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Dictionary of the History of Ideas

Studies of Selected Pivotal Ideas
170 occurrences of ideology
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170 occurrences of ideology
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TO 1780


“The Ideal,” as a substantive, does not appear in
French or in German earlier than the eighteenth cen-
tury, and appears in Italian, in Spanish, and in English
still later (probably not before the late eighteenth
century). The adjective, “ideal,” is of course much
more ancient (Latin: idealis); “the Ideal” derives, as
a substantivized adjective, from some of its uses.

The history of the notion of ideal as an adjective
mainly belongs to that of the substantive it derives
from, “Idea”; among its various meanings, as
“phenomenal” (versus “real”: ideal space or time) or
as “imaginary” (versus “true”), “intelligible” (versus
“sensitive”) is important in this context as the origin
of The Ideal.

This meaning derives from the Platonic tradition in
general, sponsoring the view that an exemplar or
archetype of the world is thought by God, and may,
on certain conditions, be partly apprehended by man,
although not empirically. This exemplar reveals part
of the true structure of the existing world, as opposed
to the distorted representation of it which man gains
through the senses; and in another aspect (as a norma-
exemplar) it represents a maximum of perfection
which should be pursued, but can hardly ever be
reached within the existing world.

In the first sense it is used in metaphysics (e.g.,
Norris, 1701-04), in the second chiefly in aesthetics
(particularly in art theory) and in ethics. It is in this
second (normative) sense that “ideal,” as ideal beauty
or goodness, gave birth to a substantive, the Ideal of
beauty or of goodness, as a more specific synonym of
that Idea lying at the foundation of that beauty or
goodness (in order to distinguish it from empirical
ideas). As such, the term “ideal” at first was used
indiscriminately as synonymous with the “Idea of
Beauty,” and later tended to supplant it; in a few cases
both were used, but a more sophisticated distinction
was introduced between them. The doctrine of ideal
beauty leading to the ideal of beauty is a late develop-
ment of aesthetic Neo-Platonism, advanced in Italy
chiefly by G. P. Bellori in 1664. Reacting against both
mannerism and Caravaggio's naturalism in painting,
Bellori asserts that true beauty can be reached neither
by abstract intuition nor by illumination (as most of
the earlier Platonists assumed), nor through the simple
imitation of natural objects. Beauty requires a perfec-
tion which cannot be found in nature, but which can
be reached through the study of nature only: beauties
perceived in different natural objects should be selected
according to a mental standard of perfection, and
combined into an imaginary representation or Idea
more perfect than any natural thing, as an exemplar
for the work of art. The tale of Zeuxis, combining the
charms of five different real virgins in order to create
his image of Helen of Troy becomes again, as of old,
the symbol of an artistic theory. Thus, ideal beauty
is considered to have, against the older Platonic tradi-
tion, a kind of empirical foundation; nevertheless, the
mind creates on this foundation something supra-
natural, according to an interior (nonempirical) stand-
ard of perfection. Similar natural-selective doctrines
were propagated by Bernini, Félibien, Du Fresnoy,
Fréart de Chambray (Panofsky, 1926; Bredvold, 1934).

The Idea of goodness, again, is part and parcel of
the Platonic tradition as a nonempirical representation
of perfect goodness; with this generic meaning, this
term was used also by other philosophical schools
(Micraelius, 1662). Bayle mentioned a bonté idéale
intended as sovereign goodness—in God (Bayle, 1720
ed.); the expression, however, was rather ambiguous,
so that Crousaz, criticizing Bayle, could misinterpret
it as “imaginary” goodness (Crousaz, 1733).


However, aesthetics had a prominent part in the
evolution of the idea in question. The Dutch critic ten
Kate seems to have been the first to use Ideal as a
substantive (also Idéalité), in a sense still very close
to that of Bellori; but for him the peak (partie sublime)
of the Ideal is a je ne sais quoi, being an harmonieuse
a touchante Unité, a convenance pathétique
(ten Kate, 1728). This doctrine played a leading role
in Diderot's aesthetics, where it underwent some im-
portant transformations: the Idea or the ideal model,
far from being extra-empirical, is conceived almost as


of experimental origin, and understood as representing
the perfect “type” of a certain kind of objects. The
Idea is animated through imagination and feeling, and
is strictly connected with moral values: every great
Idea is a moral maxim, and is, at the same time, the
unity of the work of art (Belaval, 1950). The influence
of Diderot's doctrine of the ideal model was limited
by the fact that his most significant works in this con-
nection were published posthumously. The Ideal, as
a substantive, is used by Diderot only occasionally, and
probably not before 1765 (Diderot, 1875-77 ed.).

