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CRITICISM OF ÆSTHETIC HEDONISM
Criticism of the beautiful as that which pleases the higher senses.
As we are opposed to hedonism in general, that is to say, to the theory based upon the pleasure and pain intrinsic to the economic activity and accompanying every other form of activity, which, confounding container and content, fails to recognize any process but the hedonistic; so we are opposed to æsthetic hedonism in particular, which looks at any rate upon the æsthetic, if not also upon all other activities, as a simple fact of feeling, and confounds the pleasurable expression, which is the beautiful, with the simply pleasurable and all its other species.
The æsthetic-hedonistic point of view has been presented in several forms. One of the most ancient conceives the beautiful as that which pleases sight and hearing, that is to say, the so-called higher senses. When analysis of æsthetic facts first began, it was, indeed, difficult to avoid the false belief that a picture and a piece of music are impressions of sight or hearing and correctly to interpret the obvious remark that the blind man does not enjoy the picture, nor the deaf man the music. To show, as we have shown, that the æsthetic fact does not depend upon the nature of the impressions, but that all sensible impressions can be raised to æsthetic expression and that none need of necessity be so raised, is an idea which presents itself only when all other doctrinal constructions of this problem have been tried. Any one who holds that the aesthetic fact is something pleasing to the eyes or to the hearing, has no line of defence against him who consistently proceeds to identify the beautiful with the pleasurable in general, and includes in Æsthetic cooking, or (as some positivists have called it) the viscerally beautiful.
The theory of play is another form of æsthetic hedonism. Criticism of The concept of play has sometimes helped towards the the theory of
play. realization of the activistic character of the expressive fact : man (it has been said) is not really man, save when he begins to play (that is to say, when he frees himself from natural and mechanical causality and works spiritually); and his first game is art. But since the word “play” also means that pleasure which arises from the expenditure of the exuberant energy of the organism (which is a practical fact), the consequence of this theory has been that every game has been called an aesthetic fact, or that the æsthetic function has been called a game, because like science and everything else, it may form part of a game. Morality alone cannot ever be caused by the will to play (for it will never consent to such an origin), but on the contrary itself dominates and regulates the act itself of playing.
Finally, some have tried to deduce the pleasure of Criticism of art from the echo of that of the sexual organs. And the theories of some of the most recent æstheticians confidently find of triumph. the genesis of the æsthetic fact in the pleasure of conquering and in that of triumphing, or, as others add, in the wish of the male to conquer the female. This theory is seasoned with much anecdotal erudition, heaven knows of what degree of credibility, as to the customs of savage peoples. But there was really no need for such assistance, since in ordinary life one often meets poets who adorn themselves with their poetry, like cocks raising their crests, or turkeys spreading out their tails. But any one who does this, in so far as he does it, is not a poet but a poor fool, in fact, a poor fool of a cock or turkey, and the desire for the victorious conquest of women has nothing to do with the fact of art. It would be just as correct to look upon poetry as economic, because there once were court poets and salaried poets, and there are poets now
who find in the sale of their verses an aid to life if not a
Another less vulgar current of thought considers
pleasure and admiration. But the sympathetic is nothing
as such it is a complex fact, resulting from a constant
In ordinary language, there is sometimes a feeling of
The conflict could be put an end to by distinguishing two different sciences, one of expression and the other of the sympathetic, if the latter could be the object of a special science; that is to say, if it were not, as has been shown, a complex and equivocal concept. If predominance be given to the expressive fact, it enters Æsthetic as science of expression; if to the pleasurable content, we fall back to the study of facts essentially hedonistic (utilitarian), however complicated they may appear. The particular origin of the doctrine which conceives the relation between form and content as the sum of two values
is also to be sought in the doctrine of the sympathetic. Æsthetic
In all the doctrines just now discussed, art is conhedonism and sidered as a merely hedonistic thing. But æsthetic
hedonism cannot be maintained, save by uniting it with a general philosophical hedonism, which does not admit any other form of value. Hardly has this hedonistic
conception of art been received by philosophers who admit one or more spiritual values, truth or morality, when the following question must necessarily be asked : What must be done with art ? To what use should it be put ? Should a free course be allowed to the pleasures it procures? And if so, to what extent ? The question of the end of art, which in the Æsthetic of expression is inconceivable, has a clear significance in the Æsthetic of the Sympathetic and demands a solution.
Now it is evident that such solution can have but the rigoristic two forms, one altogether negative, the other of a re- negation, and
the pedagogic strictive nature. The first, which we shall call rigoristic justification or ascetic, appears several times, although not frequently,
of art. in the history of ideas. It looks upon art as an inebriation of the senses and therefore as not only useless but harmful. According to this theory, then, we must exert all our strength to liberate the human soul from its disturbing influence. The other solution, which we shall call pedagogic or moralistic-utilitarian, admits art, but only in so far as it co-operates with the end of morality; in so far as it assists with innocent pleasure the work of him who points the way to the true and the good ; in so far as it anoints the edge of the cup of wisdom and morality with sweet honey.
It is well to observe that it would be an error to divide this second view into intellectualistic and moralistic-utilitarian, according as to whether be assigned to art the end of leading to the true or to what is practically good. The educational task which is imposed upon it, precisely because it is an end which is sought after and advised, is no longer merely a theoretical fact, but a theoretical fact already become the ground for practical action; it is not, therefore, intellectualism, but pedagogism and practicism. Nor would it be more exact to subdivide the pedagogic view into pure utilitarian and moralistic-utilitarian ; because those who admit only the satisfaction of the individual (the desire of the individual), precisely because they are absolute hedonists, have no motive for seeking an ulterior justification for art.
Criticism of pure beauty.
But to enunciate these theories at the point to which we have attained is to confute them. We prefer to restrict ourselves to observing that in the pedagogic theory of art is to be found another of the reasons why the claim has erroneously been made that the content of art should be chosen with a view to certain practical effects.
The thesis that art consists of pure beauty has often been brought forward against hedonistic and pedagogic Æsthetic, and eagerly taken up by artists : “Heaven places all our joy in pure beauty, and the Verse is everything." If by this be understood that art is not to be confounded with sensual pleasure (utilitarian practicism), nor with the exercise of morality, then our Æsthetic also must be permitted to adorn itself with the title of Æsthetic of pure beauty. But if (as is often the case) something mystical and transcendent be meant by this, something unknown to our poor human world, or something spiritual and beatific, but not expressive, we must reply that while applauding the conception of a beauty free from all that is not the spiritual form of expression, we are unable to conceive a beauty superior to this and still less that it should be purified of expression, or severed from itself.