Moritz, Karl Philipp (1756–1793)

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Karl Philipp Moritz, German novelist, man of letters, and aesthetician, was born to poor and radically Quietist (Protestant) parents. Moritz started his career as an apprentice hatmaker at the age of twelve and ended up as an intimate of Johann von Goethe, Friederich Schiller, and Johann Georg Herder, and as professor of archaeology and aesthetics at the Berlin academy of art as well as a member of the Prussian Academy of Sciences. A prolific writer, his works include the psychological novel Anton Reiser (17851790), a fictionalized account of his own passage from his narrow religious origins to the center of the German Enlightenment; the satirical novel Andreas Hartknopf (1786); a widely read account of The Travels of a German in England in 1782 (1783); an Essay toward a Practical Logic for Children (1786); an English grammar for Germans (1784); as well as a work on German prosody (1786) and much more; and he edited the Magazine for Empirical Psychology from 1783 to 1793 as well as the Monthly of the Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1789 and 1790. But among philosophers, he is best known for the brief "Essay on the Unification of all Fine Arts and Sciences under the Concept of That Which Is Perfect in Itself " (1785) and the longer essay On the Imaginative [bildende] Imitation of the Beautiful (1788).

The first of these essays offers an early defense of the idea of art for art's sake. Moritz argues that an object is beautiful neither because it gratifies us nor because it is useful to us but because it possesses an entirely internal purposiveness that is so perfect that contemplation of it causes us to leave all our ordinary concerns behind: In such a moment of contemplation, "we sacrifice all of our individually limited existence to a kind of higher existence" (Moritz 1989, p. 11; Moritz 1993, vol. 2, p. 545). This position leads Moritz to the extreme conclusion that when one feels bad at seeing a play performed before an empty house, one shares the disappointment not of the playwright, actors, and producers but of the work of art itself.

Moritz's longer essay on the imitation of the beautiful is less radical and more deeply entrenched in long-standing traditions in aesthetics: Here the influence of neo-Platonism, Leibnizo-Wolffian aestheticians such as Alexander Gottlieb Baumgarten and Moses Mendelssohn (in spite of his criticism of Mendelssohn in the essay on the perfection of art), and Herder all become clear. Moritz argues that in properly imitating a beautiful work of art, one does not ape its outward appearance but, rather, strives to exercise one's own active powers in a way analogous to the exercise of the artist's powers that produced the object. At the same time, however, one seeks contemplation and repose in the experience of such an object. The apparent contradiction between these claims is resolved in Moritz's view that in contemplating the beauty of an object as a self-contained whole, one both experiences an intimation of the perfection of the cosmos as a whole and is also led to strive to transcend the limits of individuality and thereby to make one's own contribution to the perfection of that whole. Both passive and active relation to a beautiful work of art is thus a mirror of both passive and active relations to the perfection of the cosmos as a whole.

Although Moritz's name was not much mentioned by leading philosophers, his influence is clear. Kant surely knew Moritz's 1785 essay (it appeared in a number of the Berlin Monthly in which Kant also published an article), and his own concept of the subjective purposiveness of the experience of beauty may well have been intended as a corrective to Moritz's conception of the internal perfection of the work of art itself. There is no direct evidence that Kant knew Moritz's 1788 essay, but Kant's own distinction between being moved by the originality of a work of genius and merely aping its outward manner could certainly have come from Moritz. Moritz's analysis of one's both passive and active relation to beauty surely influenced Schiller's analysis of one's diverse drives with regard to beauty in his Letters on the Aesthetic Education of Mankind. And Moritz's idea that the contemplation of beauty allows one to transcend the limits of one's own individuality also anticipates a central theme of Schopenhauer's aesthetics. Moritz thus represents an important transition between the aesthetics of the mid-eighteenth century and classical German aesthetics.

See also Aesthetics, History of; Goethe, Johann Wolfgang Von; Herder, Johann Gottfried; Kant, Immanuel; Schopenhauer, Arthur.


works by moritz

Schriften zur Ästhetik und Poetik: Kritische Ausgabe, edited by Hans Joachim Schrimpf. Tübingen: Neimeyer, 1962.

Beiträge zur Ästhetik, edited by Hans Joachim Schrimpf and Hans Adler. Mainz: Dieterich, 1989.

Werke, edited by Horst Gunter. 3 vols. 2nd ed. Frankfurt am Main: 1993.

Anton Reiser: A Psychological Novel. Translated by Ritchie Robertson. New York: Penguin Books, 1997.

works on moritz

Boulby, Mark. Karl Philipp Moritz: At the Fringe of Genius. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1979.

Saine, Thomas P. Die ästhetische Theodizee: Karl Philipp Moritz und die Ästhetik des 18. Jahrhunderts. Munich: Finck, 1971.

Schrimpf, Hans Joachim. Karl Philipp Moritz. Stuttgart: Metzler, 1980.

Woodmansee, Martha. The Author, Art, and the Market: Rereading the History of Aesthetics. New York: Columbia University Press, 1994.

Paul Guyer (2005)

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Moritz, Karl Philipp (1756–1793)

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