Otherwise, eighteenth-century French authors are
not very receptive to “ideal” aesthetics. Batteux,
among the few, gives attention (1746) to the beau idéal
(Batteux, 1764); and Louis Racine distinguishes, in art,
between le vrai simple and le vrai idéal, which
“embellishes” (embellit) (Racine, 1747). The Dutch
philosopher and critic Hemsterhuis at times mentions
(1769) ideal beauty (Hemsterhuis, 1846). Ideal, as a
substantive, is not listed in Diderot's Encyclopédie; it
appears for the first time in 1777 in the Supplement
to this work, in an article influenced by Winckelmann,
Mengs, and probably by Sulzer (Nouveau Dictionnaire,
1776-77). British aesthetics, although permeated in
some of its principal trends by Platonism, makes little
use of the terms in question. In his original elaboration
of the notion we are studying, Shaftesbury (Charac-
1711) uses, for example, such expressions as
“forming forms,” “interior numbers,” etc. (Shaftesbury,
1790). But Webb discusses “ideal” or “inventive”
(versus imitative) painting (Webb, 1740); and Sir Joshua
Reynolds (writing in the 1770's) fully revives Bellori's
doctrine of the “Idea of Beauty” (Reynolds, 1884).


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).


C. Batteux, Traité des beaux arts réduits à un seul principe
(1747), in Principes de la littérature (Paris, 1764), I, 122. P.
Bayle, Dictionnaire historique et critique (Amsterdam, 1734),
art. “Origène,” n. E. Y. Belaval, L'esthétique sans paradoxe
de Diderot
(Paris, 1950), pp. 96-121. L. I. Bredvold, “The


Tendency towards Platonism in Neoclassical Esthetics,” in
English Literary History, 1 (1934). Briefe, die neueste Litera-
tur betreffend
(1760), V, 124; IX, 56. J.-P. de Crousaz,
Examen du Pyrrhonisme ancien & moderne (The Hague,
1733), p. 560a. D. Diderot, Oeuvres complètes, ed. J. Assézat
and M. Tourneux, 20 vols. (Paris, 1875-77), X, iii; XI, 206,
238 (Salons of 1765 and 1767). J. G. Feder, Lehrbuch der
praktischen Philosophie
(Göttingen and Gotha, 1770a), p.
97; idem, Logik und Metaphysik (Göttingen and Gotha,
1770b), p. 148. F. B. de Felice, Encyclopédie, ou dictionnaire
universel raisonné des connaissances humaines
1770-75), Vol. XXIV (1773), art. “Idéal.” J. C. C. Ferber, Ver-
(Helmstädt and Magdeburg, 1770), p. 67. K. H.
Frömmichen, Briefe philosophischen Inhalts (Göttingen,
1771), p. 58. L. Goldstein, M. Mendelssohn und die deutsche
(Königsberg, 1904), pp. 45f. C. L. von Hagedorn,
Betrachtungen über die Mahlerei, 2 vols. (Leipzig, 1762),
Von den Grenzen der Nachahmung, pp. 85-89. F. Hem-
sterhuis, Lettre sur la sculpture (1769), in Oeuvres philoso-
(Leeuwarden, 1846), I, 38, 41. J. G. Herder, Frag-
mente über die neuere deutsche Literatur
(1767), Samml. I,
3, Beschluss, in Sämtliche Werke, ed. B. Suphan, 33 vols.
(Berlin, 1877-1913), I, 50. I. Kant, Gesammelte Schriften,
ed. Die Preuss. Akademie der Wissenschaften (Berlin and
Leipzig, 1910f.), XIX, 95-96, n. 6584, 108, n. 6611; II,
395-96; XV, 330, n. 757, 342, n. 782, 390, n. 892, 393, n. 900,
403, n. 918; XXVIII, 308-09. F. H. Klopstock, Sämtliche
(Leipzig, 1823-30), XVI, 129. F. Lana Terzi, Pro-
dromo, ovvero saggio di alcune inventioni nuove
1670), Ch. II. J. C. Lavater, Physiognomische Fragmente
zur Beförderung der Menschen-Kenntniss und Menschen-
3 vols. (Leipzig and Winterthur, 1775-78), III, 41f.
J. M. R. Lenz, “Anmerkungen übers Theater” (1774), in
Sturm und Drang. Kritische Schriften, ed. E. Loewenthal
(Heidelberg, 1949), p. 728. G. E. Lessing, Gesammelte
eds. Lachmann and Muncker, 23 vols. (Stuttgart
and Leipzig, 1886-1924), IX, 281; XV, 288. J. C. Lossius,
Unterricht der gesunden Vernunft (Gotha, 1777), p. 243.
M. Mendelssohn, Ueber die Hauptgrundsätze (1757), in
Schriften zur Philosophie, Aesthetik und Apologetik, ed.
Brasch (Hildesheim, 1968), II, 151f.; idem, DieIdeal-
(1759), ibid., II, 283f. R. Mengs, Gedanken über
die Schönheit und über den Geschmack in der Mahlerei

