The Essentials of Aesthetics in Music, Poetry, Painting, Sculpture and Architecture

By George Lansing Raymond | Go to book overview

APPENDIX
BEAUTY ACCORDING TO PHYSIOLOGICAL PSYCHOLOGY.

THE following criticism on a paper read before the Princeton Philosophic Club was made by my colleague, Prof. J. Mark Baldwin, and afterwards, at my request, put into writing. Coming, as it does, from one who has made a special study of physiological psychology, and who has no interest in maintaining the particular theory of beauty advocated in this volume, the reader will recognize that it is a better confirmation of the essential agreement between this theory and the results of modern investigations than it would be possible for me to present in my own language.

"Psychology seems to be tending to a view of art which emphasizes the subjective or emotional side of what we call aesthetic. Considering pleasure the most general element in æsthetic experience, we may bring the topic under the head of Hedonics, and ask what are the marks of objects, situations, ideas, which make them suitable for arousing in us the particular kind of hedonic experience called aesthetic, i. e., what constitutes beauty?

"Experiments on sensation-states -- especially on the apprehension of visual forms -- result in showing that wherever there is union of elements readily and easily brought about, wherever integration is affected without strain to the organ stimulated, at the same time that the elements preserve their individuality in a measure, we experience pleasure. In perception, a similar principle is found, known as assimilation -- to which current psychological analysis is reducing the old laws of association. When a new experience is assimilated readily to old categories -- fits into the ready moulds of experience, thought, or conception, then we invariably experience pleasure -- not the pleasure of pure identity, but of progressive identity -- of a process in consciousness. In the higher spheres we find the same fundamental movement. Conception is a process by which detached elements are arranged, brought to unity, sorted out, assimilated; an argument is such a scheme of notions, which go together without strain or conflict; and a beautiful character is one whose acts of will are consistent with one another and get assimilated readily in an ideal of duty.

"Now I think the essential thing in it all -- in sensational ease, in assimilation, in logical consistency -- is this: does the attention with both its

-387-

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