7 (2004), Nr.1/March
An Aesthetics of Empfindung: Victor Basch's "Essai critique sur l'esthétique de Kant". With a biographical introduction into the life and a bibliography of the books of Basch. 24297 Characters.
1. Victor Basch (1863-1944)
President of the League for
the Rights of Man from 1926-1937 Victor Basch and his wife Hélène were
assassinated nearby Lyon on January 10, 1944, by Vichy-régime militia under its
chief-commander Paul Touvier of Departement-Rhône who is heavily suspected to
have at least ordered the crime (in 1994 he was sentenced for the execution of
seven jews in July 1944). The couple - their son had committed suicide during
the invasion of the German Wehrmacht into France, their Collège de France
professor son-in-law Maurice Halbwachs would thereafter politically radicalize
and die in concentration camp
Basch is considered to be one
of the grey eminences if not architects of
Victor Basch was born on
This political engagement was realized by Basch besides an excellent academic career. In 1918 he was bestowed France's first chair of aesthetics and sciences of art at the Sorbonne University, his successors being Charles Lalo, Raymond Bayer, Etienne Souriau with the Vocabulaire d’esthétique completely edited by Anne Souriau in 1990, and Bernard Teyssèdre participating in the foundation of the Fakultät for visual arts as well as Aesthetics and Sciences of art at the Sorbonne. Basch also founded the Société française d'Esthétique in 1931 whose president successors, the Basch pupils Charles Lalo, Raymond Bayer and Etienne Souriau founded the Revue d'Esthétique in 1948.
(sources: http://www.cidem.org/cidem/themes/droits_de_lhomme/ddh_infos/portraits/ddh_p004.pdf+victor+basch&hl=de&ie=UTF-8; http://www.english.upenn.edu/~afilreis/Holocaust/touvier-obit.html; Annette Becker, interviewed by Laurent Douzou, in: Le Monde/des Livres, Feb. 13, 2004, p. X; http://www.victorserge.net/Carnets/January/18jan.htm#note51)
2. Around the “Essai”
I came across the brutality of the death of Victor Basch reading page 355 of the article "Ästhetik" in Ästhetische Grundbegriffe by Karlheinz Barck and others, volume 1, Stuttgart 2000. Until then German speaking aestheticians may have known Basch by the translation of a part of his grand oeuvre on Kant's aesthetics in Materialien zu Kants 'Kritik der Urteilskraft', edited by Jens Kulenkampff, Frankfurt am Main, pp. 257-286. Thinking of 200th return of the year of the death of Immanuel Kant should be an opportunity for an occupation of this magistral work.
Strictly spoken there are two
printings of Basch's thèse by Imprimerie Cerf,
The thesis, Basch's chef d'oeuvre, should turn out to be the basis of 20th century French aesthetics reaching as far as to the postmodernist aesthetics of a Jean-François Lyotard who wrote his thesis under supervision of the Société's president Mikel Dufrenne following Etienne Souriau in function. But the "Essai critique" is also a landmark in the work of French philosophers dealing with German philosophy.
In general reading and thinking with Kant in France set in quite late. It was only when the transformation of the programm of transcendental philosophy in the German sciences based on Neukantianismus - Helmholtz, Wundt - allowed for transgressing the Hegelianism of Victor Cousin and its poisitivist form of Hyppolite Taine. There is no doubt that in speaking German perfectly from his early days Basch took a lively interest in German philosophy and culture too as the book witnesses.
Basch's work is the prototype of a comprehensive aesthetics monography working both historically and systematically. As would do Benedetto Croce (1902), Alfred Lombard (L'Abbé Dubos, un initiateur de la pensée moderne, 1913, VIII+615pp.), David Wellbery (1984) and Anni Becq (1985) among others, Basch is well aware of the multilayered and interconnected "prehistory" of aesthetics from Descartes to the British Empiricists. This is show by the long introduction about Cartesianism, sensualism, sentimentalism, Leibnizianism, German poetics, Diderot, Lessing and British psychological aesthetics as well as with the bibliography that brings to attention only the most important books, a sort of bibliobasics of primary sources. Basch lived in an age though when it was still possible to work through historical (primary) literature and equally know with accuracy what was going on in the (philosophical) research of the present, Riemann for instance.
