Hegel’s Aesthetics.
Lectures on Fine Art

Volume I

Translator’s Preface

HEGEL’s lectures on Aesthetics have long been regarded as the most attractive of all the lectures which were published after his death, mainly from transcripts made by members of his audience. Their great strength and interest lies not in their main philosophical and historical thesis, but in what constitutes the bulk of these two volumes, namely the examples and illustrations drawn from India, Persia, Egypt, Greece, and the modern world, and in Hegel’s comments on this detail. These comments on art, perhaps especially on painting and literature, must be fascinating to a student of art, however much he may wish to dissent from them. Consequently, although Hegel professes to be lecturing on the philosophy of Fine Art, and although the lectures have a philosophical background (explicitly expressed here and there, and especially in Part I), it is lovers of art and historians of art whom primarily they ought to interest. (Professional philosophers already have the dry bones of Hegel’s philosophy of art in §§ 556-63 of his Encyclopaedia of the Philosophical Sciences – Eng. tr. by W. Wallace in Hegel’s Philosophy of Mind.) If a reader finds points laboured with tedious prolixity, and if he is annoyed by repetitions, he must remember that he has in front of him something composed mainly from transcripts of lectures, and not something which Hegel had himself prepared for publication.

Apart from their philosophical background, the lectures have a historical framework (Symbolic, Classical, and Romantic Art) which may be disputable, especially because Hegel says himself that elements of the later forms appear in the earlier and vice versa. But what is still more difficult is Hegel’s main thesis that not only has art a meaning but that we can now state in plain prose what that meaning is. That art has a meaning and that it reveals something transcending our everyday experience may be granted. But what that meaning and revelation is cannot be expressed otherwise than by the work of art itself. By professing to extract the meaning, Hegel is bound to conclude that art in the last resort is superfluous. If, as he thinks, Romantic art has the doctrines of the Christian religion as its content, then these are known independently of art, and their expression by art is unnecessary Although Hegel did feel that a new artistic development was heralded in Germany by Goethe and Schiller, this does not seem to have shaken his conviction that ‘art for us is a thing of the past’. His attempt, towards the end of vol. I, to show that art is after all necessary may seem weak. He died in 1831 and, despite the closing sentence of his Introduction, he had no inkling of the wonderful efflorescence of European Art in the remainder of the nineteenth century. If he had written a century later his pessimism might have been more justifiable.

These lectures were edited by H. G. Hotho and appeared for the first time in 1835 in three volumes of Hegel’s collected works. A second and revised edition appeared in 1842. Hotho’s materials were some of Hegel’s own manuscript notes for his lectures and transcripts of his lectures in 1823, 1826, and 1828-9. These Hotho worked into a whole with great skill. He kept as close as possible to Hegel, he says, but his aim was to produce a continuous text, and this means that we cannot be sure in detail whether some of the phraseology is his (rather than Hegel’s), or whether inconsistencies are due to Hegel’s changes of mind after 1823.

In 1931 Georg Lasson began to publish what was to be a completely new edition of the lectures. Owing to his death, the first volume, Die Idee and das Ideal (Leipzig, 1931), had no successor. It contains what in this translation is the Introduction and Part I. Lasson’s desire was to preserve every possible word of Hegel’s; he was dissatisfied with what he regarded as Hotho’s modifications of Hegel’s ipsissima verba. His book (referred to below and elsewhere as ‘Lasson’) is based primarily on a reproduction of the 1826 lectures, supplemented occasionally by those of 1823, and frequently by extracts from Hotho’s printed edition. It does provide some material which Hotho had omitted, and I have included in footnotes one or two extracts from it. In the main, however, the impression left on the mind by this book is that Hotho did his work brilliantly.

