Shaftesbury and the Stoic Roots of Modern Aesthetics
Rather than reading Shaftesbury in anticipation of later forms of disinterestedness, this essay seeks to unpack the larger significance of his aesthetics by tracing his ideas back to their ancient sources. This essay looks to the venerable tradition of world contemplation. It argues that Shaftesbury advances a specifically Stoic model of world contemplation in The Moralists. The text’s principal concern is not with this or that beautiful object but with the whole of which it and the viewer are indivisibly a part; its aim is not so much to account for how we perceive beauty as to foster a characteristically Stoic orientation toward the world, one in which we overcome our egocentric view of things and align ourselves with the natural workings of the world or universe in its entirety. Far from being ‘autonomous’ from the rest of life, the Stoic world contemplation Shaftesbury advocates entails a robust affirmation of existence, clear-eyed gratitude for being part of the universe, whatever the challenges and however fleeting our time in it may be.
Aldridge, Alfred Owen. 1951. “Shaftesbury and the Deist Manifesto.” Transactions of the American Philosophical Society 41 (2): 297-382.
Amir, Lydia B. 2015. Humor and the Good Life in Modern Philosophy: Shaftesbury, Hamann, Kierkegaard. Albany, NY: SUNY Press.
Annas, Julia. 1993. The Morality of Happiness. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Arregui, Jorge V. and Pablo Arnau. 1994. “Shaftesbury: Father or Critic of Modern Aesthetics?” British Journal of Aesthetics 34 (4): 350-62.
Axelsson, Karl, Camilla Flodin, and Mattias Pirholt. 2021. Beyond Autonomy in Eighteenth-Century British and German Aesthetics. New York and London: Routledge Press.
Axelsson, Karl. 2019. Political Aesthetics: Addison and Shaftesbury on Taste, Morals and Society. London: Bloomsbury Academic.
Birch, Thomas, ed. 1734-41. General Dictionary, Historical and Critical, 10 Volumes. London: J. Roberts.
Boyson, Rowan. 2013. “Poetical Stoical Shaftesbury.” In The Poetic Enlightenment: Poetry and Human Science, 1650-1820, edited by Tom Jones and Rowan Boyson, 89-104. London: Pickering and Chatto.
Brooke, Christopher. 2012. Philosophical Pride: Stoicism and Political Thought from Lipsius to Rousseau. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Carey, Daniel. 2006. Locke, Shaftesbury, and Hutcheson: Contesting Diversity in the Enlightenment and Beyond. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Cicero. 1951. On the Nature of the Gods. Translated by H. Rackham. Cambridge, MA and London: Harvard University Press.
Collis, Karen. 2016. “How Shaftesbury Read Marcus Aurelius: Two ‘Curious and Interesting’ Volumes With His Manuscript Annotations.” Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes (79): 263-293.
Costelloe, Timothy M. 2013. The British Aesthetic Tradition: From Shaftesbury to Wittgenstein. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Darwell, Stephen. 1995. The British Moralists and the Internal ‘Ought’: 1640-1740. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Derhmann, Mark-Georg. 2014. “Transition: ‘Pedagogy of the Eye’ in Shaftesbury’s Second Characters.” In New Ages, New Opinions: Shaftesbury in his World and Today, edited by Patrick Müller. Frankfurt: Peter Lang.
Epictetus. 1995. The Discourses, The Handbook, Fragments. Edited by Christopher Gill, translated by Robin Hard. London: Everyman Library.
Gatti, Andrea. 2014. “The Aesthetic Mind: Stoic Influences on Shaftesbury’s Theory of Beauty.” In New Ages, New Opinions: Shaftesbury in his World and Today, edited by Patrick Müller. Frankfurt: Peter Lang.
Gerson, L. P. 1990. God and Greek Philosophy: Studies in the Early History of Natural Philosophy. London and New York, NY: Routledge.
Gill, Michael B. 2018. “Shaftesbury on Life as a Work of Art.” British Journal for the History of Philosophy 26 (6): 1110-1131.
Glauser, Richard. 2002. “Aesthetic Experience in Shaftesbury.” Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, Supplementary Volumes 76 (2002): 25-54.
Grote, Simon. 2019. The Emergence of Modern Aesthetic Theory: Religion and Morality in Enlightenment Germany and Scotland. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Guyer, Paul. 2018. A History of Modern Aesthetics. Volume 1. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Hadot, Pierre. 1995. Philosophy as a Way of Life. Edited by Arnold I. Davidson, translated by Michael Chase. Malden MA: Blackwell Publishing.
---- 1998. The Inner Citadel: The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius. Translated by Michael Chase. Cambridge MA and London: Harvard University Press.
---- 2002. What is Ancient Philosophy? Translated by Michael Chase. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Inwood, Brad. 2009. “Why Physics?” In God and Cosmos in Stoicism, edited by Ricardo Salles. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Inwood, Brad and Lloyd P. Gerson. 2008. The Stoics Reader: Selected Writings and Testimonia. Indianapolis, IN and Cambridge: Hackett Publishing.
Jaffro, Laurent. 1999 . “Les Exercices de Shaftesbury: un stoïcisme crépusculaire.” Reprinted in Le Retour des philosophies à l’âge classique, tome I, edited by Pierre-François Moreau. Paris: Albin Michel.
Kant, Immanuel. 1987. Critique of Judgment. Translated by Werner S. Pluhar. Indianapolis, IN and Cambridge: Hackett Publishing.