This research was dominated by psychological philosophy. Reading Kant meant for Basch, I suppose, to preserve and, first of all, communicate to French readers (with their own classical tradition) the classical tradition that Kant himself accumulated and embodied from Descartes, Leibniz, Hume and Rousseau and that he was even was part of - the Goethe-Zeit. But reading Kant in the 1890es meant at the same time to take notice of what had become of the Kantian programm under scientific progress with the psycho-physiological turn of philosophy with the research of Helmholtz, Fechner and Wundt. Keeping this in mind it is striking that Basch is heading towards an aesthetics of sympathy (Mitgefühl and Einfühlung) that he would apparently find parts and traces of in Dilthey, Groos, Haym, Nahlowsky, Preyer, Siebeck, Sully, Tarde, R. Vischer, Volkelt and Ziegler.
As Basch communicates in the Essai's introduction the "Essai" is only the third book of four books about Kant's aesthetics as a theory of the beautiful in historical development. A first book on the "Origines de l'Esthétique de Kant" is to deal with
the sources of Kant, and Basch claims to have taken material about theories 17th and 18th centuries of sentiment - from now on meant as rendering the meanings of Empfindung and Gefühl - out of this volume for the beginning of chapter II where it can't be found and must have gone into the long introduction instead. A second volume was planned to give an account of Kant's aesthetic system, that is of the first part of the Third Critique. A forth volume is mentioned to become an overview about the systems of the philosophical movements that sparkled out of Kant's system including the changes of it by them.
So for the present volume Basch attempts to develop Kant's aesthetic theories from the Third Critique "aus dem Geiste" of its author and later aesthetic theories in connection with the former ones. For reading the book knowledge of the Third Critique explicitly is prerequisite. In any case the precondition is that with the French literates, the English aestheticians and the German Popularphilosophie of Sulzer, Mendelssohn und Tetens the inferior and confused recognition is revalued as a specific energy of the soul independent of recognition and will. Basch believes in a "Exposition de l'Esthétique de Kant" with the letter Kant wrote to Reinhold on December 18, 1787 because of his being informed by Mendelssohn's discovery of the sentiment as an independent faculty.
The book is divided into the following chapters:
I. method 1-28
II. sentiment 29-107
III. theoretical judgement of reflection 108-150
IV. aesthetical judgement of reflection 151-224
V. aesthetical sentiment 225-400
VI. art, artist and the beautiful arts 401-498
VII. the beautiful and its modifications 499-602
I. In justifying the complexities of his book Basch makes it clear from the outset that Kant's method is tripartite: exposition with analytics and dialectics as with the first two critiques, discovery of the principles a priori of sentiment with respect to the application of this apriori upon the aposteriori (with analogy to mathematics the search for a legislative principle apriori for the sentiment of pleasure and pain), and the proper method along the question how aesthetic synthetic judgments apriori are possible. In other terms, the beautiful does not only please us and is not only confused cognition. Sentiment - again: standing for sensing (sensation) and feeling (sentiment) - itself is cognition. However, so Basch with Kant, ist unversality and necessity cannot be deduced by concepts.
II. It is evident that Basch needs to explain inasmuch the object sentiment really is the basis of aesthetics. With Kant we can detect it to be an independent faculty, even a bond between recognition and desire, between phenomenon and noumenon. Sentiment yields pleasure, is a representation of the correspondence of the object and action under subjective conditions of life, its precondition being the partition of an affecting and the affected ego. It is Basch's thesis that the sentiment fulfils its role only in the realm of the beautiful between cognition and the will.
III. This requires to be given evidence with the structure of Kant's key operation in the human mind, the judgment, more precisely with the reflective judgment since the determining judgment does not apply here because it can only subsume. Therefor Basch speaks (with Kant) of theoretical (teleological) reflective and aesthetic reflective judgment. The latter is "pathological" in its positive sense and directed to particular phenomena. Here with even more decisiveness than in Kant's times finality is rejected (Wundt, Darwin). However Basch believes that the thing in itself can be determined within a critique of judgment.
