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.

Camilla Flodin and Mattias Pirholt participated at a mini symposium on Schelling and the nature of freedom at Södertörn University, September 21, 2018. Flodin addressed the problem of evil in Schelling, and Pirholt discussed Schelling's book on freedom as a poetic text.

In September, the members of the project visited the National Archives in Kew (London), to study the Shaftesbury Papers (letters and unpublished documents).

Karl Axelsson presented a paper (“Shaftesbury and Sensus Communis”) at a workshop on Sensus Communis, organized by Aesthetics, Södertörn University, April, 2018.

The project organized a project on Shaftesbury's The Moralist and the birth of aesthetics at Södertörn University, May 15 2018. Special guest was Lawrence Klein (University of Cambridge).

Camilla Flodin presented a paper entitled "The Unity of Diversity – on Tied to Tide" at the workshop "Collaborations with Nature: The Environmental Public Art of Turpin+Crawford" at University of Sydney, March 2018.

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.

Camilla Flodin held a lecture on Adorno and Schelling at a workshop at the University of Essex, September 11 2017

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

The project will host the 2020 Annual SGIR (Society for German Idealism and Romanticism External link.) Conference, The Formation of Aesthetics in the Long Eighteenth Century, in Stockholm.

Camilla Flodin is invited speaker at the 2018 Annual SGIR (Society for German Idealism and Romanticism and Idealism) Conference, Conceptions of Life in German Idealism and Romanticism, 6–7 December 2018, University of Sydney, Australia: External link.

Karl Axelsson’s new book Political Aesthetics: Addison and Shaftesbury on Taste, Morals, and Society will be published by Bloomsbury in 2019.

The project is happy to announce that a Swedish translation by Karl Axelsson of the third Earl of Shaftesbury, The Moralists, a Philosophical Rhapsody. Being a Recital of Certain Conversations on Natural and Moral Subjects will be published by Thales in 2018

Mattias Pirholt - Professor, project manager, School of Culture and Education

Research interests: J. W. Goethe, K. Ph. Moritz, Weimar classicism, early romanticism

Camilla Flodin - Researcher, PhD, School of Culture and Education

Research interests: Kant, Hölderlin, Schelling, Adorno, the art–nature relation

Karl Axelsson - Researcher, PhD, School of Culture and Education

Research interests: Taste, Cambridge Platonism, Shaftesbury, Hume, Hobbes, Locke, Addison


Research area / geographic area

Culture and Education Comparative Literature Critical and Cultural Theory Art & culture Europe

Project time

2017 — 2020


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