Topics Worth Investigating

  1. In the reading, Schopenhauer writes that since everything can be objectively observed, everything is, in some sense, beautiful:

    Since, on the one hand, every given thing may be observed in a purely objective manner and apart from all relations; and since, on the other hand, the will manifests itself in everything at some grade of its objectivity so that everything is the expression of an idea; it follows that everything is also beautiful. That even the most insignificant things admit of pure objective and will-less contemplation, and thus prove that they are beautiful, is shown by what was said above in this reference about the Dutch pictures of still life.…

    Inferior buildings or ill-favored localities, on the contrary, which nature has neglected or art has spoiled, perform this task in a very slight degree or not at all; yet even from them these universal, fundamental ideas of nature cannot altogether disappear. To the careful observer they present themselves here also, and even bad buildings and the like are capable of being aesthetically considered…

    Explain how Schopenhauer avoids the doctrine that all things are beautiful because of the ęsthetical relativism. For example, George Santayana explains how two different persons might not agree on what is beautiful:

    If their natures are different, the form which to one will be entrancing will be to another even invisible, because his classifications and discriminations in percepting will be different, and he may see a hideous detached fragment or a shapeless aggregate of things, in what to another is a perfect whole—so entirely are the unities of objects unities of function and use.[1]

    How would Schopenhauer account for Santayana's example? (In particular, take note of the passage following the passage quoted above from Schopenhauer.)

  2. Also, explain how Schopenhauer would respond to Anatole France's impressionistic subjectivity:

    There is no such thing as objective criticism any more than there is objective art, and all who flatter themselves that they put aught but themselves into their work are dupes of the most fallacious illusion. The truth is that one never gets out of oneself. That is one of our greatest miseries.[2]

    Yet, Schopenhauer clearly states in this reading:

    When we say that a thing is beautiful, we thereby assert that it is an object of our aesthetic contemplation, and this has a double meaning; on the one hand it means that the sight of the thing makes us objective, that is to say, that in contemplating it we are no longer conscious of ourselves as individuals, but as pure willless subjects of knowledge; and on the other hand it means that we recognize in the object, not the particular thing, but an idea; and this can only happen, so far as our contemplation of it is not subordinated to the principle of sufficient reason, does not follow the relation of the object to anything outside it (which is always ultimately connected with relations to our own will), but rests in the object itself For the idea and the pure subject of knowledge always appear at once in consciousness as necessary correlatives, and on their appearance all distinction of time vanishes…

    Can these apparently opposite points of view be reconciled?

  3. Schopenhauer writes of "significant form" that the significance and distinctness of the forms of ęsthetic contemplation as well as the ideas individualized in these forms to us exists so long as it is "beauty that affects us and the sense of the beautiful that is excited":

    [It is]…these very objects whose significant forms invite [the beholder] to pure contemplation…, [and] the beholder … comprehends only their idea, which is foreign to all relation, so that he lingers gladly over its contemplation, and is thereby raised above himself …

    Clive Bell, the Bloomsbury critic, explains his signature concept:

    …significant form is the only quality common and peculiar to all the works of visual art that move me; and I will ask those whose ęsthetic experience does not tally with mine to see whether this quality is not also, in their judgment, common to all works that move them, and whether they can discover any other quality of which the same can be said.[3]

    Compare Schopenhauer's "significant form" of pure contemplation with Bell's "significant form" as the essential quality in works of art.

  4. Schopenhauer clearly distinguishes between the sublime and the beautiful in the following manner:

    Thus what distinguishes the sense of the sublime from that of the beautiful is this: in the case of the beautiful, pure knowledge has gained the upper hand without a struggle, for the beauty of the object, i.e. that property which facilitates the knowledge of its idea, has removed from consciousness without resistance, and therefore imperceptibly, the will and the knowledge of relations which is subject to it, so that what is left is the pure subject of knowledge without even a remembrance of will, On the other hand, in the case of the sublime that state of pure knowledge is only attained by a conscious and forcible breaking away from the relations of the same object to the will, which are recognized as unfavorable, by a free and conscious transcending of the will and the knowledge related to it.

    Some sixty years earlier, Edmund Burke argues for a natural contrast between the sublime and the beautiful:

    [W]hatever produces pleasure, positive and original pleasure, is fit to have beauty engrafted on it.…[4] Whatever is fitted in any sort to excite the ideas of pain, and danger, that is to say, whatever is in any sort terrible, or is conversant about terrible objects, or operates in a manner analogous to terror, is a source of the sublime…[5] They are indeed ideas of a very different nature, one being founded on pain, the other on pleasure; and however they may vary afterwards from the direct nature of their causes, yet these causes keep up an eternal distinction between them, a distinction between them, a distinction never to be forgotten by any whose business it is to affect the passions.[6]

    Is it possible to account for the radical disparity of Schopenhauer's and Burke's views through the discovery of differing basic presuppositions of the two philosophers?

  5. To what extent is Schopenhauer's comment accurate that the rational method of science in accordance with the principle of sufficient reason is the "method of Aristotle," whereas the method of genius in art is the "method of Plato"?

    In particular what is the precise role of Plato's Ideas or Forms in Schopenhauer's theory of art?

  6. In our reading selection, on the one hand, Schopenhauer defines genius in art in the following manner:

    [W]hat kind of knowledge is concerned with that which is outside and independent of all relations, that which alone is really essential to the world, the true content of its phenomena, that which is subject to no change, and therefore is known with equal truth for all time, in a word, the ideas, which are the direct and adequate objectivity of the thing in itself, the will? We answer, art, the work of genius. It repeats or reproduces the eternal ideas grasped through pure contemplation, the essential and abiding in all the phenomena of the world; and according to what the material is in which it reproduces, it is sculpture or painting, poetry or music. Its one source is the knowledge of ideas; its one aim the communication of this knowledge.

    On the other hand, Francis Hutcheson defines "genius" as taste:

    … I should rather chuse to call our Power of percieving [Ideas of Beauty and Harmony] an Internal Sense, were it only for the Convenience of distinguishing them from other Sensations of Seeing and Hearing, which men may have without Perception of Beauty and Harmony.… This greater Capacity of receiving such pleasant Ideas we commonly call a fine Genius or Taste…[7]

    What similarities do you find in Schopenhauer's and Hutcheson's views of artistic genius?



George Santayana. The Sense of Beauty. New York: Scribners. 1896.


Anatole France. The Literary Life. In A Modern Book of Criticism. Edited and translated by Ludwig Lewisohn. New York: Random House. 1919.


Clive Bell. Art. London: Chatto & Windus. 1914.


Edmund Burke. A Philosophical Inquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful. London: R. and J. Dodsley. 1757. Part IV. Section III.


Burke. Part I. Section VII.


Burke. Part III. Section XXVII.


Francis Hutcheson. An Inquiry Concerning Beauty, Order, Harmony, Design. Part I of An Inquiry Into the Original of our Ideas of Beauty and Virtue. London: J. Barby, et. al. 1725. I: X.