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Dictionary of the History of Ideas

Studies of Selected Pivotal Ideas
2 occurrences of Ancients and Moderns in the Eighteenth Century
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2 occurrences of Ancients and Moderns in the Eighteenth Century
[Clear Hits]

2. Phenomenology. The phenomenologist is con-
cerned with the characteristics of experience itself,
including its “intentional objects.” His aim is to remain
wholly faithful to what is given, without importing
extraneous presuppositions or illegitimate inferences—
to discriminate and expose the subtle differences be-
tween closely allied experiences, and fix their essential
natures. To ask what is the difference in experience
between beauty and grace or prettiness, for example,
is a phenomenological question. What distinguishes
contemporary phenomenology as a particular school
or movement is the systematic formulation of its pro-
gram (despite many differences among its practitioners)
and the immense sensitivity and thoroughness with
which inquiries have been carried out.

Phenomenologists (including those sometimes re-
ferred to as existential phenomenologists) have con-
tributed to several branches of aesthetics. Some under-
standing of their methods and results can be provided
by a brief account of two phenomenological essays,
among the few that deal directly and in detail with
concepts of beauty. The first is “Der Ursprung des
Kunstwerkes,” by Martin Heidegger (Holzwege [1950];
trans. by Albert Hofstadter, as “The Origin of the Work
of Art,” in Hofstadter and Richard Kuhn, eds., Philos-
ophies of Art and Beauty,
New York [1964]). Seeking
for the essential “workly” character of the art-work
(in contrast to the “thingly” character of mere things
and the “equipmental” character of useful objects),
Heidegger finds it in “the setting-itself-into-work of the
truth of what is.” Thus in Van Gogh's picture of the
peasant shoes (i.e., of certain pieces of equipment), the
being of the shoes (their “truth”) is “unconcealed.” In
its capacity to suggest something of the life of the
peasant—his toil, poverty, toughness—this painting
“discloses a world”; as a physical object, exploiting and
exhibiting the qualities of a medium, it “sets forth the
earth.” The art-work is a field of conflict between
world, which strives for openness, and earth, which
has a tendency to withdraw and hide; in this conflict,
the truth of being is laid open, and this happening is
beauty: “Beauty is one way in which truth occurs as
unconcealment.”

The second essay is Truth and Art, by Albert Hof-
stadter (New York, 1965). According to Hofstadter,
beauty, “the central aesthetic phenomenon,” is “a
union of power and measure, a dynamic or living
harmony” that is “the appearance of truth—not of any
truth at random, but of truth of being”—which is the
kind of truth that “comes about when a being projects
and realizes its own being.” In certain natural phe-
nomena—the snowflake, the color gold, the form of
the horse—Hofstadter discerns this self-realization;
e.g., “the horse's visual appearance makes it look like
life-will—energy, vitality, mobility—come to perfect
realization” (Ch. 7). In the experience of beauty we
are seized by the “rightness” or “validity” of the object,
which appears in its highest form in works of art
(Ch. 8).