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jlb.alb7.art.love.beauty.plato.baumgarten.aesthetics - Art...

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Art, Love, and Beauty 7 2/5/08 Harries 1 7. Beauty as Sensible Perfection 1 Three lectures ago I called your attention to the fact that Socrates, after he proved to Agathon that he did not know what he was speaking about when he praised love, nevertheless calls his speech beautiful. I then raised the question: how is beauty here to be understood? Clear is that while Diotima will link the beautiful and the good, the beauty that Socrates ascribes to Agathon's speech is quite explicitly divorced from the good and from the true. Agathon's audience enjoys his speech for its beautiful appearance, which is appreciated for its own sake, not because it makes its audience better in any way. His speech entertains his audience and that is what it, with the exception of Socrates, demands. There is then the suggestion that there are two kinds of beauty, one linked to the true and the good, and the other divorced from it? It is this divorce of the beautiful from the good and the true that is, as I shall try to show in this and the following lectures, a defining characteristic of the aesthetic approach. When Socrates calls Agathon's speech beautiful, I want to suggest, he uses the word in what we can call an aesthetic sense. As I suggested in the first lecture, my goal in this course is to understand and to question this aesthetic approach. To do so we must also understand the significance and the presuppositions of this divorce of the beautiful from the good.
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Art, Love, and Beauty 7 2/5/08 Harries 2 2 Baumgarten's Meditations on Poetry help put his problem into focus. In a way all that I have to say about Baumgarten could be understood as an unfolding of that definition of our experience of the beautiful, or of what we can call aesthetic experience, that I gave you last time: aesthetic experience is defined by Baumgarten as a perception of perfection that is clear, but not distinct. In my last lecture I spent some time on what Baumgarten means by a perception that is clear, but not distinct. Sensation provides the paradigm. You should ask yourself how Baumgarten's understanding of the beautiful as sensed perfection related to the Socratic understanding of the beautiful as the object of love, where you should keep in mind the distinction between a contemplative and a procreative eros, between a love that wants to return the self to a state of wholeness resembling that of Aristophanes' circlemen and another that wants to give birth. But let me return to Baumgarten’s account. To understand aesthetic experience as a perception of perfection that is clear, but not distinct is to place it in opposition to the clear and distinct perception demanded by scientific understanding. The split between two kinds of perception is crucial here. To that split corresponds the distinction between two kinds of discourse, one aiming at what Baumgarten calls intensive, the other at extensive clarity.
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