IV. But only with an aesthetic reflective judgment that is based on sentiment! This special form of judgment with reference to sentiment is centered in a relationship, an intermediary capability between cognition and desire in such a way that judgment itself is located on the axis of understanding and reason in between them. For Basch that seems the only possibility to conceive of aprioric principles of sentiment. May Judgment be subjective in a different way than sentiment - if Judgment (Basch writes capital J to obviously mark "Urteilskraft" as to be seperated from "Urteil") is our ability of subsuming par excellence, then sentiment may be taken as a kind of judgment thereby suggesting an unconscious activity of reason. Basch apparently gives judgment as much space and softness as to be allowed to attribute to it - as to sentiment - the character of contemplation. And yet only reflective judgment being aesthetic can really aspire to be contemplation. But care has to be taken because pleasure as one feature of aesthetic judgments is suitable, final, teleological, but it may not be taken as "Zweckmäßigkeit" at all. At this point Basch refers to Kant's relation of imagination and understading. It allows to insert the sentiment into this relationship because aesthetic judgment is equipped with a subjective sensing of this relation between imagination and understanding. On this level the "Zweckmäßigkeit" of the object turns out to be confirmed by universal and necessary pleasure. Stop! How come that pleasure is universal and necessary? First answer: judgements are simply followed by satisfaction or pleasure - Basch renders Kant's coining of a sentiment of judgement ("Urteilsgefühl"). Second answer: pleasure can only be universal and necessary as within reflective aesthetic judgments, not immediate judgments of the senses. In turn this requires that instead of immediacy and spontaneity sentiments are bound to judgments in accompanying the harmony of imagination and reasoning. Speaking with Kant, without this formal (subjective) Zweckmäßigkeit it is understanding that could not regain itself otherwise. As is well known this difficult structure of aesthetic judgment on the threshold to become aesthetic sentiment is supported by a "Zweckmäßigkeit ohne Zweck". Kant draws help here form the fact that the beautiful Schönes cannot be internally and objektively suitable or perfect as with the golden section because these objective features of the beautiful remain without reference to the aisthesis and would fall back into determining judgment. Again, a theory of the of the universality and the necessity of aesthetic judgment is to be developed. And still at this point Basch does not explicitly refer to and give account of Kant's §§ 6-9 and 18-22 when he gets a hand by the sensus communis, again not as a collective intelligence but as a common sentiment (Gemeingefühl). So the correspondence between imagination and understanding can only be based on the world of sentiments. Even more: The solution of the problem of universality and necessity can only be given by the study of aesthetic sentiments.
V. What are aesthetic sentiments? Kant did not use the notion. Basch does and even takes it as the title for the longest chapter of his book. Obviously here Basch offers the most accuracy. If they are sentiments of the harmony of imagination and understanding then this definition may be ramified by a variety of observations on Kant's system. Kant deals with sentiments, but there is no system of them as the analysis of Empfindung/Gefühl is spread almost all over the works of Kant thereby giving a somewhat inhomogeneous if not contradictory impression (Empfindung - den Brüchen klassischer Ästhetik, Anthropologie und Erkenntnisphilosophie auf der Spur, paper not delivered for the International Kant-Kongress in Berlin in March 2000; unpublished final version July 2000; for further information email@example.com). All the more Basch makes a case by introducing "sentiment" into the threefold transcendental scheme. The "aesthetic attitude" is seen as opposed to the "scientific attitude" and to the "moral attitude" and appears to be characterized by freedom and play, sustained by the analogy in the artistic act equally bringing in correspondence imagination and understanding. Here Basch criticizes Kant for not distinguishing the different aspects of aesthetic act - a notion that anticipates a phenomenology of aesthetic experience like Ingarden's or Dufrenne's. Similarly with Fechner's direct and associate factors Basch isolates a first moment of aesthetic sentiment with the pleasure of the senses in sensation and gives a second moment with the intellectual pleasure of the connection of the diverse. And he has to dismiss Kant's theory of désintéressement because pure aesthetic sentiments (with difference to the later theory of Cohen) are only postulated and not standing on the ground of psychological facts as Kant himself was forced to admit. With "aesthetic qualities" Basch also enters new territory when asking whether such a quality may be constitutive for the sentiment of the beautiful differing from other phenomena of sensing (sentir). But instead of setting the anchor of aesthetic sentiments in the sea of more material and bodily areas Basch goes in a different direction. He points at the sympathetic sentiments and identifies the aesthetic sentiments with them only restricting them with the next step that they be symbolic. This is the moment of taking sides (more implicitly with Vischer, not the F. Th. but his son Robert) that both Fechner's formal, direct sensible and his associate factors have to be traced back to a sympathetic symbolism.
