike” naïve artist are part of nature, suggesting that the adult is a rare being, surviving modern life without corruption and retaining a harmony with the natural world. He stated,

It is therefore required, that nature triumph over art, not through its blind violence as dynamical, but rather through its form as moral greatness, in short, not as need, but rather as inner necessity. Not the insufficiency, but rather the inadmissibility of the latter must procure the victory of the form; for the former is want, and nothing which originates from want can produce respect. Indeed, it is with regard to the naive of surprise, always the superiority of emotion and a want of reflection, which makes nature recognizable; but this want and that superiority still do not entirely constitute the naive, but rather merely provide the occasion, so that nature follows unhindered its moral nature, i.e., the law of harmony.

The naïve man (Schiller does not take women into consideration) is one who “overlooks their artificial and affected relations and keeps merely to simple nature.” In following Kant who popularized “genius,” Schiller sought to account for that state of creativity and determined that the ability to create is not only a natural or inborn inclination but is also rooted in nature itself:

Every true genius must be naive or it is not genius. Its naivetè alone makes it genius, and what it is in the intellectual and the aesthetical, it can not deny in the moral. Unaware of the rules, the crutches of weakness, the taskmaster of perversity, guided only by nature or instinct, its protecting angel, it walks calmly and safely through all the snares of false taste, in which, if it be not so prudent as to avoid it already from the distance, the non-genius will be unfailingly ensnared. It is only given to the genius, to be always at home outside the known and to enlarge nature, without going beyond it. Indeed, the latter sometimes happens to the great geniuses, but only because these have their fanciful moments, when protecting nature abandons them, because the power of example overpowers them, or the corrupted taste of their time leads them astray.

The genius has a “childlike character,” which is bashful and intelligent and modest, but there is another type of artist, the “sentimental” artist who experiences the “distress of culture and hear in the foreign country of art, the moving voice of the mother. So long as we were merely children of nature, we were happy and perfect; we have become free and have lost both. Therefrom originates a twofold and very unequal longing for nature, a longing for its happiness, a longing for its perfection. The sensuous man laments only the loss of the first; the moral one can mourn only for the loss of the other.” Schiller, once again, wrote expansively upon the perfection of Greece, based upon the fact that they “felt naturally,” and the consequent decline, resulting from our separation from nature: “Just as nature gradually begins to vanish from human life as experience and as the (acting and feeling) subject, so do we see it rise in the poetical world as idea and as object.” It is here that he made a profound statement that explains not just two different kinds of poets but also the modern relationship with nature and to ourselves. Schiller wrote,

The poets are everywhere, according to their concept, the guardian of nature. Where they can no longer entirely be the latter and already experience in themselves the destructive influence of capricious and artificial forms, or indeed have had to struggle with the same, then will they appear as the witnesses and the avengers of nature. They will either be nature, or they will seek the lost nature. Therefrom arise two entirely different kinds of poetry, through which the entire province of poetry is exhausted and measured out. All poets, who are really such, will, according to the time in which they flourish, or as accidental circumstances have influence upon their general education and upon their passing dispositions of mind, belong either to the naive or to the sentimental.

We feel, in reading Schiller, we are witnessing a tragedy of a society drifting towards complete alienation of human from nature and of human from human. We live, he explains in an “artificial age,” an age which displaced the naïve artist who was at odds with modern life “no longer in their proper place.” The “still pure” man “acts as an undivided sensouus unity and as an harmonizing whole.” The naïve poet merely follows simple nature and feeling” but “it is entirely different with the sentimental poet. The latter reflects upoin the impression…the object is here connected with an idea, and only in this connection does his poetical force rest.” “His representation will therefore be either satirical or it will…be elegiac; every sentimental poet will adhere to one of these two modes of feeling.” Schiller admired Göethe, the ultimate naïve poet, who was able to create “naturally” with “childlike” directness, and understood himself to be a sentimental poet, who was estranged from nature. This poet is in pain, pained by the “distance” from nature, meaning that he is an alienated observer, examining the world from a point of watchfulness rather than of immersion. The sentimental poet then can see nature only as a idea. With his divided consciousness, his self-conscious self-awareness, the poet is thoroughly modern, and, unlike his the naïve poet, was not out of place, but was a product of his own time. Rather than the unreflective naïve poet, who combined reason and feeling, the “sentimentalisch,” a term coined by Schiller, was split in two, with his mind and heart, his reason and feeling, separated.

