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  • Uti and frui in Augustine and the problem of aesthetic pleasure in the Western tradition (Cervantes, Kant, Marx, Freud)
  • Joachim Küpper (bio)


Is there an aesthetics—that is, a theory of beauty, and of art and its reception—that would organically pertain to monotheism? I would be inclined to answer the question in the negative, since monotheistic systems do not need such a theory. In principle, their totalizing approach to the world and its phenomena prevents a functional compartmentalization of the discursive field.1 If, however, such a theory emerges (owing to processes that will not be discussed here)2 on the terrain of a monotheistically-informed discursive field, it is striking to what extent it is structured by basic principles deriving directly from the “core” figures of the discourse in whose realm it emerges. As is the case with many other discursive constellations, it seems to have [End Page S126] been the Bishop of Hippo whose writings had a structuring impact in a domain the legitimacy of which he himself would have flatly contested.

Uti and frui—with this pair of concepts Augustine identifies the processes through which we materially and mentally appropriate the world; insofar as the “subject” can become an object of its own reflection, the relationship of each respective self to itself3 is also marked by this dichotomy, which operates within the human mind (mens, animus). The mind is divided into memoria, intelligentia and voluntas. What memoria and intelligentia have grasped is “subject to a further consideration”4 by the authority of the will. This treatment of the object of representation takes the form of one of the two fundamental possibilities named above. Volition (voluntas) can either make use of a thing by “relating it to something else,” or by taking it as a goal in itself and resting to take delight in it (“[. . .] sive ad aliquid ea referat, sive eorum fine delectata conquiescat”).5Uti refers to the general act through which an object of representation is taken up by volition, without necessarily being treated as the final goal of desire. Frui refers to the appropriative act that shows, through its effective enjoyment of the object, that the volitive act has arrived at its goal (“Uti enim, est assumere aliquid in facultatem voluntatis: frui est autem, uti cum gaudio, non adhuc spei, sed jam rei”). In this respect, each frui implies an uti, though not every uti is also a frui (“Proinde omnis qui fruitur, utitur; assumit enim aliquid in facultatem voluntatis cum fine delectationis: non autem omnis qui utitur, fruitur; si id quod in facultatem voluntatis assumit, non propter illud ipsum, sed propter aliud appetivit”).6 The whole dilemma of human existence that Augustine elaborates via the concepts of vitium and culpa7 consists in making “bad” or “incorrect” use of these two forms of appropriation.8 [End Page S127] Accordingly, the will is the authority in which the question of a “correct” or “incorrect” relation to the world as a whole is decided—a question for which pure knowing (intelligentia) or memory (memoria) do not have an immediate relevance.9

Augustine explains this difference between correct and incorrect uses of uti and frui with the example of amor and caritas. It is in principle legitimate to love the creation, but only with a love that goes beyond it. This love should not immediately seek “peaceful enjoyment” in its objects, but should refer to something else: the Creator or, respectively, “things that are eternal and unchanging.”10 If the will’s appropriative attention does not go beyond the “temporalia,”11 it is a form of “incorrect” enjoyment,12 or even of “utter perversion.”13 [End Page S128]

These few words essentially express everything of Augustine’s perspective regarding the problem.14 He does, however, elaborate a minor distinction with respect to the special place of Man in the order of creation. There is a frui of those parts of nature that have been created in God’s likeness. Nonetheless, this too is only a “correctly understood” frui when it is a “frui in deo.” It must not remain a “frui in te ipso”—that is, a form of self-enjoyment—or...