For Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770-1831), art almost ranked with religion and philosophy in its power to reveal the fundamental nature of existence. But although he lived in the German golden age of Goethe, Schiller and Mozart, he also believed that art was in terminal decline.
To resolve this apparent paradox, as Michael Inwood explains in his incisive Introduction, we must understand the particular place of aesthetics in Hegel's vast intellectual edifice. Its central pillars consist of logic, philosophy of nature and philosophy of spirit. Art derives its value from offering a sensory vision of the God-like absolute, from its harmonious fusion of form and content, and from summing up the world-view of an age such as Homer's. While it scaled supreme heights in ancient Greece, Hegel doubted art's ability to encompass Christian belief or the reflective irony characteristic of modern societies. Many such challenging ideas are developed in this superb treatise; it counts among the most stimulating works of a master thinker.