New Ages, New Opinions

Shaftesbury in his World and Today

by Patrick Müller (Volume editor)
©2014 Conference proceedings 327 Pages


Interest in Shaftesbury is as lively and productive today as it ever was. Indeed, the past decade has seen a veritable international renaissance in studies of his work. The various theoretical approaches of which modern critics and scholars can avail themselves are reflected in the different new interpretations we now have of Shaftesbury. This collection of essays manifests this diversity, offering a representative miscellany which covers a wide range of Shaftesbury’s own intellectual interests. The focus lies on the re-evaluations of his ethics, aesthetics, politics, religion, and literary criticism, as well as examinations of the reception of his works.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the Author
  • About the Book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Acknowledgments
  • Contents
  • Abbreviations
  • Prefatory Address
  • Introduction Reading Shaftesbury in the Twenty-First Century
  • I. Art and Aesthetics
  • A Realised Disposition: Shaftesbury on the Natural Affections and Taste
  • 1. Introduction
  • 2. Natural Affections and Soliloquy
  • 3. Beauty and Mind
  • 4. Taste for Society
  • Transition: “Pedagogy of the Eye” in Shaftesbury’s Second Characters
  • 1. A Vulgar Science
  • 2. “Transition” and the ‘Idea’ of Second Characters
  • 3. Philocles’ Transition
  • 4. “Easy Transition” and Exercise
  • 5. Strategies of Transition
  • The Aesthetic Mind: Stoic Influences on Shaftesbury’s Theory of Beauty
  • 1. Portrait of the Philosopher as a Young Stoic
  • 2. Shaftesbury: Stoicism and Aesthetics
  • 3. The Aesthetic Mind
  • 4. Stoicism and Platonism
  • 5. The Stoic Mind and its Consequences
  • 6. Conclusions
  • The Surprising Passion for Wild Nature: The True Innovation of Shaftesbury’s Aesthetics
  • 1. “These original Wilds”: Shaftesbury on Nature
  • 2. (Neo-)Platonism and the Earl’s Aesthetics
  • 3. When East Meets West: Shaftesbury’s Concept of Irregularity
  • 4. The Far East and the Three Orders of Beauty
  • 5. Conclusion: Shaftesbury’s Aesthetics and Ethics
  • The Third Earl of Shaftesbury: Practical Gardener and Husbandman
  • Shaftesbury and Gribelin: Anatomy of a Collaboration
  • 1. Introduction
  • 2. “The Gribelins and the rest of that kind”
  • 3. An Edition “worthy of … my study and Mr. Grib—n’s art”
  • 4. “Mr Gribelin has Liberty left him to change, dispose and order”
  • 5. “Nothing added which can possibly make a Sense or Meaning”
  • 6. Pope’s 1717 Works
  • Hercules at the Crossroads: Shaftesbury’s Concept of Freedom, Neuroscience, and Compatibilism
  • 1. The Concept of Freedom in Characteristicks
  • 2. The Triumph of Liberty and its Iconography
  • 3. Hercules at the Crossroads: Freedom and Decision
  • 4. ‘Compatibilism’ as a Concept of Freedom
  • 5. Neuroscience and Freedom
  • II. Moral and Political Philosophy
  • Cyrus’ Strategy: Shaftesbury on Human Frailty and the Will
  • 1. Introduction
  • 2. Shaftesbury’s Conception of the Will
  • 3. What We May Learn from the Story
  • 4. Conclusions
  • Shaftesbury on Politeness, Honesty, and Virtue
  • 1. Politeness, Honesty, and Public Copulation
  • 2. Three Kinds of Impolite Writing
  • 3. The Mirror Method
  • 4. The Artful as More Natural Than the Artless: A Three-Pronged View
  • 5. Why Use the Mirror-Method? Why be Moral?
  • 6. Conclusions
  • The Cosmopolitanism of Lord Shaftesbury
  • 1. Moral Cosmopolitanism
  • 2. Political Cosmopolitanism
  • i. Cosmopolitanism and Patriotism
  • ii. Shaftesbury’s Cosmopolis?
  • 3. Cultural cosmopolitanism
  • 4. Conclusions
  • III. Shaftesbury in his Time
  • Locke, Shaftesbury, and Bayle and the Problem of Universal Consent
  • I
  • II
  • “The advancement of all antient and polite Learning”: Education and Criticism in Characteristicks
  • 1. Criticism and Enthusiasm
  • 2. Criticism, Philosophy, and Divinity
  • 3. The Decline of Learning
  • “The able Designer, who feigns in behalf of Truth”: Shaftesbury’s Philosophical Poetics
  • 1. “A famous modern Critic moralizing in Prose”: On the Relation between Form and Content in Characteristicks
  • 2. “Discourses that pretend to inform or instruct”: The Legacy of Antiquity and the ‘Proper’ Style of Philosophy
  • 3. The Significance of Form and Style in Shaftesbury
  • 4. “By a marvellous Prosopopœia”: Shaftesbury’s Philosophical Poetics and his Concept of Truth
  • 5. Conclusions
  • IV. Reception
  • Between Suspicion and Enchantment: Reading Shaftesbury’s Private Writings
  • 1. Universal Beauty, Personal Misery
  • 2. Dealing with the Private Writings
  • Dissidents and Réfugiés Reading Shaftesbury
  • 1. In Holland
  • 2. Savans in Rotterdam
  • 3. Liberty and Virtue versus Tyranny and Fanaticism
  • 4. Conclusions
  • Elegance and Sublimity: The Influence of Shaftesbury on Hume’s Essays
  • 1. Introduction
  • 2. Becoming a Fashionable Philosopher: Why Write Essays?
  • 3. From Literary Style to Politics
  • 4. Shaftesbury in the 1751 Edition of Hume’s Essays
  • Reading Shaftesbury in the Eighteenth Century
  • I
  • II
  • III
  • Contributors

