December 2013 Archives

Philosophy, science and art differ principally according to their subject-matter and also the means by which they reflect, transform and express it. In a certain sense, art, like philosophy, reflects reality in its relation to man, and depicts man, his spiritual world, and the relations between individuals in their interaction with the world.

We live not in a primevally pure world, but in a world that is known and has been transformed, a world where everything has, as it were, been given a "human angle", a world permeated with our attitudes towards it, our needs, ideas, aims, ideals, joys and sufferings, a world that is part of the vortex of our existence. If we were to remove this "human factor" from the world, its sometimes inexpressible, profoundly intimate relationship with man, we should be confronted by a desert of grey infinity, where everything was indifferent to everything else. Nature, considered in isolation from man, is for man simply nothing, an empty abstraction existing in the shadowy world of dehumanised thought. The whole infinite range of our relationships to the world stems from the sum-total of our interactions with it. We are able to consider our environment rationally through the gigantic historical prism of science, philosophy and art, which are capable of expressing life as a tempestuous flood of contradictions that come into being, develop, are resolved and negated in order to generate new contradictions.

No scientifically, let alone artistically, thinking person can remain deaf to the wise voice of true philosophy, can fail to study it as a vitally necessary sphere of culture, as the source of world-view and method. Equally true is the fact that no thinking and emotionally developed person can remain indifferent to literature, poetry, music, painting, sculpture and architecture. Obviously, one may be to some extent indifferent to some highly specialised science, but it is impossible to live an intellectually full life if one rejects philosophy and art. The person who is indifferent to these spheres deliberately condemns himself to a depressing narrowness of outlook.

Does not the artistic principle in philosophical thought deserve the attention of, and do credit to, the thinking mind, and vice versa? In a certain generalised sense the true philosopher is like the poet. He, too, must possess the aesthetic gift of free associative thinking in integral images. And in general one cannot achieve true perfection of creative thought in any field without developing the ability to perceive reality from the aesthetic standpoint. Without this precious intellectual prism through which people view the world everything that goes beyond the empirical description of facts, beyond formulae and graphs may look dim and indistinct.

Scientists who lack an aesthetic element in their makeup are dry-as-dust pedants, and artists who have no knowledge of philosophy and science are not very interesting people either, for they have little to offer above elementary common sense. The true artist, on the other hand, constantly refreshes himself with the discoveries of the sciences and philosophy. While philosophy and science tend to draw us into "the forest of abstractions", art smiles upon everything, endowing it with its integrating, colourful imagery.

Life is so structured that for a man to be fully conscious of it he needs all these forms of intellectual activity, which complement each other and build up an integral perception of the world and versatile orientation in it.

The biographies of many scientists and philosophers indicate that the great minds, despite their total dedication to research, were deeply interested in art and themselves wrote poetry and novels, painted pictures, played musical instruments and moulded sculpture. How did Einstein live, for example? He thought, wrote, and also played the violin, from which he was seldom parted no matter where he went or whom he visited. Norbert Wiener, the founder of cybernetics, wrote novels, Darwin was deeply interested in Shakespeare, Milton and Shelley. Niels Bohr venerated Goethe and Shakespeare; Hegel made an exhaustive study of world art and the science of his day. The formation of Marx's philosophical and scientific views was deeply influenced by literature. Aeschylus, Shakespeare, Dante, Cervantes, Milton, Goethe, Balzac and Heine were his favourite authors. He responded sensitively to the appearance of significant works of art and himself wrote poetry and fairy-tales. The radiance of a broad culture shines forth from the work of this genius. Lenin was not only acquainted with art but also wrote specialised articles about it. His philosophical, sociological and economic works are studded with apt literary references. And what a delight he took in music!

In short, the great men of theory were by no means dry rationalists. They were gifted with an aesthetic appreciation of the world. And no wonder, for art is a powerful catalyst for such abilities as power of imagination, keen intuition and the knack of association, abilities needed by both scientists and philosophers.

If we take the history of Oriental culture, we find that its characteristic feature is the organic synthesis of an artistic comprehension of the world with its philosophical and scientific perception. This blending of the philosophical and the artistic is inherent in all peoples, as can be seen from their sayings, proverbs, aphorisms, tales and legends, which abound in vividly expressed wisdom.

If we are to develop effective thinking, we must not exclude any specifically human feature from participation in creative activity. The gift of perception, penetrating observation of reality, mathematical and physical precision, depth of analysis, a free, forward-looking imagination, a joyful love of life--these are all necessary to be able to grasp, comprehend and express phenomena, and this is the only way a true work of art can appear, no matter what its subject may be.

