University of Virginia Library

Search this document 
Dictionary of the History of Ideas

Studies of Selected Pivotal Ideas

expand sectionV. 
expand sectionIV. 
expand sectionVI. 
expand sectionVI. 
expand sectionVI. 
expand sectionV. 
expand sectionV. 
expand sectionV. 
expand sectionII. 
expand sectionIV. 
expand sectionIV. 
expand sectionI. 
expand sectionI. 
expand sectionI. 
expand sectionVI. 
expand sectionV. 
expand sectionV. 
expand sectionVI. 
expand sectionVI. 
expand sectionIII. 
expand sectionI. 
expand sectionVI. 
expand sectionI. 
expand sectionIII. 
expand sectionVI. 
expand sectionIII. 
expand sectionIV. 
expand sectionVI. 
expand sectionVI. 
expand sectionV. 
expand sectionIV. 
expand sectionVII. 
expand sectionV. 
expand sectionI. 
expand sectionIII. 
expand sectionIII. 
expand sectionIII. 
expand sectionVI. 
expand sectionVI. 
expand sectionVI. 
expand sectionVI. 
expand sectionIII. 
expand sectionVI. 
expand sectionIII. 
expand sectionI. 
expand sectionVI. 
expand sectionVI. 
expand sectionVI. 
expand sectionVI. 
expand sectionVI. 
expand sectionV. 
expand sectionIV. 
expand sectionIV. 
expand sectionIV. 
expand sectionVI. 
expand sectionIV. 
expand sectionIII. 
expand sectionVI. 
expand sectionVI. 
expand sectionV. 
expand sectionV. 
expand sectionVI. 
expand sectionIII. 
expand sectionII. 
expand sectionI. 
expand sectionII. 
expand sectionVII. 
expand sectionI. 
expand sectionI. 
expand sectionIII. 
expand sectionVI. 
expand sectionVI. 
expand sectionV. 
expand sectionVII. 
expand sectionV. 
expand sectionV. 
expand sectionV. 


In Germany only the Ideal has had, as a term and
as a doctrine, an early and large diffusion, and becomes
very fashionable especially after 1770, in spite of the
unsympathetic attitude of the Sturm und Drang
(“Storm and Stress”) group. This is chiefly due to
Winckelmann's influence: he had been permeated first
by French, then by Italian seventeenth-century art
theory. His original development of the doctrine of
the Ideal, being the center of his aesthetic theory,
attracted his contemporaries' attention to this notion,
and urged them to organize around it many Platonic
suggestions drawn from British aesthetics. In Winckel-
mann's earlier works (1754f.) two different theories of
ideal beauty (idealische Schönheit) can be found: (1)
the natural-selective, deriving from Bellori and (2) the
more originally Platonic theory, whereby the Idea of
beauty completely derives from the mind, without any
connection with experience—as for Lomazzo and
others. Universal ideal beauty reaching beyond the
individuality of natural beauty makes matter “spirit-
ual” (geistig); the artist is considered as a creator. In
his History of Art in Antiquity (1764), Winckelmann
tries to unify both theories: the Ideal of beauty is
composed by natural elements selected by a supra-
natural standard of beauty, but other nonmaterial ele-
ments are superadded to them, deriving from the intu-
ition of divine beauty; in the statue of Laokoön natural
elements are prevalent, in the Apollo del Belvedere they
are minimal. A kind of beauty merely deriving from
the natural-selective process is still mentioned but it
is not called “ideal” any more. In ideal beauty, accord-
ing to the Greek καλοκἀγαθία (“beauty and goodness”)
a strong ethical element is present (Zeller, 1955; Will,
1958; Winckelmann, 1825-29). The term “the Ideal”
makes its appearance comparatively late, not before
1759 (e.g., Winckelmann, 1825-29, “Torso”); previ-
ously, “Idea” (DieIdee, also DieIdea) and “Concept”
(Der Begriff) have been used instead, and still appear
later. Wieland had used “the Ideal” as a substantive
in 1755: he mentions the Ideal of beauty and of good-
ness as the highest perfection of the human mind,
corresponding to the notion of the universe as a whole,
and states that the term “the Ideal” is growing fashion-
able (Wieland, 1824; Teutscher Merkur, 1755). Moses
Mendelssohn seems to accept as early as 1757 the
doctrine of ideal beauty (Idealschönheit), but in its
natural-selective aspect only; he stresses its character
as an artificial whole of natural beautiful parts, as God
would have created, if his aim in creating every object
had been beauty alone. But Mendelssohn carefully
distinguishes ideal beauty from virtue: perfect virtue,
represented in art, does not correspond to the highest
beauty. For Mendelssohn, as for later authors, ideal
beauty does not apply to visual art only, but to art
in general (Mendelssohn, 1968; Goldstein, 1904). Some
time later he also uses “the Ideal” as a substantive,
and as “moral Ideal” too (Briefe, 1760-61).

