Ethics and Aesthetics Seminar Paper

Happiness is the concept of great importance. Plato and Aristotle believed happiness was the supreme good. Kant was unusual in challenging the primacy of happiness in ‘Groundwork’ he said duty was the supreme ethical motive.

Utilitarian’s refer to Plato as an ancestor. In Plato’s Protagoras the thesis concludes that virtue consists in the correct choice of pleasure and pain.

Bentham’s greatest happiness principle is pleasure. He believes pleasure is a simple sensation caused by not only drinking and eating and sex but by gaining wealth and the kindness to animals.

But Aristotle made distinctions between pleasure and pain and refused to link happiness with the pleasure of the senses. He said the relation between an activity and its pleasure was one of cause and effect.

Quantification of pleasure and pain is the prime importance for a Utilitarian. A utilitarian would argue that when you are about to take part in an activity we need to estimate the amount of pleasure and pain that is likely to come.

Utilitarian philosopher Jeremy Bentham offered ideas for the measurement of pleasure and pain. This is known as the felicific calculus, you must consider the different dimensions of pleasure and pain. One of the variables was fecundity; this is the probability that the action will be followed by sensations of the same kind. And opposing this is Purity: The probability that it will not be followed by sensations of the opposite kind.
In terms of politics and public policy Bentham said we must consider ‘extension’. Extension would be to consider how widely the pains and pleasures will be spread across population. His quote ‘The greatest happiness of the greatest number’ raised criticism. Questions were raised about the idea of how we would measure the greatest number. Would it be calculated by average? And the greatest number of what?  Recent Utilitarian’s have extended the happiness principle beyond humankind and onto animals. Bentham would have rejected this.

Bentham was a consequentialist. Consequentialism is the view that morality is all about producing the right kinds of overall consequences.

British Philosopher John Stewart Mill (1806 –1873) was also a consequentialist. He was developed Bentham’s ethical theory. He clearly set forth that falsification was the key to scientific method.  Mill had some objections to Bentham’s moral code he objected and said it may be too strict or too lax. Mill defends both objections and said in terms of it being too strict is because there doesn’t need to be a felicific calculus in every case.


Schopenhauer (1788- 1860) was a German philosopher best known for his book, The World as Will and Representation, in which he claimed that our world is driven by a continually dissatisfied will, continually seeking satisfaction. The true reality of the ‘thing-in-itself- is the universal will. There is only one noumena and this is the unobserved thing. Schopenhauer taught that our wills will never change but our awareness of the will can. We suffer until our needs are satisfied. He believed the only way to escape our will is renunciation.

The Will, wills life, so if we are to give up the will we must give up the will to live. It sounds like suicide but Schopenhauer was strongly against suicide, it is a false way of getting away from misery. Suicide is not the surrender of the Will to live but it is the surrender of the conditions under which life is given.

To reach the thing-in- itself is to persuade ourselves to go down the path through virtue to asceticism and reaching this self denial moral state. This asceticism is similar to the state that Buddhist and Hindu saints taught. Schopenhauer's ideas link closely to Buddhism. The Buddhist God Maya is the Will and Brahma is representation. 
Everything is a connection and individual existence cannot exist on its own and everything else that we see is just like the Kantian phenomena. Brahma is ‘knowing the world is a dream’ and a phenomenon is similar to this.

Schopenhauer’s theory of music focuses on artist and genius and the world as suffering. Composers such as Brahms and Mahler and Wager were influenced by Schopenhauer. Wagner is a modern musician. Music changed from the Enlightenment, set rules were vanished. You can hear in Wagner's Tristan and Isole opening key. And in Gottendamburg the music is very impressionist.

Nietzsche: Aesthetics.

The founder of aesthetics is Baumgarten.
Aesthetics is the philosophy dealing with the appreciation of beauty.

It is more scientifically defined as the study of sensory values, sometimes called judgments of sentiment and taste. Plato’s forms defined that we can’t see the beautiful things but we know when something is. The most powerful aesthetic response is music. Materialists would argue that our reaction to music is because of neurons but Nietzsche and Schopenhauer used it as a usual tool to overcoming the Will.

Nietzsche idea of Aesthetics is less concerned with beauty but concerned with art. He was influenced by the German composer Wagner. Wagner believed art, and music especially, can perform the same function as religion as it expresses the nature of a human. Nietzsche based his aesthetic theory on Schopenhauer’s pessimistic view on life.

Schopenhauer deemed art the most accessible escape from life. Nietzsche said there are two ways of escaping misery, intoxication and dreaming. These two forms are reflected by the Greek gods Apollo and Dionysus. Nietzsche’s Greek Tragedy resurfaced in the works of Wagner particularly Gotterdammerung.

Nietzsche’s ‘Will to power’ is similar to the concept of the ‘will’ from Schopenhauer. Nietzsche believed that every human is a function of power, and we must embrace it. Whereas Schopenhauer, who reacted to Nietzsche’s understanding of the will, said that everything exists has a ‘will’ but it is the ‘will’ that is evil, it represents people’s desires and needs, which represents endless suffering. Schopenhauer believed in the truths of Buddhist teaching, all life is suffering, suffering is caused by desire.  What differentiates Schopenhauer’s Will from Nietzsche's Will is that he wants to deny in and Nietzsche wants to embrace it.

The best way of embracing the will according to Nietzsche was intoxication. The purest form of intoxication was the artist form, music.

Kierkegaard's Aesthetics

Kierkegaard was a Danish philosopher. He observed aesthetics as ethical rather than an aesthetic category.
An aesthetic person searches for immediate pleasure. This could be from a natural source or from a artistic source.
He focuses on the aesthetic attitude to life and distinguishes three modes of life, the aesthetic, ethical and the religious.

Life is the progress through these modes of life’s onto the most important, the religious mode. The religious mode of life is presented in Kierkegaard’s textbook ‘Fear and Trembling.’

Kierkegaard was concerned with the nature of Art. Music is of all the arts, it is the vehicle of sensuality.

Review of Mahler

Mahler Symphony 5
CC, picture by: Jason Weinberger

Mahler (1860 – 1911) was a late-Romantic Austrian composer. During his ten years in Vienna where she studied, Mahler had converted to catholic from Jewish to secure his post. He experienced regular opposition and critisism from the anti-Semitic press. He was particularly as an interpreter of the stage works of Wagner and Mozart.

Like Schopenhauer and Nietzsche Mahler knew music was the highest of the arts. Nietzsche's impacted Mahler more so. Mahler eventually rejected Nietzsche because of his rejection towards Wagner. Mahler used a Nietzsche text from ‘Thus Spoke Zarathustra’ Where Nietzsche believes that strong people will struggle, but those that are weak will turn to religion, nationalism, democracy of some other means for escape. This was in Mahler’s third Symphony. The symphony's brutal contrasts and ecstatic fusion relates to Nietzsche’s, `Dionysian' world and the calm `Apollonian' one.

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