Can one imagine our culture without the jewels of philosophical thought that were contributed to it by human genius? Or without its artistic values? Can one conceive of the development of contemporary culture without the life-giving rays of meditative art embodied in the works of such people as Dante, Goethe, Leo Tolstoy, Balzac, Pushkin, Lermontov, Dostoyevsky, Tchaikovsky, and Beethoven? Culture would have had a very different history but for the brilliant minds that gave us their masterpieces of painting, music, poetry and prose. The whole world of our thoughts and feelings would have been different, and incomparably poorer. And we, as individuals, would also have been flawed. The intellectual atmosphere that surrounds us from childhood, the style of thinking that permeates folk sayings, tales and songs, the books we have read, the paintings and sculptures we have admired, the music we have heard, the view of the world and humanity that we have absorbed thanks to our contact with the treasures of art, has not all this contributed to the formation of our individual self? Did it not teach us to think philosophically and perceive and transform the world aesthetically?

An indispensable feature of art is its ability to convey information in an evaluative aspect. Art is a combination of man's cognitive and evaluative attitudes to reality recorded in words, colours, plastic forms or melodically arranged sounds. Like philosophy, art also has a profoundly communicative function. Through it people communicate to one another their feelings, their most intimate and infinitely varied and poignant thoughts. A common feature of art and philosophy is the wealth they both contain of cognitive, moral and social substance. Science is responsible to society for a true reflection of the world and no more. Its function is to predict events. On the basis of scientific discoveries one can build various technical devices, control production and social processes, cure the sick and educate the ignorant. The main responsibility of art to society is the formation of a view of the world, a true and large-scale assessment of events, a rational, reasoning orientation of man in the world around him, a true assessment of his own self. But why does art have this function? Because in its great productions it is not only consummately artistic but also profoundly philosophical. How deeply philosophical, for instance, are the verses of Shake speare, Goethe, Lermontov, Verhaeren! And indeed all the great writers, poets, composers, sculptors, architects, painters, in short, all the most outstanding and brilliant exponents of art were imbued with a sense of the exceptional importance of progressive philosophy and not only kept abreast of but were often responsible for its achievements. How profound were Tolstoy's artistically expressed meditations on the role of the individual and the people in the historical process (for example, Napoleon and Kutuzov, or the Russian people in the war of liberation of 1812, as portrayed in War and Peace), on freedom and necessity, on the conscious and the unconscious in human behaviour. Consider the psychological and philosophical depth and the artistic power with which Balzac revealed the social types in the society of his day in all their diversity (the idea of greed and acquisitiveness in the character of Gobseck!). How philosophical are the artistic and publicistic works of Voltaire, Rousseau, Diderot, Thomas Mann, Heine, Herzen, Chernyshevsky and many others. If we turn to science fiction, we find that it is full of scientific and philosophical reflections, of varying visions of the future of science, technology and human existence in general. Quite often its plot is a series of mental experiments. However, neither the scientific nor the philosophical content, no matter how fully expressed in a work of art, constitutes its specific element. We never speak of any work of art, no matter how powerful, as a study, whereas creative work in philosophy is a study, an inquiry, and it is characterised above all not by its artistic but by its scientific qualities, although its artistic aspect is highly valued and has more than purely aesthetic significance. The crown of philosophical inquiry is truth and prediction, whereas in art it is artistic truth, not accuracy of reproduction, in the sense of a copy of what exists, but a lifelike portrayal of typically possible phenomena in either their developed or potential form. If art produced only truths similar to scientific truths, there would be no masterpieces of world art. The immortality of great masterpieces lies in the power of their artistic generalisation, generalisation of the most complex phenomenon in the world--man and his relations with his fellow men.

Some people believe that the specific feature of art is that the artist expresses his own intellectual world, his own intrinsic individuality. But this is not quite true. In any active creativity, any act that reflects and transforms life, a person also expresses himself. And the higher the level of creativity, in this case artistic, the higher the level of generalisation, and hence the universal, despite all the individuality of the form. "Man's individuality or singularity is not a barrier to the universality of the will, but is subordinated to it. A just or moral, in other words, a fine action, although performed by one individual, is nevertheless approved by all. Everyone recognises himself or his own will in this act. Here there occurs the same thing as in a work of art. Even those who could not create such a work find their own essence expressed therein. Such a work is therefore truly universal. The more its individual creator dissolves in it, the more approval it earns."[1]

The aesthetic principle is not the specific element in philosophy although it is present there. Naturally, philosophy is distinguished from the other sciences by its being related far more closely to the aesthetic principle, to art. It synthesises the everyday experience of the people and something from the other sciences, and also something from art without confining itself to any of them. The aesthetic element is also present in any science. By some scientists it is even regarded as a criterion of truth: the true is elegant and highly refined in its structure. The beauty, the elegance of an experiment, or of any theoretical construction, especially if it sparkles with wit, does credit to scientific thought, evokes our legitimate admiration and affords us intellectual and aesthetic pleasure. Quite often this elegance shows itself in a meaningful brevity, for genius is usually simply expressed, without superfluous words. So truth and beauty are sisters, although not always.

In philosophy this aesthetic principle is expressed more powerfully and fully. It is not only more synthetic and integrated than science. In its very social purpose it is, or should be, closer and more understandable to the masses of the people. It should not be separated from them by the "barbed wire" of a formalised, let alone a mathematised language.

