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Between Transcendence and Historicism

The Ethical Nature of the Arts in Hegelian Aesthetics

Brian K. Etter

Publication Year: 2006

Between Transcendence and Historicism explores Hegel’s aesthetics within the larger context of the tradition of theoretical reflection to emphasize its unique ability to account for traditional artistic practice. Arguing that the concept of the ethical is central to Hegel’s philosophy of art, Brian K. Etter examines the poverty of modernist aesthetic theories in contrast to the affirmation by Hegel of the necessity of art. He focuses on the individual arts in greater detail than is normally done for Hegel’s aesthetics, and considers how the dual constitution of the ethical nature of art can be justified, both within Hegel’s own philosophical system and in terms of its relevance to the dilemmas of modern social life. Etter concludes that the arts have a responsibility to represent the goodness of existence, the ideal, and the ethical life in dignifying the metaxological realm through their beauty.

Published by: State University of New York Press

Series: SUNY series in Hegelian Studies (discontinued)

BetweenTranscendence and Historicism

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pp. vii-viii

This book is written out of the conviction that, after a century of modernist avant-garde artistic movements, the nature of the arts needs to be rethought. It is intended for those who are open to the possibility that the arts pose a problem within modern society; that criticism of the arts is a legitimate option; and that what philosophers and theorists of the past have said about art is potentially worthwhile. It argues, specifically, that what Hegel ...


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pp. ix-x

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pp. 1-10

The arts pose a paradoxical challenge to contemporary society. On the one hand, there is a general sense that the arts are an important constituent of civilization, and that the great achievements of the past ought to be preserved as a heritage for the future. That heritage is important enough to maintain at high levels of professional institutionalization. Major cities boast of their art attracting audiences and donations. When a major city loses a sym- ...

Part I: Art between Transcendence and Historicism

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pp. 11-12

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1. Is Art Necessary?

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pp. 13-36

The challenge that modernist art posed at the beginning of the twentieth century lay in its uncompromising rejection of what had been central to the artistic traditions of our civilization. Sensuous charm, the representation of intelligible content, and the nobility of thought and feeling were now banished from sight and hearing, with the effect of forcing a reconception of art. To accept the modernist enterprise meant that coher-...

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2. Beauty and the Transcendence of the Ideal

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pp. 37-56

The character of art in the modernist period, when considered in the context of the prior tradition, ought to raise serious questions regarding the nature of art itself. Does art in general need to be beautiful? Do the visual arts need to be representational? Do music and architecture, lacking a clear representational content, have other similar, expressive requirements? And if beauty be necessary to the aim of art, what would be the definition of ...

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3. The Historicity of the Ideal and the End of Art

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pp. 57-80

For Hegel, the task of art was the sensuous representation of the Ideal, which was at once an ideal of character and an intelligible content of artistic beauty. The Ideal demanded adequate artistic form; the content and form together constituted the beauty which was the aesthetic goal of art. For modern critics, however, the concept of beauty is both too idealistic and too narrow to serve as a criterion of artistic judgment. Today, art is severed ...

Part II: The Ethical Natureof the Arts

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pp. 81-82

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4. Beauty, the Ideal, and Representational Art

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pp. 83-104

Hegel discusses the individual arts in a manner typical of his contemporaries, arranging their treatment according to a hierarchy of dignity. Architecture, as the least representational, is first, while poetry, as the most intellectual, is last. Moreover, each art is classified according to its essential nature within the historical art forms: he sees architecture as fundamentally symbolic, sculpture as classical, and the rest of the arts as romantic. ...

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5. The Sounds of the Ideal

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pp. 105-122

If sculpture and painting maintain a close link to classical and romantic Ideals, respectively, music presents a much more ambiguous, if not puzzling, case in Hegel’s aesthetics. Like painting, music is considered a romantic art, one that, like painting, came into its own only in the Renaissance. Yet the connection with the Ideal is not at all obvious at first glance. Moreover, whereas painting exhibits a richly developed history in Hegel’s ...

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6. The Ethical Function of Poetry

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pp. 123-146

The critical interpretation of literature today is beset by many problems. Chief among them is the politicization of interpretive stances arising from postmodernist perspectives: the tendency to reduce all writing to issues of race, class, and gender, whether those concerns were foremost for earlier authors or not.1 Yet even among more sober and thoughtful accounts of literary aesthetics, serious questions arise: now that our civilization does not ...

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7. Beauty and Ornament in Architectural Styles

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pp. 147-170

Having examined Hegel’s treatment of the representational visual arts, music, and poetry, we are now in a position to understand in what sense Hegel could view architecture as the foundational art that reveals the essence of what art is. This task is not rendered easy by the diversity of accounts Hegel has already offered for the other arts: from an initial position in which art is cast as the representation of the Ideal, we have seen ...

Part III: The Foundations of Art

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pp. 171-172

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8. Art and the Beauty of the Ethical Order

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pp. 173-192

The examination of Hegel’s treatment of the individual arts reveals a curious puzzle. In spite of his insistence in Parts 1 and 2 of the Aesthetics that art is the sensuous representation of the Ideal, his reliance on the Ideal is completely lacking in his treatment of architecture, only implicit in his treatment of poetry, and strikingly muted in his discussion of music. Instead of the Ideal, however, the arts of architecture and poetry rely heavily on ...

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9. Normativity in the Arts and the Particularity of Tradition

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pp. 193-208

We have seen that Hegel’s aesthetic requires the arts to represent the ethical order, holding it up to our view as a reflection of who we truly are as human beings. The arts remind us of the totality of that ethical order: the duties arising out of the determinate communities to which we necessarily belong, as well as the Ideal of serenity that is the representation of the ideal of character. As I have argued, this is a persuasive claim. Moreover, in mak- ...

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10. Art and the Beauty of the Absolute

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pp. 209-222

If Hegelian historicism indeed succeeds in vindicating the role of tradition as a source of norms for art, then it becomes important to return to the question of what prevents such historicism from degenerating into mere presentism: and that, as we have seen, is the concept of the divine. Yet it has proven difficult to understand Hegel on the divine, precisely because of his own ambiguities as well as the rival interpretations of scholars seek- ...


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pp. 223-244


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p. 256-256


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pp. 257-259

E-ISBN-13: 9780791482285
Print-ISBN-13: 9780791466575
Print-ISBN-10: 0791466574

Page Count: 270
Publication Year: 2006

Series Title: SUNY series in Hegelian Studies (discontinued)