The term Romanticism is notoriously vague, and it is important to see that the early Romantics, who, after all, themselves established the term, can be characterized in a way which distinguishes them from later German Romanticism. Both Idealism and Romanticism are aware, as was the younger Karl Marx that the revelation of the hollowness of theology does not lead to the disappearance of the needs which gave rise to it. The 'Oldest System Programme of German Idealism' (SP), is a manifesto for a new philosophy and exemplifies the spirit of early Idealism, not least with regard to mythology. The SP introduces the 'idea that unites all ideas, the idea of Beauty, taken in the higher Platonic sense'. The idea of beauty is supposed to overcome the gap between laws of nature constituted via the understanding and what reason is to do with this endless diversity of particular laws.
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This introduction presents an overview of the key concepts discussed in the subsequent chapters of this book. The book focuses on some of the main accounts of the human subject and on the conceptions of art and language which emerge within the Kantian and post-Kantian history of aesthetics. It discusses the work of two of the founding figures of aesthetics: Alexander Baumgarten and J.G. Hamann. Baumgarten's Aesthetica and Hamann's Aesthetica in nuce, begin to suggest what is at stake in the emergence of aesthetics as an independent branch of philosophy. The book describes the story of modernity told by the proponents of the 'postmodern condition', like Jean-François Lyotard, has its roots in the work of Heidegger. It also describes the power of Heidegger's ideas is evident in the way they have influenced many contemporary theories of modernity.
The importance attributed to aesthetic questions in recent philosophy becomes easier to grasp if one considers the reasons for the emergence of modern aesthetic theory. Immanuel Kant's main work on aesthetics, the 'third Critique', the Critique of Judgement (CJ), forms part of his response to unresolved questions which emerge from his Critique of Pure Reason (CPR) and Critique of Practical Reason. Dieter Henrich regards the crux of Kant's epistemology as the justification of 'forms of cognition from the form and nature of self-consciousness'. Kant's attempts to come to terms with the 'supersensuous substrate' of the subject's relationship to the object threaten to invalidate the boundary between law-bound nature and the autonomy of rational beings which was essential to the CPR. Kant himself actually follows aspects of the Enlightenment tradition of understanding music and objects, by seeing music as a 'language of emotions'.