Klopstock, on the contrary, discussing in 1760 a work
of Winckelmann, criticizes ideal beauty insofar as it
is claimed to be above nature (Klopstock, 1830). The
painter Mengs, a friend of Winckelmann, supported
a version of the natural-selective theory as a means
for reaching beauty, i.e., visible perfection; this is
achieved in a complete unity of the determined concept
of a thing with its representation, viz., of the Spiritual
with the Material; now, the Spiritual is also called the
Ideal (Mengs, 1762). Hagedorn accepts the doctrine
of ideal beauty, but he makes it almost subservient to
the more traditional theory of imitation (Hagedorn,
1762). Riedel seems to have noticed the different
aspects of Winckelmann's theory: he distinguishes
three kinds of Ideals in art: (1) real nature, (2) imagi-
nary ideal nature, and (3) original creation with very


few natural elements. Some “ideal” works of art are
not only “imaginative” but “intellectual,” i.e., they
summon “higher Ideas” into the mind of the observer.
In 1768 Riedel extended this doctrine to morality (“the
moral Ideal,” Das sittliche Ideal) (Riedel, 1767; 1768).

The notion of Ideal reaches at this time a consid-
erable diffusion. Herder discusses the ideal perfection
and beauty of the German language (Herder, 1767;
1877-1913). Lessing discusses the Ideal in dramatic
theory, and tries to retrace the origin of this term as
a noun to the Italian philosopher Lana Terzi, who in
fact had used it as an adjective only (Lessing, 1886-
1924; von Stein, 1886; Lana, 1670). The discussion
becomes so lively that it attracts the attention of aca-
demic philosophers such as Feder and Ferber, who try
to forestall possible interpretations of the doctrine of
the Ideal leading to the acceptance of some form of
nonempirical knowledge (as certainly Winckelmann
had meant). In fact, they reshape this theory within
the traditional frame of the psychology of their time:
Ideals originate from the senses, and are elaborated
by the imagination (Feder, 1770a; Ferber, 1770). In
the same spirit, Feder and Frömmichen try to identify
the Ideal with the traditional notion of universal con-
cept (Feder, 1770b; Frömmichen, 1771).

The term penetrates also into poetry, as shown by
Wieland (Wieland, 1771). In 1771, Sulzer devotes an
article of his famous aesthetical dictionary to the Ideal.
The “ideal form” is created by the genius of the artist
using empirical elements; still, Sulzer rejects the
natural-selective theory; the Ideal cannot result from
an assembly of singular traits, or it would represent
an individual only; on the contrary, the Ideal is the
sensuous representation of the abstract concept (or
Idea) of a genus or of a species as such (and therefore
it is superior to natural objects). Thus, a difference is
made between Idea (intellectual) and Ideal (sensitive);
and an Ideal represents not a single thing, but a kind
or type of things sub specie sensibilitatis, e.g., a virtue,
a temper, etc. (Sulzer, 1771-74). Sulzer's article, trans-
lated into French, was republished in the Encyclopédie
(Felice, 1770-75): thus, the term “the Ideal”
appeared for the first time as a substantive in a general
dictionary. Shortly thereafter, the art theorist Scheyb
devotes a long eclectic discussion to the Ideal (or Idea),
quoting many ancient and modern authorities (Scheyb,

The term Ideal appears in Kant's reflections be-
tween 1764 and 1768, both in aesthetics and in ethics,
but it is widely used by him only after 1770; between
1770 and 1780, the doctrine of the Ideal becomes an
important element in his philosophy. Ideals are basi-
cally distinguished from Ideas (although occasionally
they may be called Ideas). Both Ideas and Ideals are
principles of unity and ordinance of the empirical
multiplicity, as totalities preceding their parts; and
they are not of empirical origin (although a certain
kind of Ideal is called “empirical”). But an Idea (prop-
erly) cannot be intuited in concreto (can only be
thought abstractly), while an Ideal is an Idea as intuited
in concreto (or is the sensible representation of an Idea).
Ideals are either empirical or spiritual. In the first case
they are universal principles underlying every empiri-
cal object, as the transcendental unity (completion of
the synthesis) of the unlimited sensible world. In the
second case, they are original creations of the mind,
representing an example of perfection, which cannot
be found in the empirical world, relating an object to
its essential end; this perfection is in some cases a
maximum (something in its totality), in other cases an
average (the Ideal of a certain species of things, being
an average of the things belonging to that species).
According to another division, Ideals are either specu-
lative, or aesthetical, or pragmatic (Kant, 1910f.;
Schlapp, 1901; Schmucker, 1961; Tonelli, 1966). As in
many other cases, Kant has accepted and incorporated
into his system a notion current in his time, after having
submitted it to adequate changes.

In the meantime, the doctrine of the Ideal was
attacked from different quarters. The Sturm und Drang
group in its opposition sponsored a different aesthetic
theory; Lenz, for example (1774), opposed the “ab-
stract” ideal of beauty by offering instead the notion
of “characteristic” beauty (Lenz, 1949; R. Pascal,
1953). On the other hand, Lavater tried to rescue
natural from ideal beauty, stressing the natural-
selective theory of the Ideal, and contending that ideal
beauty is not supra-natural: on the contrary, it always
imitates some natural beauty without equalling it
(Lavater, 1777). Wieland responded immediately, con-
tending that there are several kinds of ideal works of
art: some originate from a process of natural selection,
but some others derive from an Ideal which is superior
to nature, generated in the artist's soul by a mysteri-
ous process, as if inspired by a god; some others are
a mixture of both kinds (Wieland, 1777). But the merely
empiricist view finds another supporter in Lossius
(Lossius, 1777). The doctrine of the Ideal grew so
popular, that in 1780 this term appears even in the
title of a tragedy (“The Ideal of Unfortunate Love, or
Kleodon, A Tragedy,” by F. Prinner, 1780).