I - Aesthetic foundations  pp. 25-54

Aesthetic foundations

By Heinrich Christoph Koch, Johann Georg Sulzer, Nancy Baker and Thomas Christensen

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AESTHETIC [AESTHETIK] (vol. I, pp. 47–50)

Aesthetics is the philosophy or science of fine arts in which the general theory as well as the rules of the fine arts are drawn from the nature of taste. Properly speaking, the word signifies the science of feelings, which in Greek is called aistheses. The primary goal of the fine arts is to awaken in us a vivid feeling for the true and good. Thus, the theory of fine arts is based upon the theory of indistinct knowledge and feelings.

Aristotle long ago noted that all art precedes theory. Even the rules governing an art are known before the general principles upon which they are based. A few lucky artists endowed with genius have been able to produce a variety of works that could please before one recognized the reason for this pleasure. Aristotle was one of the first to draw rules from them. But neither his work in poetry nor that in rhetoric can be considered to constitute a complete theory of these arts. {48} Drawing upon the best examples of speech and poetry from his time, he was able to note carefully what was pleasing and to deduce rules. But he remained at the level of feeling, without trying to discern the reason for these rules, or to inquire if the orator or poet had exploited the full potential of their arts.