Lasson (p. 393) lamented the fact that Glockner had included Hotho’s first edition, and not the second, in his reprint of the collected works. This determined me to make this translation from Hotho’s second edition. This edition is scarce, but it has now been reprinted (Berlin and Weimar, 2 vols., 1965), edited by F. Bassenge who has made some alterations and provided a truly magnificent index to which I am much indebted. About his text, however, I have some misgivings. He never indicates his departures from the text of Hotho’s second edition and sometimes even prints errors in the first edition although they were corrected in the second. And while he does correct some of the misprints in the second edition, he does not correct them all. For an ample bibliography of editions and translations of these lectures, and of studies on them, see Hegel-Studien 5 (Bonn, 1969), pp. 379-427.

These lectures were first translated by Ch. Benard (5 vols., Paris, 1840-52). Although he omits some difficult passages, his version is faithful and often illuminating. I am in debt to it. I cannot say so much for the more recent French translation by S. jankelevitch (4 vols., Paris, 1944), because while some of Benard’s omissions are made good, there are fresh ones. The translator resorts too often to paraphrase, and in general his version is too free to be faithful to Hegel. English translations began with W. M. Bryant who produced (New York, 1879) a translation of Part II of the lectures, partly from Benard’s French, and partly from Hotho’s second edition. His work is not to be despised. In 1905 Bosanquet published a translation of Hegel’s Introduction, superseding a partial translation by W. Hastie (1886). This is a model translation of Hegel and it has valuable footnotes. A complete English translation was made for the first time by F. P. B. Osmaston (4 vols., London, 1916-20). My aim has been to supersede Osmaston’s version. He seems to me to have made a large number of mistakes and to have been quite unnecessarily verbose. Moreover there are oddities, e.g. ‘modern Platonists’ for Neo-Platonists, and when Hegel mentions medieval portraits we do not expect to find them described as ‘portraits of middle-aged men’, and we may be surprised to read of Ariosto’s ‘raging Roland’ or ‘the correspondence of Horace’. However, I live in a glass house, and my own version cannot be beyond cavil. If others have paraphrased too much, I may have paraphrased too little, and some may think that I ought to have preserved more of Hotho’s italics than I have. Errors I have doubtless made, but I have not omitted anything, so far as I know. At times my English may be more Hegelian than felicitous, because of my wish to be faithful to Hegel and to be as literal as possible; and where Hegel’s enthusiasm leads to mixed metaphors, I have not unmixed them.

All the footnotes, and everything in square brackets in the text, are the translator’s.

There are no notes to speak of in either the German texts or the French translations, but Bassenge’s index does provide some material for annotation. Osmaston has notes, but all too often they are either unnecessary, or wrong, or unintelligible. My own notes will come in for criticism. I know that some of them must be amateurish where the subject matter is beyond the scope of my scholarship. The personal note audible in a few of them must be put down to my occasional need for some relief. One critic will complain that there are too many notes, while another will complain that there are too few. The former critic must reflect that not everyone can claim (I certainly cannot) to have at his command the range of knowledge evidenced in these lectures, and so, e.g., the notes on Greek and Latin literature, superfluous to a classical scholar, may not be unwelcome to another whose expertise is different. With the latter critic I have much sympathy, for while I have tried to identify all Hegel’s references, some have escaped me. Moreover, what is required, and it is no credit to German scholarship that it has not yet been forthcoming, is annotation to place Hegel’s discussion in the context of aesthetic discussions by his contemporaries and immediate seniors, and to identify far more of his allusions to German literature than I have been able to do.

Whatever the deficiencies in my notes, they would have been multiplied if I had not had the help of many scholars who have so generously come to my aid. One or two are mentioned in the notes, but I am especially indebted to Mr. Huntington Cairns, Professors B. Ashmole, A. J. Beattie, C. T. Carr, K. J. Dover, E. H. Gombrich, T. B. L. Webster, W. Witte, and T. E. Wright.

My debt is greatest to Professor Witte, not only for notes but also for help in many passages of the translation. For other passages in vol. I, I am indebted also to Mr. T. J. Reed of St. John’s College, Oxford, who went over several pages with meticulous care and saved me from many mistakes.