The origin of aesthetic sentiments lies in the sociability a concept that used to be important in earlier 18th century British philosophy. Here come the universality and necessity of aesthetic sentiment and judgment again, now on much more secure grounds! This allows Basch to locate the contemporary research of psychological philosophy, an "absolute particularity" of the sentiment of the pleasent with Fechner, the aposteriori laws of sensible aesthetic sentiments, Chevreul's law of contrast, formal pleasure with for instance the golden section, Helmholtz's argument against a natural basis of sonic scales. Here again Basch says that only the associate factor obeys strict empirical/historical laws and coins what he stand for: a sympathetic symbolism. Therefore aesthetic categorical imperative is impossible and even not desirable. In this opinion taste becomes a phenomenon of sympathy.
VI. Only now Basch begins to think about art and the arts. As is known Kant attached more worth to the beauty of nature than of art because of the former as a sign of the beautiful soul how 19th century Basch emphasizes with regard to Kant bound to 18th century. To Basch's sympathetic nature of aesthetic sentiments fit the expressive movements of art, the emotivity of the artist. Here is the place for Taine's types of imagination and that the artwork can only be a ideal imitation of reality with a share of the unconscious. Only with it, says Basch before Freud, an artwork is a work of genius brought forward by a mind that creates aesthetic ideas. Basch says in consequence that Kant overestimated the role of understanding with Genius des Verstands im Genie because genius consists primarily in the originality of feeling/sensing (sentir). And bound to the romantic tradition that comes along with 19th century scientific progress Basch demands that a Kantian sentimentalist aesthetics grants music the first place.
VII. We understand that the beautiful is purely subjective - with objective causes: the region of the noumena, the supersensible substratum. Basch concedes that besides his sentimentalist/formalist interpretation of Kant there are subjektivist and idealist ones. for sentimentalists there is no objective beauty. As for the sublime it is not a modification of the beautiful but of the aesthetic. Basch thinks that Kant only meant the dynamical sublime. And this kind of sublime finally is a mixed sentiment that may be reduced to the sympathetic symbolism rückführbar.
4. Can there be an aesthetics of Empfindung in Kant?
In attempting to assess Basch's work on Kant superficially I want to confront his Kantian aesthetics of Empfindung with a multilayered definition. Empfindung may be considered to be 1st as a response to physiologically significant physical and chemical stimuli which is specific and causes consciousness and its modifications, 2ndly as the subjective aspect of perception to be epistemologically neutralized, 3rd as a psychical fact that can be experienced with pleasure or not and perceptually interpreted as a determinate quality, and 4th as object of historical, cultural and economical modulation, for instance the culturally and historically restricted modulation of Empfindung, that is sensing attitudes in the age of "Geschmack" - besides the transhistorical fact and ability of taste - or the romanticism of "Gefühl" from Rousseau to 19th century opera - although human beings are transhistorically characterized by having and being able to develop emotions - or the modern production of the "sensational" - only relying on the momentum of fast or sudden delight or fright (see my Empfindung, in: mahr'svierteljahrsschriftfürästhetik 1 (1998), Nr.3/Dezember, 29365 Zeichen; again in: Hans Jörg Sandkühler (Hg.), Enzyklopädie Philosophie, Hamburg: Felix Meiner 1999, Bd.1. A-N, 310-313; with slight additions again in my Einführung in die Kunstphilosophie. Das Ästhetische und seine Objekte, Wien: Löcker Verlag 2003, 98-106.)