(Zurich, 1762), Ch. I, sec. 5. J. Micraelius, lexicon philo-
sophicum terminorum philosophis usitatorum
(Stettin, 1662),
col. 219. J. Norris, An Essay towards the Theory of the Ideal
or Intelligible World
(London, 1702-04). Nouveau Diction-
naire pour servir de Supplément au Dictionnaire des Sciences

... (Paris and Amsterdam, 1776-77), art. “Idéal.” E.
Panofsky, Idea, Ein Beitrag zur Begriffsgeschichte der älteren
(Leipzig and Berlin, 1924), Ch. V. R. Pascal,
The German Sturm und Drang (Manchester, 1953), Ch. VIII.
F. Prinner, Das Ideal unglücklicher Liebe, oder Kleodon,
Ein Trauerspiel
(Salzburg, 1780). L. Racine, Réflexions sur
la poésie,
in Oeuvres (Paris, 1747), III, 253. J. Reynolds,
Discourses, ed. E. Gosse (London, 1884), Discourses III and
IV (1770-71). F. J. Riedel, Theeorie der schönen Künste und
(Jena, 1767), pp. 23, 26, 29, 345; idem, eber
das Publicum. Briefe an einige Glieder desselben
1768), p. 72. F. C. von Scheyb, Orestrio von den drey
Künsten der Zeichnung
(Vienna, 1774), pp. 22f. O. Schlapp,
kants Lehre vom Genie und die Entstehung der “Kritik der
(Göttingen, 1901), pp. 102, 137, 142, 165, 172,
201-02. J. Schmucker, DieUrsprünge der Ethik Kants
(Meisenheim am Glan, 1961), pp. 308-14. Anthony Ashley
Cooper, Third Earl of Shaftesbury, Characteristicks of men,
manners, opinions, times
(1711; Basel, 1790), I, 117, 286; II,
327, 333-39, 343, 351; III, 150-52. K. H. von Stein, Die
Entstehung der neueren Aesthetik
(Stuttgart, 1886), p. 389.
J. G. Sulzer, Allgemeine Theorie der schönen Künste
(Leipzig, 1771-74), Vol. I, art. “Ideal.” L. H. ten Kate,
Discours préliminaire sur le beau idéal, in J. Richardson and
J. Richardson, Jr., Traité de la peinture et de la sculpture,
trans. L. H. ten Kate (Amsterdam, 1728), III, vi f. Der
teutsche Merkur,
4 (1755), 62. G. Tonelli, “Kant's Early
Theory of Genius (1770-1779),” in The Journal of the History
of Philosophy,
4 (1966), 117f., 126f., 129f. D. Webb, An
Inquiry into the Beauties of Painting
(London, 1740), p. 4.
C. M. Wieland, Der neue Amadis (Leipzig, 1771), 7, 30f.;
9, 31; 11, 29; idem, “Gedanken über die Ideale der Alten,”
Der teutsche Merkur, 2 and 4 (1777); idem, Sämtliche
ed. J. G. Gruber, 56 vols. (Leipzig, 1824-28), XLIV,
85. F. Will, Intelligible Beauty in Aesthetic Thought. From
Winckelmann to Victor Cousin
(Tübingen, 1958), pp. 92f.
J. J. Winckelmann, Sämtliche Werke, ed. J. Eiselein
(Donaueschingen, 1825-29), Vol. I, Beschreibung des Torso,
secs. 1, 14; Vols. III-VI, Geschichte der Kunst des Altertums,
Book IV, Ch. II, secs. 20, 22, 25, 33, 35; Book V, Ch. I,
secs. 1, 39, 40; Book XI, Ch. III, secs. 11, 12. H. Zeller,
Winckelmanns Beschreibung des Apollo im Belvedere
(Zurich, 1955), pp. 130f., 140f.


[See also Art and Play; Beauty; Idea; Neo-Classicism; Neo-
Platonism; Taste.]