| 13 →


All references to Shaftesbury’s writings given within the text are to the Standard Edition: Complete Works, Correspondence and Posthumous Writings, eds Wolfram Benda, Christine Jackson-Holzberg, Friedrich A. Uehlein, Patrick Müller, et al. (Stuttgart-Bad Cannstatt: frommann-holzboog, 1981-2015). Arabic numerals in square brackets refer to page numbers in the 1714/15 edition of Characteristicks.

The Standard Edition (SE) volume numbers
for the individual treatises and texts are:

Soliloquy and A Letter concerning Enthusiasm SE I 1

Miscellaneous Reflections SE I 2

Sensus Communis and Instructions … from the ‘Virtuoso-Coppy-Book’ concerning the New Edition (1714) of ‘Characteristicks’ SE I 3

Notes and Index to Characteristicks SE I 4

Second Characters consisting of A Letter concerning Design, A Notion of the Historical Draught or Tablature of the Judgment of Hercules (referred to in places simply as Notion), and Plasticks SE I 5

The Moralists and The Sociable Enthusiast SE II 1

An Inquiry concerning Virtue SE II 2

Preface to Whichcote’s Select Sermons and Ainsworth Correspondence SE II 4

Chartae Socraticae SE II 5

Askêmata SE II 6


Quotations from the Earl’s correspondence are shown as found in the manuscripts and as the texts will appear in SE III 1-3. ← 13 | 14 →

The contributions in this book cite letters from the following repositories:

TNA: PRO The National Archives, Kew (formerly Public Record Office)
HRO Hampshire Record Office, Malmesbury Papers
KHLC Kent History and Library Centre, Maidstone

All KHLC items cited here belong to the collection known as Stanhope of Chevening Manuscripts; the extracts reproduced appear by kind permission of the Trustees of the Chevening Estate.

NS = New Style (all other dates Old Style)

| 15 →


Nicholas Ashley-Cooper, 12th Earl of Shaftesbury, Wimborne St Giles

There are few practical consequences of belonging to an aristocratic family these days, but one aspect that has stayed true over time is the sense of history that having a title brings. In our family we often talk about three Earls in particular: the first, the great seventeenth-century statesmen, the third, the philosopher, and the seventh, the social reformer. Each of these helped define the social and political landscape of his day. It is with a great sense of pride and humility that I now follow in their footsteps, and with an awareness of the res-ponsibility I have to preserve their legacy.

It is therefore a huge debt of gratitude that I owe to each of the writers in this book for their contribution to our understanding of the third Earl and his influence. My wife and I were able to spend three memorable days at the Shaftesbury conference in Nürnberg listening to each of them present new insights into the world he helped shape and that shaped him. It was an inspirational occasion for both of us and we left feeling an even stronger connection and admiration for him and his achievements, especially for his ideas on morality, harmony, and beauty, which have inspired many of my ancestors and will continue to inspire future generations of my family.