There is no problem with Empfindung in the first three senses as this was more or less late 19th century state of the art. Especially with taking Empfindung (sensation/sentiment) in the forth sense one may say that Basch did or could not take the historically possible modulation of sentiment as seriously as we nowadays do with the history of the mentalités in mind. In fact we are dependent of an aesthetic or a culture of the aesthetic senstaitmieonnt – as Empfindung should be rendered accurately in English and French – that itself prestructures and predominates what we take as the aesthetic in terms of a philosophical aesthetics that addresses aesthetic experience, the aesthetic and the arts. This remains to be shown.
On the other side a closer look on Kant's position about Empfindung should be in order. Of course Basch believed in the (threefold) system of Kant's critiques. It would never have occurred to him that Empfindung does not allow for a consistent use of the notion. I am afraid with addition of Kant lectures on anthropology we cannot take that consistency as granted.
I becomes clear that senstaitmieonntss subvert representation (judgment) as far as they to a certain extent are unconscious sensible representations (Anthropology, Critique of Pure Reason). As material of intuition they provide with an unstable non-objective reality. As perception given by the effects of an object they are modified by the effect of the effect (Critique of Pure Reason, Anthropology) calling forth subjective pleasure and subjective Zweckmäßigkeit (Critique of Judgment) presenting senstaitmieonnt as if dependent from pleasentness (Critique of Judgment). But the stabilisation into an objective senstaitmieonnt of the perception of the sensible object and a subjective senstaitmieonnt of pleasentness in the sensations of pleasure and uneasiness (Anthropology, Critique of Judgment) is subverted doubly. On the one hand senstaitmieonntss are offered for the use experienced or cultivated as they appear to themselves (Anthropology). The specific senstaitmieonntss of the five senses thereby are classified by Kant in several interrelational conceptual systems: outer/inner, vital/organic, objective/subjective, immediate/mediate, mechanical/chemical senstaitmieonntss and their play (Anthropology). And they can't be separated from the various forms of objectivity in aesthetic art. The unsystematicity of senstaitmieonntss is finally to be seen in their function as intensive quantum (Critique of Pure Reason) and as sublating and contemplating sentiment with moral ideas via the sublime (Critique of Judgment, Critique of Practical Reason). (Empfindung - den Brüchen klassischer Ästhetik, Anthropologie und Erkenntnisphilosophie auf der Spur, paper not delivered for the International Kant-Kongress in Berlin in March 2000; unpublished final version July 2000; for further information firstname.lastname@example.org)
Be that as it may Basch approach to Kant will be further have to be examinated in term of a symbolic sympathetic sentimentalism that will at last provide with a communicative and political dimension of aesthetic sentiments – a task to be addressed in times when the arts and the aesthetic seems to be under dis- and reappropriation by heteronomous powers.
5. bibliography of books
Victor Basch, Wilhelm Scherer et la philologie allemande, Paris: Berger-Levrault 1889 (148 pp.)
Victor Basch, De Poesi ingenua ac quae dicitur sentimentali Schillerius quid senserit, dequisivit et apud Facultatem litterarum Parisiensem disputavit ad doctoris gradum promovendus, Rennes (impr. de Oberthur) 1897 (162 pp.)
Victor Basch, Le Mouvement intellectuel en Allemagne depuis 1870, conférence Rouen (impr. de L. Gy) 1897 (31 pp.; extrait du Bulletin de la Société normande de géographie, 3e cahier de 1897)
Victor Basch, La Poétique de Schiller, Paris: F. Alcan, 1902 (297 pp.); La Poétique de Schiller, essai d'esthétique littéraire, Paris: F. Alcan 1911 (XXIV-352 pp.)
Victor Basch, L'Individualisme anarchiste, Max Stirner, Paris: F. Alcan 1904, 1928 (VI-294 pp.)
