In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel: Aesthetics

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Textbooks
  • Anthologies
  • Hegel Followers
  • Editing a Lecture
  • The Hotho Case
  • Published Transcriptions
  • Translations of the Aesthetics

Philosophy Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel: Aesthetics
Beat Wyss
  • LAST REVIEWED: 17 October 2022
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 July 2017
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396577-0345


Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (b. 1770–d. 1831) developed his aesthetics by a series of lectures, held four times at Heidelberg and Berlin Universities. The text in three parts, titled Vorlesungen über die Ästhetik, got compiled and edited by Heinrich Gustav Hotho four years after Hegel’s death. So we have to get straight about the fact that a remarkable edifice of teachings, though lacking any written proof by its author, became a headstone of art history, literary studies, and philosophical aesthetics. Hegel’s approach is the first philosophical attempt to focus aesthetics specifically on art. He does so by a critique of moralist and sensualist positions that both hardly distinguish whether aesthetic experience is generated by natural or artificial phenomena. Hegel’s critical argument culminates in a refusal of Immanuel Kant’s idea about aesthetic judgment. The latter’s definition of beauty—as a cognition that pleases without a concept—performs, according to Hegel, a relapse into a fixed opposite between the subjectivity of thought and objective nature. According to Hegel, instead, artistic beauty is the mediating “middle” between spirit and nature. Hegel puts a “phenomenological” antithesis to Kant’s concept of transcendental perception. By the idea of artistic beauty, the realm of absolute spirit is entered. The lectures on aesthetics follow the hierarchical concept of perception, deployed in Hegel’s Encyclopedia of the Philosophical Sciences: the work of comprehension starts with the artistic mode of beholding, continues with the religious mode of imagination, and culminates in the philosophical mode of thinking. The “peripathetic” performative character is constitutive to Hegel’s aesthetics, as it mirrors the work of thinking as such. Hegel’s “world spirit” is literally wandering across three eras: the symbolic, the classical, and the romantic art forms, represented by the early ancient cultures from Persia, India, and Egypt; Greek and Roman Antiquity; and Occidental culture from the Middle Ages to modernity. By historicizing the meaning of art, Hegel relinquishes rule-based poetics and aesthetics in the classical tradition of rhetorics, laying so the foundation of a sociological approach to cultural phenomena. At the same time, his historico-philosophical aesthetics is a first attempt to draft a global history of art, though Eurocentrically limited, including the genres of architecture, sculpture, painting, music, and poetry.

General Overviews

Hegel’s aesthetics bears in itself an inter- and transdisciplinary approach. A panoramic overview of perspectives taken from the literary studies is offered in Szondi 1974, discussing the transformation of poetics in the late Antique tradition to modern aesthetics. A comprehensive introduction for students, socialized by Anglo-Saxon humanities, is Raters 2005, which draws the connections between German Idealism and the Oxford Hegelians up to John Dewey’s pragmatism. Wyss 1999 offers a commented close reading of Hegel’s Aesthetics out of the perspective of art history. Over 2013 introduces its philosophical key notions. Maharaj 2013 and Pocai 2014 present an innovative reading of the Aesthetics in the light of the critical followers from Søren Kierkegaard to Theodor W. Adorno.

  • Maharaj, Ayon. The Dialectics of Aesthetic Agency: Revaluating German Aesthetics from Kant to Adorno. London: Bloomsbury, 2013.

    A survey, as compact as accurate, on the legacy of German idealism starting with Immanuel Kant’s “Critique of Judgement” to Theodor W. Adorno’s “Aesthetic Theory,” by proposing a “Kierkegaardian reading of Hegel.”

  • Over, Stephanie. Begriff und Struktur der Kunst in Hegels Ästhetik. Berlin: λογος, 2013.

    An analytical positioning of the Aesthetics between Hegel’s Encyclopedia of the Philosophical Sciences and the Science of Logic. The author outlines the development of aesthetics subsequent and critical to Hegel by Heidegger, Adorno, up to postmodern and post-structuralist theories.

  • Pocai, Romano. Philosophie, Kunst und Moderne: Überlegungen mit Hegel und Adorno. Berlin: xenomoi, 2014.

    A comprehensive introduction in Hegel’s esthetics by analyzing the composition of the lectures, edited by Hotho. Furthermore, it discusses Adornos’s notion of a dialectics between autonomy and political commitment, and Umberto Eco’s concept of the “Open Work.” See also Editing a Lecture.

  • Raters, Marie-Luise. Kunst, Wahrheit und Gefühl: Schelling, Hegel und die Ästhetik des angelsächsischen Idealismus. Freiburg, Germany: Verlag K. Alber, 2005.

    A diagrammatic genealogy of both German and Anglo-Saxon idealism, starting with English 18th-century sentimentalism. The critique of Friedrich Schelling’s aesthetics gives way to a survey of the so-called Second Oxford Hegelians Bertrand Bosanquet and Andrew Bradley, followed by the Third Oxford Idealism, led by Robin George Collingwood. Of special interest is the latter’s relation to Italian philosophers like Giambattista Vico, Benedetto Croce, and Giovanni Gentile.

  • Szondi, Peter. Poetik und Geschichtsphilosophie. 2 vols. Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 1974.

    Volume 1, Antike und Moderne in der Ästhetik der Goethezeit: Hegels Lehre von der Dichtung, edited by Senta Metz and Hans-Hagen Hildebrandt; Volume 2, Von der normativen zur spekulativen Gattungspoetik: Schellings Gattungspoetik, edited by Wolfgang Fietkau. The opus magnum in two volumes analyzes the transition from normative poetics of genres to speculative aesthetics, starting, among others, with enlightened and early romantic 18th-century authors like Johann Jacob Winckelmann, Johann Gottfried Herder, Friedrich Schiller, the Schlegel brothers, to the idealist generation of Heinrich Hölderlin, Friedrich Wilhelm Schelling, and Hegel in the early 19th century.

  • Wyss, Beat. Hegel’s Art History and the Critique of Modernity. Translated by Caroline Dobson Saltzwedel. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1999.

    A basic introduction into the systemic build up of the tripartite aesthetics, contextualized by Hegel’s contemporary interests about art and literature in the political climate between German romanticism and Restauration. See also the System of Genres and “End of Art”. Original title: Trauer der Vollendung. Von der Ästhetik des Deutschen Idealismus zur Kulturkritik an der Moderne. Munich: Matthes & Seitz, 1985. Reprint 1989. New edition in 1996 (Cologne: DuMont).

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