Michael B. GillJun 14, 2023
A Philosophy of Beauty
Shaftesbury on Nature, Virtue, and Art
Princeton University Press 2022
The third Earl of Shaftesbury (1671-1713) was a troubled soul – negative, misanthropic, and deeply troubled by his negativity and misanthropy. In A Philosophy of Beauty: Shaftesbury on Nature, Virtue, and Art (Princeton University Press, 2022), Michael Gill shows how Shaftesbury’s efforts to work on himself resulted in his becoming one of the first philosophers writing in English to develop an aesthetic theory.
Shaftesbury conceived of beauty as order or harmony exemplified by wild nature just as it is created by God, in sharp contrast to the prevailing seventeenth-century European view that nature was sinful and needed to be altered for human purposes before it could be aesthetically valuable. Gill, who is professor of philosophy at the University of Edinburgh, explains how Shaftesbury argued for seeing our lives as works of art, and how he responded to critics who claimed that admiring beauty was something only rich lords like himself could afford to do. Instead, Shaftesbury claimed, even the “lowly mechanic” is inherently invested in good craftsmanship and in making himself a good person.
Carrie Figdor is professor of philosophy at the University of Iowa.