Kivy, Peter. 2003. The Seventh Sense: Francis Hutcheson and Eighteenth-Century British Aesthetics. Second Edition: Revised and Enlarged. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Klein, Lawrence E. 1994. Shaftesbury and the Culture of Politeness: Moral Discourse and Cultural Politics in Early Eighteenth-Century England. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Long. A. A. and D. N. Sedley. 1987. The Hellenistic Philosophers. Volume 1. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Longinus. 1991. On Great Writing (On the Sublime). Translated by G. M. A. Grube. Indianapolis, IN and Cambridge: Hackett Publishing.
Marcus Aurelius. 2011. Meditations. Translated by Robin Hard. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Müller, Patrick. 2010. “‘Dwell with honesty & beauty & order’: The Paradox of Theodicy in Shaftesbury’s Thought.” Aufklärung 22: 201-231.
Müller, Patrick, ed. 2014. New Ages, New Opinions: Shaftesbury in his World and Today. Frankfurt: Peter Lang.
Norton, Brian Michael. 2020. “Aesthetics, Science, and the Theater of the World.” New Literary History 41 (3): 639-659.
Nussbaum, Martha. 1994. The Therapy of Desire: Theory and Practice in Hellenistic Ethics. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Paknadel, Felix. 1974. “Shaftesbury’s Illustrations of Characteristics.” Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes 37: 290-312.
Paulson, Ronald. 1996. The Beautiful, Novel, and Strange: Aesthetics and Heterodoxy. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.
Plutarch. 1939. Moralia. Volume VI. Translated by W. C. Helmbold. Cambridge, MA and London: Harvard University Press.
Prince, Michael. 1996. Philosophical Dialogue in the British Enlightenment: Theology, Aesthetics, and the Novel. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
---- 2003. “Mauvais Genres.” New Literary History 34 (3): 452-479.
Rand, Benjamin, ed. 1900. The Life, Unpublished Letters, and Philosophical Regimen of Anthony, Earl of Shaftesbury. London: S. Sonnenschein & Co.; New York: The Macmillan Co.
Rilke, Rainer Maria. 2009. Duino Elegies and The Sonnets to Orpheus. Edited and translated by Stephen Mitchell. New York: Vintage Books.
Rind, Miles. 2002. “The Concept of Disinterestedness in Eighteenth-Century British Aesthetics.” Journal of the History of Philosophy 40 (1): 67-87.
Rogers, Pat. 1972. “Shaftesbury and the Aesthetics of Rhapsody.” British Journal of Aesthetics 12 (1972): 244-57.
Sellars, John. 2003. The Art of Living: The Stoics on the Nature and Function of Philosophy. Burlington, VT: Ashgate.
---- 2016. “Shaftesbury, Stoicism, and Philosophy as a Way of Life.” Sophia 55 (3): 395-408.
Seneca. 1953. Ad Lucilium Epistulae Morales. 3 Volumes. Translated by Richard M. Gummere. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
---- 1995. Moral and Political Essays. Edited and translated by John M. Cooper and J. F. Procopé. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Shaftesbury, Anthony Ashley Cooper, Earl of. 1900. The Life, Unpublished Letters, and Philosophical Regimen of Anthony, Earl of Shaftesbury. Edited by Benjamin Rand. London: S. Sonnenschein & Co.; New York: The Macmillan Co.
---- 2001. Characteristicks of Men, Manners, Opinions, Times. 3 Volumes. Indianapolis: IN: Liberty Fund.
Stolnitz, Jerome. 1961a. “On the Origins of ‘Aesthetic Disinterestedness.’” The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 20 (2): 131-143.
---- 1961b. “On the Significance of Lord Shaftesbury in Modern Aesthetic Theory.” The Philosophical Quarterly 11 (43): 97-113.
Tatarkiewicz, Wladyslaw. 1970. History of Aesthetics. Volume 1: Ancient Aesthetics. Edited by J. Harrell. The Hague and Paris: Mouton.
Taylor, Charles. 1989. Sources of the Self: The Making of the Modern Identity. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Tiffany, Esther A. 1923. “Shaftesbury as Stoic.” PMLA 38 (3): 642-684.
Townsend, Dabney. 1982. “Shaftesbury’s Aesthetic Theory.” The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 41 (2): 205-213.
---- 1987. “From Shaftesbury to Kant: The Development of the Concept of Aesthetic Experience.” Journal of the History of Ideas 48 (2): 287-305.
Valihora, Karen. 2010. Austen’s Oughts: Judgment after Locke and Shaftesbury. Newark: University of Delaware Press.
Voitle, Robert. 1984. The Third Earl of Shaftesbury, 1671-1713. Baton Rouge, LA and London: Louisiana State University Press.
Authors who publish with this journal agree to the following terms:
Authors retain copyright and grant the journal right of first publication with the work simultaneously licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution License that allows others to share the work with an acknowledgement of the work's authorship and initial publication in this journal. Note: up to volume 4 issue 2, an incorrect copyright line appears in the PDFs.
Authors are able to enter into separate, additional contractual arrangements for the non-exclusive distribution of the journal's published version of the work (e.g., post it to an institutional repository or publish it in a book), with an acknowledgement of its initial publication in this journal.
Authors are permitted and encouraged to post their work online (e.g., in institutional repositories or on their website) prior to and during the submission process, as it can lead to productive exchanges, as well as earlier and greater citation of published work (See The Effect of Open Access).