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Can't Hurt Me
Beyond Autonomy in Eighteenth-Century British and German Aesthetics2026
This volume re-examines traditional interpretations of the rise of modern aesthetics in eighteenth-century Britain and Germany. It provides a new account that connects aesthetic experience with morality, science, and political society. In doing so, it challenges long-standing teleological narratives that emphasize disinterestedness and the separation of aesthetics from moral, cognitive, and political interests. The chapters are divided into three thematic parts. The chapters in Part I demonstrate the heteronomy of eighteenth-century British aesthetics. They chart the evolution of aesthetic concepts and discuss the ethical and political significance of the aesthetic theories of several key figures: namely, the third Earl of Shaftesbury, David Hume, and Adam Smith. Part II explores the ways in which eighteenth-century German, and German-oriented, thinkers examine aesthetic experience and moral concerns, and relate to the work of their British counterparts. The chapters here cover the work of Kant, Moses Mendelssohn, Alexander Gottlieb Baumgarten, and Madame de Stael. Finally, Part III explores the interrelation of science, aesthetics, and a new model of society in the work of Goethe, Johann Wilhelm Ritter, Friedrich Hoelderlin, and William Hazlitt, among others. This volume develops unique discussions of the rise of aesthetic autonomy in the eighteenth century. In bringing together well-known scholars working on British and German eighteenth-century aesthetics, philosophy, and literature, it will appeal to scholars and advanced students in a range of disciplines who are interested in this topic.
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Karl Axelsson is Senior Lecturer in Aesthetics at Soedertoern University, Stockholm, Sweden. His most recent book is Political Aesthetics: Addison and Shaftesbury on Taste, Morals and Society (2019). Axelsson is also the Swedish translator of the third Earl of Shaftesbury's The Moralists, a Philosophical Rhapsody (forthcoming). Camilla Flodin holds a PhD in Aesthetics from Uppsala University and is currently Lecturer and Research Fellow in Comparative Literature at Soedertoern University, Stockholm, Sweden. She has published extensively on Adorno's aesthetics and the art-nature relationship in German Romanticism and Idealism. Flodin is also a contributor to the Oxford Handbook of Adorno (forthcoming). Mattias Pirholt is a Professor of Comparative Literature at Soedertoern University, Stockholm, Sweden. His most recent book publications include Grenzerfahrungen: Studien zu Goethes AEsthetik (2018) and Das Abenteuer des Gewoehnlichen: Alltag in der deutschsprachigen Literatur der Moderne (co-edited with Thorsten Carstensen, 2018).
Introduction Karl Axelsson, Camilla Flodin, and Mattias Pirholt Part I: Aesthetic Concepts, Morality, and Society in the British Tradition 1. The Evolution of Aesthetic Concepts 1700-1800 Peter de Bolla 2. Beauty, Nature, and Society in Shaftesbury's The Moralists Karl Axelsson 3. Force Makes Right; or, Shaftesbury's Moral-Aesthetic Dynamics Neil Saccamano 4. Civilization in Eighteenth-Century Britain: A Subject for Taste Maria Semi 5. Adam Smith's Aesthetic Psychology Emily Brady and Nicole Hall Part II: British and German Liaisons 6. Aesthetic Autonomy Is Not the Autonomy of Art Paul Guyer 7. From Spiritual Taste to Good Taste? Reflections on the Search for Aesthetic Theory's Pietist Roots Simon Grote 8. Is there a Middle Way? Mendelssohn on the Faculty of Approbation Anne Pollok 9. Germaine de Stael and the Politics of Taste Karen Green Part III: Science and a New Model of Society Around 1800 10. Goethe's Exploratory Idealism Mattias Pirholt 11. Physics as Art: Johann Wilhelm Ritter's Construction Projects Jocelyn Holland 12. Hoelderlin's Higher Enlightenment Camilla Flodin 13. Rethinking Disinterestedness Through the Rise of Political Economy Natalie Roxburgh