Research / Projects

Reassessing the Rise of Aesthetics. Aesthetic Heteronomy from Shaftesbury to Schelling (RJ)

The 18th century is traditionally regarded as the Grand Siècle of modern aesthetic autonomy. A longstanding diachronic narrative holds that such autonomy originated in British early 18th-century theories on disinterestedness and was fulfilled by the German Romantics. The project aims to reassess the validity of such a narrative, by charting the intellectual topography of the aesthetic heteronomy that distinguished the British and German 18th-century discourse on ideal disinterestedness and works of art. The project focuses on how critics and philosophers inscribed aesthetic experiences of works of art in discourses on political society and natural science. Recent developments in digital humanities have radically transformed the conditions for historical research through the digitalization of historical data, by the emergence of research databases such as Eighteenth-Century Collection Online and Deutsches Textarchiv. The project, collaborating with the Cambridge Concept Lab (CCL), will study the inner historical conceptual construction and network connections of the development of such ideal experience and concept of disinterestedness. In addition to the computer-based investigations, close readings of especially influential texts will substantiate and qualify the findings made in the digitalized material. The project is divided into three intersected subprojects: (1) the ambition of Shaftesbury at the dawn of the 18th century to incorporate ethico-theological ideas on disinterestedness and works of art as organic wholes, in an ongoing debate about the structure of modern political society; (2) the notion of the work in German aesthetics and the wish to pursue, but also alter, the Shaftesburyan legacy, by introducing the scientific conception of organic nature; and (3) the romantic and idealist effort to develop the analogy between work of art and organism into a new model of ideal society by criticizing a mechanistic conception of nature in natural science.


Call for papers: Aesthetic Heteronomy: Beyond Autonomy in British and German Eighteenth-century Tradition

The eighteenth century is traditionally claimed to mark the establishment of modern aesthetic autonomy. A longstanding diachronic narrative holds that such autonomy originated in British early eighteenth-century theories on disinterestedness and was subsequently realized in the poetological and philosophical programme of German Romanticism. This narrative is currently being reassessed in philosophical aesthetics. Gathering leading scholars in the field, this anthology provides a fresh contribution to the current re-evaluation. By exploring the interrelation between aesthetic concepts (e.g. disinterestedness, beauty, the sublime, taste, imitation, imagination, aesthetic education, and the work of art) in relation to other major eighteenth-century discourses, such as ethico-political philosophies on society, and ideas on natural science, this anthology aims to rewrite the history of European aesthetics.

Submissions should be no longer than 7,500 words. Abstracts should be no longer than 150 words. Abstracts are due by 1 December, 2017. Please send your abstract (as a Word document) and CV to the following email address: karl.axelsson[at]



Camilla Flodin is invited to hold a lecture on Adorno and Schelling at a workshop at the University of Essex, September 11 2017

The project will be presented at the Seminar for Eighteenth-Century Studies at Uppsala University, December 6 2017, 4-6 PM


Earlier activities

Mattias Pirholt held a lecture on the theme "Nature, nature! Shakespeare and the Concept of Nature in Wieland, Goethe, Herder, and Tieck" at the symposium Shakspeare and Philosophy at Södertörn University, April 21 2017



Project Manager

Mattias Pirholt
Senior Lecturer, Associate Professor
School of Culture and Education

People linked to the project

FD Karl Axelsson, Uppsala universitet

FD Camilla Flodin, Uppsala universitet

More information

Project start: 2017
Project end: 2020

Financier: Riksbankens Jubileumsfond (RJ)

Research linked to the Baltic Sea region and Eastern Europe: No

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