To indicate the particular moment at which the movement we shall attempt to trace in this part first appeared, and also to suggest something of the intellectual situation that formed its original background, it seems appropriate to begin with a discussion of Fechner. Fechner was a student and thinker of unusual richness of interest and complexity of thought; his work shows an exceptional versatility. It should therefore be stressed at the outset that we do not intend to draw a portrait of Fechner the scholar, but only to emphasize some assumptions that, if only indirectly, had a formative influence on the orientation of the empathy trend in art theory, and to a large extent indicated the problems that remained at its center.
Gustav Theodor Fechner (1843–87) was primarily a student of chemistry and physiology; he is remembered as the founder of what is called psychophysics, and promoter of the measurement of the phenomena under study. After a nervous breakdown, he turned to the study of philosophy, with particular emphasis on metaphysics (including what he had learned of Indian thought), and even some theology. To all these he tried to apply the experimental methods of the natural sciences, the study of which he pursued throughout his life.1
Fechner is also known as the founder of experimental aesthetics. It was mainly in the later stage of his life that he included aesthetics in the wide range of his studies. His major work in this field, Vorschule der Aesthetik (1876),2 was one of his last. But as Rudolf Arnheim has rightly noted, Fechner's concern for aesthetics derived directly from the core of his basic conceptions.3 The Vo rschule shows how Fechner's studies in various disciplines merged, but it also indicates how greatly the reflection on beauty and art was, at least in one intellectual current, permeated by scientific thought. Though a collection of essays rather than a systematically planned treatise, it gives a distinct idea of Fechner's approach to the visual arts. This approach, incidentally, had already been briefly outlined by him in an article (“On Experimental Aesthetics”) published in 1871.4