All errors and failures in the notes and the translation are to be laid to my charge alone. All these scholars are guiltless.

Hegel’s terminology, however forbidding, is precise and rigid in his later published works, though not here. Those who take the trouble to understand it have little difficulty in following his thought. But it does create formidable difficulties for a translator. Some day, perhaps, someone who thinks in English will re-think Hegel’s philosophy and its terminology and put it all into English – if indeed it be possible to put into a language framed by and for empiricism what Hegel calls ‘speculative’, i.e. really philosophical, thinking – but, until that day comes, some attempt must be made to accept and then explain Hegel’s terminology and the outlook expressed in it. Therefore the following notes on (a) Hegel’s fundamental outlook, and (b) some of his terms and their translation, may assist a reader unfamiliar with his work. It is unfortunate that his own introductory passages are so often obscure, because many things mentioned in them are clarified by the examples and illustrations which follow.

(a) Hegel’s philosophy is a form of idealism. (Terms often used in the translation are italicized here.) In his view, what is ultimately real (or, in his terminology, what is actual) is the selfknowing spirit. This is not to deny reality to the world in which we live or to ourselves as sensuous beings, but, although these are real, they are not, taken in and by themselves, actual. What is actual is not the real, but the ideal, and Hegel’s point might be put, in his own paradoxical manner, by saying that the ideal is more really real than the real. The ideal is the synthesis of concept and reality, or, in art, of meaning and shape. This synthesis is what Hegel calls the Idea. ‘The Idea existent in sensible form is the Ideal, i.e. beauty, which itself is truth implicit’ (G. R. G. Mure: The Philosophy of Hegel, London, 1965, p. 185). A deformed man is real, but, being deformed, is not an adequate ‘embodiment’ or ‘realization’ or ‘existence’ of the Concept or essential nature of man, and therefore is not ‘actual’. Hegel’s Idea is ultimately derived from the Platonic ‘form’ or ‘idea’, but it differs from Plato’s by being a combination of concept with reality. It is not just an ‘ideal’, because, as Hegel would say, it is not so impotent as not also to exist.

The complete correspondence of concept and reality is not to be found anywhere in nature, or even in human beings in so far as they are bodies or sensuous beings. This is because things external to one another cannot completely correspond with concepts or categories which, as thoughts, form a whole internally interconnected. It is when man’s mind has risen to self-consciousness as spirit that in spirit and its productions the oppositions between universal and particular, subject and object, ideal and real, divine and human, are ultimately reconciled in a concrete unity. Knowledge and fact may, at the intellectual level of natural science, be opposed to one another as universal to particular, but, when the fact known is man’s spiritual self, knower and known become a unity in which the difference between the two is not expunged but retained and mediated or reconciled.

It is important to notice that the one essential route to man’s knowledge of himself as spirit is through his knowledge of what is other than his true self, i.e. through knowledge and experience of living in what is opposite to him as man (i.e. in nature) or opposite to him as an individual (i.e. ultimately, in the state), and through being reflected back into himself out of this opposite or object. Hegel is fond of this metaphor. The eye does not see itself except through its reflection in a mirror. Consciousness becomes aware of itself by being aware of objects and then by being reflected back into itself from them.

The background of all this is theological (whatever may be thought of Hegel’s theology): At first God thinks the thoughts or concepts which, particularized, or given embodiment or shape, are nature and man. In coming to know these concepts, man comes to know his own essence and so to consciousness of himself as self-conscious and self-knowing spirit. This is at the same time a consciousness of being united with God in a concrete unity, not vanished in him as happens, according to Hegel’s interpretation, in some Eastern religions.

This logico-theological process is figurated in the characteristics of religion which Hegel regards as peculiarly Christian: God, the infinite spirit, is spirit only because he particularizes or embodies himself in a man (the Incarnation). As man, he endures all the pains of an earthly lot, even unto the ‘infinite grief’ of the Crucifixion, but he is raised from death in the Resurrection, and then elevated to glory in the Ascension. Before the infinite spirit can commune with itself as spirit it must become embodied or particularized in the finite, endure the pain of self-diremption (the harshness of the finite spirit’s death), and then, and only then, rise to being self-conscious and infinite spirit.

