Baumgarten, Alexander Gottlieb (1714–1762)

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Alexander Gottlieb Baumgarten, the German Wolffian philosopher and aesthetician, was born in Berlin. He was the son of an assistant to the Pietist theologian and pedagogue August Hermann Francke; his brother was the famous divine and church historian Sigmund Jakob. Baumgarten studied philosophy and theology at Halle. After receiving a master's degree in 1735, he was appointed a teacher at Halle and in 1738 became extraordinary professor. While teaching there, Baumgarten, in reaction against the Pietism dominant at Halle after the expulsion of Christian Wolff in 1723, reintroduced Wolffian philosophy. In 1740 he was appointed full professor at Frankfurt an der Oder, where he remained until his death.

Baumgarten's Latin handbooks on metaphysics, ethics, and practical philosophy were widely used in German universities both in his time and after his death, and his influence was extraordinary. Kant considered him to be one of the greatest metaphysicians of his time and adopted his Metaphysics and Practical Philosophy as textbooks for his own lectures at Königsberg. With the exception of his works on aesthetics, Baumgarten in general kept very close to Wolff's teachings, although he dissented from Wolff on several special points. For instance, he adopted a middle position in the controversy over the problem of the interaction of substances by reconciling Wolff's theory of the "preestablished harmony" of the soul and body with the theory of physical influence supported by the Pietists. Baumgarten, as a supporter of Leibnizian panpsychism, applied his solution to the connections among all substances. Wolff, to the contrary, distinguished very sharply between spiritual and material substances. Baumgarten was thus less Leibnizian than Wolff in accepting physical influence and more Leibnizian in his panpsychism.

Baumgarten made his most important contributions in the field of aesthetics, expanding a subject that had been summarily treated by Wolff and going far beyond Wolff in developing it. In this field he collaborated so closely with his pupil G. F. Meier (17181777) that it is difficult to establish the real authorship of many doctrines. There is a very close connection between Baumgarten's Meditationes Philosophicae de Nonnullis ad Poema Pertinentibus and his unfinished Aesthetica and Meier's Anfangsgründe aller schönen Künste und Wissenschaften (3 vols., Halle, 17481750). Baumgarten introduced the term aesthetics to designate that section of empirical psychology which treats of the inferior faculty, that is, the faculty of sensible knowledge. The problem of beauty was only one part of this subject. Even in Kant, aesthetics referred both to sensible knowledge in general and to knowledge of beauty and the sublime in particular. Only later was it restricted to the field of beauty and sublimity. Aesthetics and logic together composed, in Baumgarten's view, a science that he called gnoseology, or theory of knowledge.

According to Baumgarten, the foundations of poetry and the fine arts are "sensitive (sensitivae ) representations," which are not simply "sensual" (sensuales ), but are connected with feeling (and therefore are pertinent both to the faculty of knowledge and to that of will). A beautiful poem is a "perfect sensitive discourse," that is, a discourse that awakens a lively feeling. This requires a high degree of "extensive clarity," which is different from "intensive (or intellectual) clarity." This means that an aesthetic representation must have many "characteristics," that is, it must be characterized by many different traits or particular elements, rather than by a few well-differentiated characters. Beauty must be "confused" and, therefore, excludes "distinctness," the main property of intellectual representations. Distinctness is reached by rendering clearly each of the characteristics of the characteristics of a representation. Establishing these characteristics presupposes intensive clarity and leads to a further abstraction of the concept of representations. This abstraction is obnoxious to aesthetic liveliness and leads to pedantry.

The artist is not an imitator of nature in the sense that he copies it: He must add feeling to reality, and thereby he imitates nature in the process of creating a world or a whole. This whole is unified by the artist through a coherent "theme," which is the focus of the representation.

This does not mean that the artist should prefer fiction to truth; on the contrary, knowledge of the beautiful is, at its best, sensible knowledge of truth made perfectly lively. This is a main point of divergence between Wolff and Baumgarten. Baumgarten held that, since rational knowledge of several orders of facts or of many facts in general is impossible, it must be replaced or supplemented by "beautiful knowledge," that is, reliable sensible knowledge of things that cannot be known rationally; such knowledge is as reliable as rational knowledge; typical aesthetic elements of the cognitive process are inductions and examples. By stressing the importance and relative independence of the inferior faculty (which Wolff held to be only an imperfect stage of knowledge, to be superseded by intellect and reason), Baumgarten foreshadowed Immanuel Kant's doctrine of the peculiar and independent function of sensibility in knowledge.

See also Aesthetics, History of; Aesthetics, Problems of; Kant, Immanuel; Leibniz, Gottfried Wilhelm; Meier, Georg Friedrich; Panpsychism; Pietism; Wolff, Christian.


works by baumgarten

Meditationes Philosophicae de Nonnullis ad Poema Pertinentibus. Halle, 1735. Translated by K. Aschenbrunner and W. B. Hoelther, eds., as Reflections on Poetry. Berkeley, CA, 1954.

Metaphysica. Halle, 1739.

Ethica Philosophica. Halle, 1740.

Aesthetica, 2 vols. Frankfurt an der Oder, 17501758.

Initia Philosophiae Practicae Primae. Halle, 1760.

Acroasis Logica. Halle, 1761.

Ius Naturae. Halle, 1765.

Sciagraphia Encyclopaediae Philosophicae. Edited by J. C. Förster. Halle, 1769.

Philosophia Generalis. Edited by J. C. Förster. Halle, 1769.

works on baumgarten

Abbt, Thomas. A. G. Baumgartens Leben und Charakter. Halle: C.H. Hemmerde, 1765.

Bergmann, Ernst. Die Begründung der deutschen Aesthetik durch A. G. Baumgarten und G. F. Meier. Leipzig, 1911.

Cassirer, Ernst. Die Philosophie der Aufklärung. Tübingen: Mohr, 1932. Translated by F. C. A. Koelln and James D. Pettegrove as The Philosophy of the Enlightenment. Princeton, NJ, 1954. Pp. 338357.

Meier, G. F. A. G. Baumgartens Leben und Schriften. Halle, 1763.

Poppe, B. A. G. Baumgarten, seine Bedeutung und seine Stellung in der Leibniz-Wolffschen Philosophie und seine Beziehung zu Kant. Münster, 1907.

Riemann, A. Die Ästhetik A. G. Baumgartens. Halle: M. Niemeyer, 1928.

on baumgarten's relation to kant

Bäumler, A. Kants Kritik der Urteilskraft. Halle, 1923.

Tonelli, Giorgio. "Kant, dall'estetica metafisica all'estetica psicoempirica." Memorie della Accademia delle Scienze di Torino series 3, Vol. 3, Pt. 2.

Giorgio Tonelli (1967)

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Baumgarten, Alexander Gottlieb (1714–1762)

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