The Problem with the History of Aesthetics Before Aesthetics

Wednesday, 02 December 2020, 16:00-18:00

Online session


I argue that historians of aesthetics systematically apply a conventional approach to the history of the aesthetics, and it is a problem. The conventional approach presupposes that the history of (putative) aesthetic concepts is only anticipatory of the history of the concept of the aesthetic. Thus, problematically, the philosophical substance of pre-aesthetic accounts of concepts now claimed by philosophical aesthetics (paradigmatically, beauty) is entirely measured by their anticipation of, and relevance to, the origins of the field. It assumes a Whiggish ‘principle of progress,’ which prescribes that pre-aesthetic accounts are inherently philosophically primitive, and imposes an ahistorical question of enquiry that ignores the original philosophical issues being addressed by these accounts. To gain a rich, nuanced, and sophisticated understanding of the historical legacy at the heart of all aesthetics, I propose turning the current convention on its head.