From this it follows that the negative, the finite as the opposite and cancellation of the infinite, is a necessary factor or ‘moment’ in the infinite spirit itself. The Incarnation is necessary. In order to become infinite spirit, which it implicitly is from the start, the spirit must negate itself, posit itself as finite, and then, negating this negation (i.e. as ‘infinite negativity’) rise through Resurrection and Ascension to a concrete infinity, concrete because achieved through becoming particular and being enriched through it and arising out of it, while still comprehending it in itself.

This vision of the necessity of contradiction (or the negative), and the equal necessity of transcending this bare opposition and reconciling the negative with the positive, is the prerogative of reason as distinct from the Understanding. Where this Kantian distinction is clearly implied, Verstand and its derivatives are translated by ‘Understanding’ with a capital letter. Elsewhere Verstand is ‘intellect’ and verständig is even translated ‘mathematical’ in some architectural contexts.

For Hegel, the outlook of the Understanding, or the scientific intellect, is one for which oppositions and contradictions are absolute. The universal (e.g. a natural species) is indifferent to and outside the particulars (the universal ‘apple’ is an abstraction from and indifferent to all real apples), and this is an essential characteristic of all science. (’science’ here is used in the modern English sense in which ‘science’ is distinguished from ‘arts’. In Hegel’s Wissenschaft there is no such distinction, but unless the context indicates otherwise, he means by ‘science’ ‘philosophy’ or the procedure of reason instead of that of the Understanding.) Reason is not concerned with genera and species in a Linnaean classification, but only with the categories in which the concept or essence of natural life is particularized. These categories Hegel expounds in his Philosophy of Nature.

Everything in nature is finite, bounded by something else. But spirit is infinite. This conception of the infinite occurs frequently in these lectures, and it may need some explanation. A straight line prolonged indefinitely is an image of what Hegel calls the ‘bad’ infinite; the true infinite is better imaged as a circle, i.e. as a line which does not go on indefinitely but returns into itself. The infinite, for Hegel, is not the boundless, but the self-bounded. Spirit as self-conscious, is infinite because in self-consciousness subject and object coincide. Mere consciousness is limited by the objects of which it is conscious and therefore is finite. In self-consciousness this limitation vanishes. The stones forming a cairn have a unity in the cairn, but this is only an abstract and finite unity; the stones are indifferent to one another and are unaltered whether they are collected into a cairn or remain scattered on the hillside. The unity of lovers is quite different; it is a concrete and infinite unity because each of them is necessary to the other and is what he is because the other is; the unity of their love is constitutive of their very being.

(b) Hegel prided himself on having taught philosophy to speak German. He tries to use ordinary German words and to avoid technical and Latin terminology. It might seem, therefore, that ordinary German words could be translated directly into ordinary English. But this is not always so. Hegel imposes a technical sense of his own on some ordinary German words (e.g. das Moment, or gesetzt), but then he uses these words sometimes in his technical sense and sometimes in their ordinary sense. The translator must make up his mind whether one of these words is being used technically or ordinarily and adapt his translation accordingly. The same English word will not always suffice to render the same German word. This must be premissed to the following notes on some of the terms commonly used in these lectures.

Begriff is translated here by ‘Concept’ in technical passages, but I have often tried to bring out the meaning in English by writing ‘essential nature’, or even ‘nature’ or ‘essence’. Hegel himself sometimes uses ‘essence’ as a synonym for ‘Concept’. But his idealism must be kept in mind: for him, the essential nature of everything is a concept or thought. Other translators prefer ‘notion’ in English instead of ‘Concept’, but that is no more intelligible in English, and moreover it carries the suggestion of being something arbitrary or something not thought out, and this is the reverse of Hegel’s meaning. ‘Concept’ does at least preserve, in its derivation, the idea of gripping together, on which Hegel insists in his use of Begriff.