Victor Basch (mit E. Blum, A. Croiset, G. Lanson, D. Parodi, Th. Reinach und MM. F. Lévy-Wogue/R. Pichon), Neutralité et monopole de l'enseignement, suivi de L'état actuel de l'enseignement du latin : leçons professées à l'École des hautes études socials, Paris: F. Alcan 1912
Victor Basch, Le Guerre de 1914 et le droit, Paris: Ligue des droits de l'homme et du citoyen 1915 (111 pp.)
Victor Basch, A Jean Jaurès. poème décoré de sept gravures sur bois originales dont un portrait de Jean Jaurès par J.-L. Perrichon, Paris : Librairie de L'Humanité 1916
Victor Basch, L'Aube, proses de guerre, Paris: F. Alcan 1918. (XX-292 pp.)
Victor Basch, Titien, Paris : Librairie française, 1919 (300 pp.); Art plastique et littéraire des nations latines. Titien, Paris: Librairie française 1920 (300 pp.)
Victor Basch, Études d'esthétique dramatique. 1re série. Le théâtre pendant une année de guerre : Sophocle, Euripide, Shakespeare, Balzac, Henry Bataille, Tristan Bernard, Sacha Guitry, Romain Coolus, Henri Bernstein, Maurice Rostand, François Porché, Guillaume Apollinaire, Paris: Librairie française 1920; libr. philosophique J. Vrin 1929 (276 pp.)
Victor Basch, Les Doctrines politiques des philosophes classiques de l'Allemagne. Leibnitz, Kant, Fichte, Hegel, Paris: Félix Alcan 1927 (IX-336 pp.)
Victor Basch, Titien. Ouvrage orné de 24 hors texte. Nouvelle édition augmentée, Paris: Albin Michel 1927 (307 pp.)
Victor Basch, Schumann, Paris : F. Alcan, 1926 (222 pp.); La Vie douloureuse de Schumann, Paris: Félix Alcan 1928 (IV-243 pp.)
Victor Basch, Emerson. Introduction, Traduction et Notes, Paris: la Renaissance du Livre 1929 (148 pp.)
Victor Basch, Silhouettes inactuelles : Gabriele d'Annunzio, Pérez Galdós, Thomas Hardy, Tolstoï, Ibsen, Bjoernson, Strindberg, Georges Eeekhoud, Ruskin, Nietzsche. 1re série, Paris: les Écrivains indépendants 1933 (87 pp.)
Victor Basch, Essais d'esthétique, de philosophie et de littérature, Paris: Presses universitaires de France/Félix Alcan 1934 (II-414 pp.)
Congrès (IIe) international d'esthétique et de science de l'art. Paris, 1937 Tome I. Discours liminaires de MM. Paul Valéry, Paul Claudel, Victor Basch. I. Esthétique générale. II. Psychologie. III. Sociologie et culture, Paris: Presses universitaires de France/F. Alcan 1937
Victor Basch, Guernica, la mainmise hitlérienne sur le pays Basque ... , Paris: Comité international de coordination et d'information pour l'aide à l'Espagne républicaine, 1937 (11 pp.)
Victor Basch, Carlyle, l'homme et l'oeuvre, Paris: Gallimard 1938 (287 pp.)
Victor Basch, Due saggi di estetica, hg. v. Leonardo V. Distaso, = Aesthetica Preprint 53, Palermo : Centro Internazionale studi di estetica 1998 (containing: Les grands courants de l'esthétique allemande, in: Revue philosophique 1912, in Italian; L'estetica e la scienza dell'arte, translation of a text of 1934;)
Victor Basch, Le deuxième procès Dreyfus. Rennes dans la tourmente: correspondance, hg. v. Françoise Basch u. André Hélard, Paris: Berg 2003 (212 pp.)
Victor Basch, 1863-1944: un intellectuel cosmopolite, hg. v. Françoise Basch/Liliane Crips/Pascale Gruson, Paris : Berg international, 2000 (with textes by Victor Basch and bibliography)
Françoise Basch, Victor Basch ou La passion de la justice: de l'affaire
Dreyfus au crime de la Milice,
Peter Mahr © 2004
back to: Addenda