|Aesthetica Preprint, 57 (December 1999)
The present volume, translated, edited, and annotated by Tonino Griffero, is the first Italian translation of one of
Oetinger's most significant essays, Gedanken von den zwo Fähigkeiten zu empfinden und zu erkennen, und dem daraus zu bestimmenden Unterschiede der Genien, which was originally published in 1775 and has never been reprinted. The prelate Friedrich Christoph Oetinger (1702-1782) was an important figure of Swabian Pietism. He did research in various fields (theology, philosophy, alchemy, kabbalah, medicine, emblem theory) with the aim of opposing to rationalism a phenomenological science, or rather a physical theology, that would systematize the brilliant but obscure intuitions of Jacob Bohme and thereby explain both the sensible world and the Grundbegriffe of the Holy Scriptures.
Oetinger's approach to "aesthetics", interpreted as the science of sensory knowledge and of the experience of life, emerges as a synthesis of his studies about the perfect Adamic knowledge (i. e., the mystical and eschatological cognitio centralis) and about sensus communis (i. e., the instinct that leads us to what is eternal, while also responding to the wisdom «that screams from the streets»). Such an approach is based on the apology of the primacy of "sensation" (in the true meaning of the word) over reflective knowledge: while knowledge is only a nominalistic (fragmentary, extrinsical) process and reason finds its limits in, and proves to be dependent upon, sense perception, to feel or to have sensations means knowing things as they are and not as they appear. Such knowledge occurs through a metamorphosis of the feeling soul that turns into the outer object, that is, through a mystical union of man and nature (and therefore also of man and God). This perspective enables Oetinger to articulate an original explanation (through influxus physicus) of the much-debated issue of the commercium animae et corporis: soul and body are, according to him, linked by a nervous fluid that vehicles (Böhme's) Tinktur, which was implanted by God as a light body (geistleiblich) in all things. Oetinger's doctrine of sensus communis, represents also an important theme in the development of aesthetic ideas in the eighteenth century. In fact, it played a role (along with the contemporary doctrines of Sulzer, Mendelssohn and Tetens and of Popularphilosophiein general) in the process of emancipation of sensation as man's third faculty in addition to knowledge and will, the only two recognized by the so-called Leibniz-Wolffian tradition.