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THE THEORETIC ACTIVITY AND THE
The intuitive and intellectual forms contain between them, as we have said, the whole theoretic domain of the spirit. But it is not possible to know them thoroughly, nor to criticize another series of erroneous æsthetic theories, without first establishing clearly the relations of the theoretic spirit with the practical spirit.
The practical form or activity is the will. We do not The will. here employ this word in the sense of some philosophical systems, where the will is the foundation of the universe, the ground of things and the true reality. Nor do we employ it in the wide sense of other systems, which understand by will the energy of the spirit, spirit or activity in general, making of every act of the human spirit an act of will. Neither such metaphysical nor such metaphorical meaning is ours. For us, the will is, as generally understood, that activity of the spirit which differs from the merely theoretical contemplation of things, and is productive, not of knowledge, but of actions. Action is really action, in so far as it is voluntary. It is not necessary to remark that in the will to do, we include, in the scientific sense, also what is usually called not-doing : the will to resist, to reject, the will of a Prometheus, which also is action. Man understands things with the theoretical form, The will as an
ulterior stage with the practical form he changes them; with the one
in respect to he appropriates the universe, with the other he creates knowledge. it. But the first form is the basis of the second ; and
the relation of double degree, which we have already found existing between æsthetic and logical activity, is repeated between these two on a larger scale. A knowing independent of the will is thinkable, at least in a certain sense ; will independent of knowing is unthinkable. Blind will is not will ; true will has eyes.
How can we will, without having before us historical intuitions (perceptions) of objects, and knowledge of (logical) relations, which enlightens us as to the nature of those objects? How can we really will, if we do not know the world which surrounds us or how to change
things by acting upon them? Objections and It has been objected that men of action, practical explanations.
men par excellence, are the least disposed to contemplate and to theorize : their energy is not delayed in contemplation, it rushes at once into will. And conversely, that contemplative men, philosophers, are often very mediocre in practical matters, weak willed, and therefore neglected and thrust aside in the tumult of life. It is easy to see that these distinctions are merely empirical and quantitative. Certainly, the practical man has no need of a philosophical system in order to act, but in the spheres where he does act, he starts from intuitions and concepts which are perfectly clear to him. Otherwise the most ordinary actions could not be willed. It would not be possible to will to feed oneself, for instance, without knowledge of the food, and of the link of cause and effect between certain movements and certain satisfactions. Rising gradually to the more complex forms of action, for example to the political, how could we will anything politically good or bad without knowing the real conditions of society, and consequently the means and expedients to be adopted ? When the practical man feels himself in the dark about one or more of these points, or when he is seized with doubt, action either does not begin or stops. It is then that the theoretical moment, which in the rapid succession of human actions is hardly noticed and rapidly forgotten, becomes important and occupies consciousness for a longer time. And if this moment be prolonged, then the practical man may become a Hamlet, divided between desire for action and his deficient theoretical clarity as regards the situation and the means to be employed. And if he develop a taste for contemplation and discovery, and leave willing and acting, to a greater or less extent, to others, there is formed in him the calm disposition of the artist, of the man of science, or of the philosopher, who in practice are sometimes incompetent or downright immoral. These observations are all obvious. Their exactitude cannot be denied. Let us, however, repeat that they are founded on quantitative distinctions and do not disprove but confirm the fact that an action, however slight it be, cannot really be an action, that is, an action that is willed, unless it be preceded by the cognitive activity,
Some psychologists, on the other hand, place before Criticism of practical action an altogether special class of judgements,
judgements of which they call practical judgements or judgements of judgements of value. They say that in order to resolve on performing
value. an action there must have been a judgement to the effect :
this action is useful, this action is good.” And at first sight this seems to have the testimony of consciousness on its side. But closer observation and analysis of greater subtlety reveal that such judgements follow instead of preceding the affirmation of the will, and are nothing but the expression of the volition already exercised. A good or useful action is an action willed. It will always be impossible to distil a single drop of usefulness or goodness from the objective study of things. We do not desire things because we know them to be good or useful; but we know them to be good and useful, because we desire them. Here too, the rapidity with which the facts of consciousness follow one another has given rise to an illusion. Practical action is preceded by knowledge, but not by practical knowledge, or rather, knowledge of the practical : to obtain this, we must first have practical action. The third moment,
therefore, of practical judgements, or judgements of value, is altogether imaginary. It does not come between the two moments or degrees
Exclusion of the practical from the æsthetic.
of theory and practice. For the rest, normative sciences in general, which regulate or command, discover and indicate values to the practical activity, do not exist ; indeed none exist for any sort of activity, since every science presupposes that activity to be already realized and developed, which it afterwards takes as its object.
These distinctions established, we must condemn as erroneous every theory which annexes the æsthetic activity to the practical, or introduces the laws of the second into the first. That science is theory and art practice has been many times affirmed. Those who make this statement, and look upon the æsthetic fact as a practical fact, do not do so capriciously or because they are groping in the void ; but because they have their eye on something which is really practical. But the practical which they aim is not Æsthetic, nor within Æsthetic; it is outside and beside it; and although often found united, they are not united necessarily or by the bond of identity of nature.
The æsthetic fact is altogether completed in the expressive elaboration of impressions. When we have achieved the word within us, conceived definitely and vividly a figure or a statue, or found a musical motive, expression is born and is complete ; there is no need for anything else. If after this we should open our mouths -will to open them to speak, or our throats to sing, that is to say, utter by word of mouth and audible melody what we have completely said or sung to ourselves; or if we should stretch out—will to stretch out our hands to touch the notes of the piano, or to take up the brush and chisel, thus making on a large scale movements which we have already made in little and rapidly, in a material in which we leave more or less durable traces ; this is all an addition, a fact which obeys quite different laws from the former, with which we are not concerned for the moment, although we recognize henceforth that this second movement is a production of things, a practical fact, or fact of will. It is usual to distinguish the internal from the external work of art : the terminology seems
to us infelicitous, for the work of art (the æsthetic work) is always internal ; and what is called external is no longer a work of art. Others distinguish between æsthetic fact and artistic fact, meaning by the second the external or practical stage, which may follow and generally does follow the first. But in this case, it is simply a question of a linguistic usage, doubtless permissible, though perhaps not advisable.
For the same reasons the search for the end of art is Criticism of the ridiculous, when it is understood of art as art. And theory of the
end of art and since to fix an end is to choose, the theory that the of the choice of
content. content of art must be selected is another form of the same error. A selection among impressions and sensations implies that these are already expressions, otherwise how could a selection be made among the continuous and indistinct ? To choose is to will: to will this and not to will that: and this and that must be before us, expressed. Practice follows, it does not precede theory; expression is free inspiration.
The true artist, in fact, finds himself big with his theme, he knows not how; he feels the moment of birth drawing near, but he cannot will it or not will it. If he were to wish to act in opposition to his inspiration, to make an arbitrary choice, if, born Anacreon, he should wish to sing of Atreus and of Alcides, his lyre would warn him of his mistake, sounding only of Venus and of Love, notwithstanding his efforts to the contrary.
The theme or content cannot, therefore, be practically Practical or morally charged with epithets of praise or blame. innocence of When critics of art remark that a theme is badly selected, in cases where that observation has a just foundation, it is a question of blaming, not the selection of the theme (which would be absurd), but the manner in which the artist has treated it, the failure of the expression due to the contradictions which it contains. And when the same critics object to the theme or content of works which they proclaim to be artistically perfect as being unworthy of art and blameworthy; if these expressions really are perfect, there is nothing to be done but to