The End of Art: Hegel’s Appropriation of Artistotle’s Nous

Modern Schoolman 83 (4):301-316 (2006)
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This article investigates a tension that arises in Hegel’s aesthetic theory between theoretical and practical forms of reason. This tension, I argue, stems from Hegel’s appropriation of an Aristotelian framework for a historically unfolding social teleology which puts practical reason to work for the aims of theoretical reason. Recognizing that this aspect of Hegel’s dialectic is essential in overcoming problems left in Kant’s transcendental idealism, the appearance of incongruence does not lessen. Grouped together with absolute spirit, Hegel positions art as a transitory mode of mind, a vehicle, which aims to raise spirit to the higher cognition of philosophy. When the unfolding absolute concept becomes too complex for articulation in the material, art must end, as spirit’s message can be expressed only through the non-material form of philosophy. This study focuses on the ambivalence found in Hegel’s writings regarding his account of historical completion. Though Hegel sees in the Absolute a metaphysical solution to the unity of subject and object, the practical aspects of the unity appear to falter when philosophy becomes the dominant mode of expression at the close of a historical cycle. In Lectures on the History of Philosophy, Hegel links his notion of the Absolute, albeit with modification, to Aristotle’s nous. As described in De Anima, this entails a progression in which active and possible intellect rise to the level of the eternal, while passive intellect, the imaginative element, passes on with the body. Because the architecture of Aristotle’s nous, which is not in line with his defense of poetry, is integrated into the blueprint of Hegel’s absolute, an unresolved tension emerges in the spirit of art. A divergence of aims is forced to the surface through Hegel’s application of a template for achievement of theoretical knowledge, with an end in the universal, to a form of practical knowing which has an end in the particular.

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Stephen Snyder
Tbilisi State University

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