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On The Necessary Limitations In The Use Of Beauty Of Form
by [?]

The abuse of the beautiful and the encroachments of imagination, when, having only the casting vote, it seeks to grasp the law-giving sceptre, has done great injury alike in life and in science. It is therefore highly expedient to examine very closely the bounds that have been assigned to the use of beautiful forms. These limits are embodied in the very nature of the beautiful, and we have only to call to mind how taste expresses its influence to be able to determine how far it ought to extend it.

The following are the principal operations of taste; to bring the sensuous and spiritual powers of man into harmony, and to unite them in a close alliance. Consequently, whenever such an intimate alliance between reason and the senses is suitable and legitimate, taste may be allowed influence. But taste reaches the bounds which it is not permitted to pass without defeating its end or removing us from our duty, in all cases where the bond between mind and matter is given up for a time, where we must act for the time as purely creatures of reason, whether it be to attain an end or to perform a duty. Cases of this kind do really occur, and they are even incumbent on us in carrying out our destiny.

For we are destined to obtain knowledge and to act from knowledge. In both cases a certain readiness is required to exclude the senses from that which the spirit does, because feelings must be abstracted from knowledge, and passion or desire from every moral act of the will.

When we know, we take up an active attitude, and our attention is directed to an object, to a relation between different representations. When we feel, we have a passive attitude, and our attention–if we may call that so, which is no conscious operation of the mind–is only directed to our own condition, as far as it is modified by the impression received. Now, as we only feel and do not know the beautiful, we do not distinguish any relation between it and other objects, we do not refer its representation to other representations, but to ourselves who have experienced the impression. We learn or experience nothing in the beautiful object, but we perceive a change occasioned by it in our own condition, of which the impression produced is the expression. Accordingly our knowledge is not enlarged by judgments of taste, and no knowledge, not even that of beauty, is obtained by the feeling of beauty. Therefore, when knowledge is the object, taste can give us no help, at least directly and immediately; on the contrary, knowledge is shut out as long as we are occupied with beauty.

But it may be objected, What is the use then of a graceful embodiment of conceptions, if the object of the discussion or treatise, which is simply and solely to produce knowledge, is rather hindered than benefited by ornament? To convince the understanding this gracefulness of clothing can certainly avail as little as the tasteful arrangement of a banquet can satisfy the appetite of the guests, or the outward elegance of a person can give a clue to his intrinsic worth. But just as the appetite is excited by the beautiful arrangement of the table, and attention is directed to the elegant person in question, by the attractiveness of the exterior, so also we are placed in a favorable attitude to receive truth by the charming representation given of it; we are led to open our souls to its reception, and the obstacles are removed from our minds which would have otherwise opposed the difficult pursuit of a long and strict concatenation of thought. It is never the contents, the substance, that gains by the beauty of form; nor is it the understanding that is helped by taste in the act of knowing. The substance, the contents, must commend themselves to the understanding directly, of themselves; whilst the beautiful form speaks to the imagination, and flatters it with an appearance of freedom.