Alexander Gottlieb Baumgarten

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Alexander Gottlieb Baumgarten : biography

July 17, 1714 – May 26, 1762

Biography

Baumgarten was born in Berlin as the fifth of seven sons of the pietist pastor of the garrison, Jacob Baumgarten, and of his wife Rosina Elisabeth. Both his parents died early, and he was taught by Martin Georg Christgau where he learned Hebrew and became interested in Latin poetry.

Whilst words may change their meaning spontaneously through cultural developments, Baumgarten’s reappraisal of aesthetics is often seen as the key moment in the development of aesthetic philosophy. Previously the word aesthetics had merely meant "sensibility" or "responsiveness to stimulation of the senses" in its use by ancient writers. With the development of art as a commercial enterprise linked to the rise of a nouveau riche class across Europe, the purchasing of art inevitably lead to the question, "what is good art?". Baumgarten developed aesthetics to mean the study of good and bad "taste", thus good and bad art, linking good taste with beauty.

By trying to develop an idea of good and bad taste, he also in turn generated philosophical debate around this new meaning of aesthetics. Without it, there would be no basis for aesthetic debate as there would be no objective criterion, basis for comparison, or reason from which one could develop an objective argument.

Views on aesthetics

Aesthetica (1750) by Alexander Gottlieb Baumgarten Baumgarten appropriated the word aesthetics, which had always meant sensation, to mean taste or "sense" of beauty. In so doing, he gave the word a different significance, thereby inventing its modern usage. The word had been used differently since the time of the ancient Greeks to mean the ability to receive stimulation from one or more of the five bodily senses. In his Metaphysic, § 451, Baumgarten defined taste, in its wider meaning, as the ability to judge according to the senses, instead of according to the intellect. Such a judgment of taste is based on feelings of pleasure or displeasure. A science of aesthetics would be, for Baumgarten, a deduction of the rules or principles of artistic or natural beauty from individual "taste." Baumgarten may have been motivated to respond to Pierre Bonhours’ opinion, published in a pamphlet in the late 17th century, that Germans were incapable of appreciating art and beauty.