Idee is translated ‘Idea’, with a capital letter; ‘idea’ without a capital is Vorstellung, i.e. ‘whatsoever is the object of the understanding when a man thinks’.

Moment. In the neuter, this means feature, or factor, or element. But, following other translators (of Kant as well as Hegel), I have translated it by ‘moment’ in passages where I think that Hegel has in mind his technical use of the word to mean a stage essential in the development of the Concept or the Idea. Here the stages follow one another (logically, not temporally) in a necessary order, and the earlier are not left behind but retained in the later. An example is the series ‘universal, particular, individual’. The second is the negative of the first; the third negates the second and so is positive (the negation of the negation or what Hegel calls ‘infinite – or absolute – negativity’) and a return to the first which is now thus given a content, i.e. is enriched by its particular ‘nasal condition’, one of Osmaston’s renderings of Moment, seems to me to be neither German nor English.

Dasein and Existenz. Hegel distinguishes between these in his Logic, but since the distinction could be preserved in English only by circumlocution (and is not preserved in these lectures), I have translated both by ‘existence’. It must be remembered, however, that ‘existence’ or ‘existent’ here always means an embodiment, something determinate or ‘real’ as opposed to ‘ideal’. When some modern theologians say that ‘God is beyond existence’ etc., they appear to be using the word in this sense, as well as remembering Plato.

Realität – reality, in much the same sense as ‘existence’. In the Philosophy of Right, for example, Hegel clearly distinguishes it from Wirklichkeit, which there means ‘actuality’. But in these lectures this distinction is seldom used, and Wirklichkeit has its ordinary German sense of ‘reality’, and it has been so translated.

Moralität and Sittlichkeit. When Hegel is writing technically he distinguishes between these, though both words mean ‘morality’. So distinguished, the first is ‘morality’ as something subjective or personal, i.e. conscientiousness, while the second is ‘ethical life’, objective and social, i.e. living conscientiously in accordance with custom or established institutions. This distinction is made in these lectures, but only rarely. Almost everywhere Hegel uses sittlich to mean what in English is covered by the blanket term ‘moral’, and it has been so translated.

unmittelbar, frequently used, is generally translated ‘immediately’ or ‘directly’. In any case, this has nothing to do with time but means ‘without an intermediary’, or ‘without the interposition of anything’, or what something is at the start before its implicit nature becomes explicit through the negative process already described above.

gesetzt is one of Hegel’s favourite words. It ordinarily means ‘put’ or ‘set’ or ‘laid down’, but sometimes I have had to follow other translators by adopting the awkward word ‘posited’. Hegel above. It is sometimes in a way analogous to the English use of ‘cashed’ when, e.g., plain sense has to be given to what a metaphor is supposed to convey.

sinnlich – ‘sensuous’ represents Hegel’s meaning, but it is unnatural English in many contexts, and therefore ‘perceptible’ has been used occasionally. ‘Sensuous’ is opposed to ‘intellectual’. A sensuous man, in Hegel’s meaning, is simply a man who uses his five senses, or who ‘perceives’ rather than ‘thinks’.

Absolut – in English ‘Absolute’, with a capital when it is a noun. ‘Absolute’, ‘absolute Idea’, ‘absolute meaning’, ‘absolute Concept’, all appear in these lectures, and they are best regarded, at least in most contexts, as synonyms for God.

Geist means both ‘mind’ and spirit’. I have kept ‘spirit’ almost everywhere, except where the context cries out for ‘mind’, and where that cannot be misleading. ‘Spirit’ has the religious overtones to which Hegel attached importance in his use of this word. For him the ‘mind’ of man is the spirit which is the ‘candle of the Lord’.

I am deeply grateful both to the Librarian and Staff of the St. Andrews University Library for answering many queries, and to the Leverhulme Trustees for awarding me an Emeritus Fellowship in 1972 to enable me to complete my work for publication.

Crieff, January 1973