Tijdschrift Voor Filosofie 61 (4):663 - 695 (1999)

Bart Vandenabeele
University of Ghent
The mainstream interpretation of Schopenhauer's philosophy is dialectical and stresses the continuity between aesthetics and ethics. This interpretation has its own plausibility but is overly confident in the letter. Restricting the value of Schopenhauer's aesthetic theory to a mere propaedeutic of an ethics, wherein the ascetic ideal of the denial of willing is central, might seem fully justified at first sight, but clearly overlooks a number of crucial complexities and ambivalences. First of all, it obliterates the specificity and complexity of Schopenhauer's theoryof (aesthetic) pleasure. In the first section, aesthetic pleasure is shown to be closely linked with a peculiar form of non-conceptual insight, which is at the core of Schopenhauer's philosophy. In the second section, it is argued that aesthetic pleasure cannotbe reduced to the so-called negative pleasure that accompanies the liberation from individual willing. The dialectical reading of Schopenhauer's philosophy invariably stresses the negativity of aesthetic pleasure to argue for the 'bridge' between the aesthetic disinterestedness and the ethical denial of willing. Schopenhauer's aesthetics, however, acknowledges a kind of intrinsic and positive pleasure, which is bound up with the perception of the (Platonic) Idea in and through the concrete object and with the non-ordinary use of the cognitive faculties. The aesthetic contemplation is a peculiar kind of(non-conceptual) self-consciousness, which is itself a source of pleasure and is to some degree independent of the pleasure of relief from the demands of desire. Moreover, this dialectical interpretation avoids a detailed and radical scrutiny of Schopenhauer's theory of the sublime feeling. In the second section, the sublime feeling is contrasted with the beautiful and is shown to be a pure feeling that meets the specific conditions of an aesthetic appreciation. An attentive reading of Schopenhauer's fascinating theory of the sublime intimates a new interpretation of his philosophy, in which the fissures between aesthetics and ethics appear. The aesthetic feeling of the sublime hampers a smooth crossing from the aesthetic realm to the ethical denial of willing in asceticism, since it is not at all an harmonious feeling which accompanies the liberation from the will and does not promise an everlasting freedom from willing. The sublime feeling is an ambivalent mixture of pleasure and pain, of joy and sorrow and reveals a deep and unbridgeable gap in the heart of subjectivity itself. It is clearly distinct from and even contradictory to the ascetic's ideal of restraint and denial of the will
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