Digital Commons@RISD Home > Division of Liberal Arts > Contemporary Aesthetics (Journal Archive) > Vol. 9 (2011)
I look back at the history of modern aesthetics to grasp its current situation and to propose its possibilities for the future. The early modern period, during which aesthetics came into being, was a great historical turning point for civilization. Our contemporary period shares this character, and it is worthwhile for us to consult its history in order to reflect on our civilization. Aesthetics began with Baumgarten’s proposal, which consisted in a triple subject: sensibility, beauty, and art. His idea was accepted because it responded to the fundamental problems of the period. Sensibility was the only form of cognition of value in a re-formed world (Pascal). Art existed in three forms: official, social, and solitary and reflective. The first (San Pietro and Versailles) promoted art to the rank of high culture, and it was the third form that presented aesthetics as the philosophy of art. But in the early modern period, aesthetics was first of all the philosophy of beauty because beauty guaranteed the rationality and order of the new world (Shaftesbury, Malebranche). Modern aesthetics, however, was a philosophy of art under the general trends of anthropocentrism. The pursuit of originality led to Duchamp’s Fountain, after which there remains nothing new for art to do. We now confront urgent problems, such as global warming and conflict between different civilizations, etc., which suggest the need for changing the way of managing the world. Under this situation, I think aesthetics holds new and real possibilities for the philosophy of beauty.