|Alexander Gottlieb Baumgarten, 1714 - 1762|
When Wolff left his post in Halle because of the atheism controversy, a philosophical vacuum was all that left. Around the end of 1730s this vacuum was finally filled by a new eminent figure, Alexander Baumgarten. It is two early pieces of Baumgarten I am looking at in this post.
The first of these works, Dissertatio chorographica, Notiones superi et inferi, indeque adscensus et descensus, in chorographiis sacris occurentes, evolvens does not deserve a careful study, because it is mainly of historical worth as Baumgarten's dissertation. It is not so much a philosophical, but a theological study of the presence of notions like superior and inferior or ascend and descend in the Bible. Baumgarten's main point is that while the words have a literal meaning of higher and lower or moving to a higher place and moving to a lower place, the words are also used in a figurative sense: superior is not just physically higher place, but better, just like Heaven is superior to Earth and Earth superior to Hell.
Somewhat more interesting is Baumgarten's work on poetry, Meditationes philosophicae de nonnullis ad poema pertinentibus, especially as Baumgarten was later known as the instigator of aesthetical studies – indeed, the word aesthetics itself is already used in this early work. Baumgarten shows his clear Wolffian heritage especially in his manner of carefully defining all the terms he uses in his discussion. Thus, we hear that oration, for instance, is a series of sounds which are connected with some significance – ”Peter picked a pickled penny” is so an oration, because it consists of certain combinations of sounds that have a meaning. As these combinations or words have representations as their significance, orations reveal certain connections between representations.
In poetry, then, the words signify usually sensuous representations, that is, representations belonging to what in Wolffian psychology is taken as an inferior faculty of representation. Of course, even quite prosaic sentences fall under that description – ”Cat is sitting on a mat” is not a true poem, but it still refers to sensitive representations of things like cat, Poetry is differentiated from such sensitive representations by being more perfect – perfection means here especially that poems reveal more connections between various sensuous representations.
This rather summarised ideal of a poem leads then to various principles of a good poem – these principles or rules then constitute poetics. Poems themselves, like all orations, contain three distinct features: the words themselves as mere sounds, the significance of the words or representations and their connections. Starting with the first feature, the words as mere sounds are important only as producing sensuous pleasure – thus, poems are expected to have pleasing rhythm and soothing melody.
Most of Baumgarten's rules concern representations or their connections. Thus, we hear Baumgarten pronouncing that representations occasioned by poems must be more vivid than other orations. Thus, these representations must feature as many aspects of the topic of the poem as possible. Indeed, the height of poetic perfection is to characterise a complete, living individual in her full personality.
A somewhat striking consequence of the demand of vivacity or clarity of representations occasioned by poetry is that an attempt to go too much into the realm of fantasy leads to less poetic verses – after all, mere imaginations seem less vivid than things that we could actually sense. Mere utopias and impossibilities are not poetic at all, although internal consistency and coherence might help (thus, Tolkien's well structured world might still deserve the name of poetry). Instead of fantasy, the kernel of poetic lies according to Baumgarten in metaphors, which show deep and unnoticable connections between different representations.
So much for Baumgarten's first writings. Next time I'll return to Wolff's opponents.