A considerable number of philosophical works have been written in poetic and artistic form. Actually they are not poetry but philosophical thoughts expressed as poetry. Many brilliant works of philosophy are couched in such fine language that they read like great works of both science and art. Inspired by their genius, the great philosophers clothed their profound thoughts in images of astonishing aptness.

Many people draw attention to the fact that the achievements of science, no matter how significant they once were, are constantly being reviewed, whereas the masterpieces of art survive the centuries in all the splendour of their individuality. But have you noticed that something similar happens in philosophy too? The works of the great philosophers retain their inimitable value through the centuries. So in philosophy, just as in art, history is of special importance. Whereas the works of the classical natural scientists are expounded in textbooks and few people read them in the original, the classical works of philosophy must be read in the original in order to gain a full appreciation of philosophical culture. Every great philosopher is unique in his intellectual and moral value; he teaches us to perceive the world and ourselves profoundly and in their most subtle aspects.

What has been said does not, of course, imply that philosophy may ultimately be reduced to a form of art. Philosophical treatises do not become works of art even when they are expressed in the colourful and deeply symbolical language of poetry, as was often the case in ancient times, in the philosophy of the Renaissance and the New Age. Take Plato, for example. He had a colourful world-view, its very form evokes admiration. He is aesthetic all the way through. Or take the philosophical views of the French materialists of the 18th century. They are simultaneously splendid works of art, full of humour, satire and barbed witticisms aimed at religion, scholasticism, and so on. Their works still delight us with the brilliance of their form, which clothes subtle and profound thoughts. Or again, take the philosophical ideas of Tolstoy or Dostoyevsky, in which their masterpieces are steeped. We began by dealing with the aesthetic principle in philosophy. But to a no less degree one can speak also of the philosophical principle in art. Probably the closest thing to philosophy is poetry, which has the power to make laconic but profound generalisations about both social and individual life, moral phenomena, and the relationship between man and the universe.

The metaphorical language of art, far from being alien to philosophy and other sciences, is an essential condition for every new step into the unknown.

The similar and the specific in philosophy and art can also be seen in the nature of generalisation. Philosophy uses generalisations and its generalisations are of an extremely broad, virtually universal character. Its categories of the general, the particular and the unique are both interconnected and yet separate concepts. In art, on the other hand, the general, the particular and the unique are alloyed in the very fabric of the artistic image. Philosophy is theoretical from beginning to end, whereas art is sensuous and imaginal. Philosophical thought reflects its subject-matter in concepts, in categories; art is characterised, on the other hand, by emotional and imaginal reflection and by transformation of reality. This is not to say, of course, that art, particularly in its verbal form, in belles lettres, and even more so in the intellectual type of novel, contains no concepts. Dostoyevsky's novels are three-quarters philosophical. The same applies to the works of Goethe, for example, for whom feeling and a philosophical understanding of nature, expressed in both artistic form and scientific analysis, were his life's work. The scientific, philosophical and artistic approaches were organic in Goethe. His work as a thinker is inseparable from that of the artist. When composing his works of art, he is at the same time a philosopher. He achieves the greatest aesthetic power in those very works (Prometheus and Faust) where the unity of artist and philosopher is most organic. Can we distinguish clearly between the philosophical and aesthetic principles in Faust? All that can be said is that no genius could have created such a work without a synthesis of the philosophical, aesthetic and the scientific.

Without a certain degree of intellect there can be no subtle feelings and from this it follows that art, which aesthetically expresses man's emotional-intellectual world in his relationship to the environment, is bound to feel the impact of philosophy and the other sciences. A world-view may come into art but not as an intrinsic part of it. We can speak of the philosophical content of art, just as we can speak of the philosophical content of science, when the scientist begins to consider the essential nature of his science, its moral value, social responsibility, and so on. These are actually philosophical questions and they do not form part of the specific nature of the given science. Rather they are the self-awareness of the science, just as the artist's reflections on the nature of art, its social meaning, and so on, are the self-awareness of art. And this is in fact philosophy, whose categories permeate all forms of thought, including that of the artist. Without them no artist could generalise, identify the typical in the particular fact, assess the quality of his subject-matter, preserve proportion, the most vital element in aesthetic imagination, or comprehend the contradictions of life in such a way as to give them full expression.

The work of the artist is not spontaneous. It always follows some kind of plan and it is most effective when talent is guided by a world-view, when the artist has something to tell people, much more rarely is it effective when it comes about as a result of the accidental associative play of the imagination, and never is it effective when it is a result of blind instinct. The keen attention that is given to the problems of method is a sign of progress in both modern science and art, a sign of the increasing interaction of all aspects of intellectual life--science, philosophy, and art.

A SIRKIN.View image



Georg Wilhelm F. Hegel, Sämtliche Werke, Dritter Band, "Philosophische Propädeutik, Gymnasialreden und Gutachten über den Philosophie-Unterricht", Fr. Frommans Verlag, Stuttgart, 1927, S. 46.

Philosophy and ScienceUpThe System of Categories in Philosophical Thought

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