Once again, we see the dialectical at work in Schiller, with human evolution being divided into two stages: the natural and the artificial, an opposition that must be overcome in a third state or synthesis which restores the original and primal unity of the natural and the ideal. At first glance, it might seem, that in his admiration for Göethe, Schiller thought the naïve artist to be superior but the opposite is true. A child of the Enlightenment, Schiller preferred progress over regression, and, understanding the price that has been paid, considered the sentimental artist to be an advance upon the naïve artist. The question is where would the sentimental artist eventually achieve the synthesis and the answer is distinctly non-Kantian. The sentimental artist would have to work at the level of the culture in the real world, a solution worked out in Aesthetic Education. Schiller’s sentimental artist, as presented in his seminal essay on the naïve and sentimental artist is an early example of a “Romantic “artist who cannot go back in time and who can belong only to his own time, faced with the task of transcending the chasam between nature and civilization. Unlike Rousseau, who, in Schiller’s opinion was regressive, the poet does not yearn for the past, but, like the sentimental artist, struggles to move forward. “…our feeling for nature,” he said, “is like the feeling of an invalid for health.” As H. B. Nisbet pointed out, the terms “naïve” and “sentimental” are not only used in unconventional ways but are also not aesthetic terms. Eventually Schiller suggested more conventional subsitutes, “realist” and “idealist,” or modes of perception (Empfindungsweisen).

Like Kant, Schiller must present a structure or a model, and, while the essay itself proceeds from thesis to antithesis and synthesis. The sentimental artist himself was divided into three parts as well–satire, elegy, and idyll, genres of poetry. Schiller then explained these stages of the sentimental and gave examples of contemporary poets, but it is possible to propose visual artists who would fulfill the “modes of perception.” Not long after Schiller’s early death, John Constable painted elegies of a vanishing England from the safety of his little corner in Dedham Vale in an idyllic and pastoral fashion. And then, for example, Courbet would have been perhaps a good fit for a naïve artist, if one ignores his deliberate and studied performance of a country bumpkin. A decade later, his avant-garde successor, Manet was obviously the satirical sentimental artist. These various positions or approaches on the part of these artists are modern ways to deal with the modern estrangement from nature–the satrical artist looks away from the natural and dives deeply into the artificial, while the elegic artist confronts nature and attempts to inhale its perfumes. The naïve artist is oblivious that time has passed and that the age is modern. When one tries to fit artists into Schiller’s slots, as it were, it immediately becomes apparent that the deep intelligence of the essay is its expression of the modern human condition, which is prelapsian, consumed with loss and longing, but without the desire to return to a state of nature. In his two part essay, Schiller does not sum up his argument, he merely stops writing and one can select a passage in the second part as a suitable last word: Nature has shown favor to the naive poet, to act always as an undivided unity, to be in every moment a self-reliant and perfect whole and to represent men in reality, according to their full value. To the sentimental one it has lent the power, or rather imprinted a living instinct, to reestablish out of himself that unity, which has been annulled in him by abstraction, to complete humanity in himself and to pass from a limited state to an infinite.

Nature has shown favor to the naive poet, to act always as an undivided unity, to be in every moment a self-reliant and perfect whole and to represent men in reality, according to their full value. To the sentimental one it has lent the power, or rather imprinted a living instinct, to reestablish out of himself that unity, which has been annulled in him by abstraction, to complete humanity in himself and to pass from a limited state to an infinite. To give human nature its full expression, is, however, the common task of both, and without that, they would not be able to be called poets at all; but the naive poet has always the advantage of sensuous reality over the sentimental, whilst he achieves that as a real fact, which the other only strives to attain.

Also read: “Kant and Aesthetic Theory” and “Kant and the Critique of Judgment”

and “Kant’s ‘Art-for-Art’s-Sake” and “Kant, the Artist, and Artistic Freedom”


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Dr. Jeanne S. M. Willette and Art History Unstuffed. Thank you.

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