Aesthetics is today widely seen as the philosophy of art and/or beauty, limited to artworks and their perception. In this paper, I will argue that today's aesthetics and the original programme developed by the German Enlightenment thinker Alexander Gottlieb Baumgarten in the first half of the eighteenth century have only the name in common. Baumgarten did not primarily develop his aesthetics as a philosophy of art. The making and understanding of artworks had served in his original programme only as an example for the application of his philosophy. What he really attempts to present is an alternative philosophy of knowledge that goes beyond the purely rationalist, empiricist, and sensualist approaches. In short, Baumgarten transcends the old opposition between rationalism and sensualism. His core theme is the improvement (perfectio) of human knowledge and cognition and the ways to reach this goal. The study of Baumgarten's foundational works on aesthetics should not be undertaken merely out of antiquarian interest. I will argue, instead, that Baumgarten's importance and contemporary relevance lies in this: that his Aesthetica may serve as a profound contribution to the philosophy of the cultural sciences and humanities. Revisiting Baumgarten's original idea of aesthetics will lead us to a more inclusive concept of that philosophical discipline.
Copyright British Society of Aesthetics Press 2002