I would like to say a special thank you to the project team, who have made this publication possible: Patrick Müller, Christine Jackson-Holzberg, Friedrich A. Uehlein, and Rudolf Freiburg, the project chair. I have been fortunate enough to meet Patrick and Christine on several occasions in Dorset when they have come to look through the archives and the third Earl’s library. It has always been a huge pleasure to assist them with their work and to see their en-thusiasm for what they do. I hope the following papers will be as absorbing for the reader as they have been for us.

| 17 →


Patrick Müller, Idar-Oberstein

Reading Shaftesbury is difficult. While other literary and intellectual figures of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, writers such as Swift, Pope, Addison, Johnson, Locke, Berkeley, or Hume, have rarely, if ever, disappeared off the academic radar, the Earl remained, for a long time, consigned to comparative oblivion. The very mention here in one breath of philosophers, satirists, essayists, and moralists points to one of the principal difficulties still encountered by many readers of Shaftesbury when they first come to peruse his work: for students of literature, his texts have more often than not been too philosophical in content, and for students of philosophy too literary in both form and style. The Earl neither chose to draw as author a strict line between literature and philosophy, nor cared for the subdivisions usually grafted upon philosophy, the taxonomic segmenting into political or moral philosophy, aesthetics, philosophy of religion or of art. His Characteristicks, “a project almost sociological in nature,”1 and the unfinished Second Characters would together have formed a comprehensive philosophical compendium, this designed as the vehicle for a coherent theory which would embrace and uncover the affinities between most aspects of human life and culture. One further obstacle to the acceptance of the Earl’s writings by a wider readership is his conspicuous absence from academic syllabi: reading Shaftesbury may be difficult, but teaching him can, with the possible exception of A Letter concerning Enthusiasm, be even more of a challenge.

Prior to the 1980s, Shaftesbury studies were in the hands of an ‘adept’ few, Benjamin Rand, William E. Alderman, Alfred Owen Aldridge, and Ernest Tuveson perhaps the best known among those. Every ten years a monograph or two would appear, and maybe a dozen articles. This occasional ‘fresh blood’ aside, scholars generally contented themselves with repeating a number of somewhat stale commonplaces about the “tame”2 Shaftesbury’s “optimism,”3 ← 17 | 18 → the (Neo-)Platonic foundations of his thought,4 his anti-Hobbesian, classically informed faith in the essential goodness of human nature,5 and the ‘moralistic’ tendency of his philosophy. In short, the Earl, a ‘“friend of man,”’ was regarded as the “typical English moralist of the ‘enlightenment’” and his fame rested largely on the fact that he was “usually accounted the founder of the ‘moral sense’ school.”6 Although often cited as one such prototype of “Augustan”7 austerity, Shaftesbury was at the same time (and often still is) relegated to the fringes of scholarly consciousness. The following quotation (the unmistakable sarcastic overtones of which appear to reflect a quite wide view of the Earl as an unexceptional thinker) sums up what two generations of scholars considered (almost) sufficient for anyone to know about the author and his Characteristicks:

[C]onversation is sociable and fair. So is virtue. Shaftesbury refutes the self-interest that Hobbes imputed to man, on the ground that not even Hobbesian philosophers are really as selfish as their theory requires – people are, in fact, nice to one. Far from being naturally aggressive and selfish, men are inherently affectionate – if well-bred. Good breeding produces social affection automatically, in the same way as it produces good taste; social affection is virtue; and virtue is a kind of good taste in behaviour.8

The impression of naive intellectual mediocrity created by such synopses stands in clear contrast to earlier reception of Shaftesbury: “Mr. Pope told me, that, to his knowledge, the Characteristics had done more harm to Revealed Religion in England than all the works of Infidelity put together.”9

Given the glaring disparity between such assessments, there simply had to come a time when all simplistic handbook lore surrounding the Earl’s thought was put to the test, and the last twenty-five years have indeed witnessed both a long overdue revival of Shaftesbury studies and a concomitant re-evaluation of ← 18 | 19 → his legacy. Alongside the now almost completed Standard Edition of Shaftesbury’s entire oeuvre, three different editions of Characteristicks have been published over the past fifteen years, each of them with a very different editorial approach,10 and that alone evidences renewed interest in the Earl. The reasons for his resurgence are manifold. There is, first, the fairly banal observation that it is easier to say something ‘new’ about Shaftesbury than, for example, about Swift or Johnson. Secondly, Robert B. Voitle’s pioneering biography11 and then Lawrence E. Klein’s seminal recapitulation of the Earl’s thought12 both contributed significantly to our image of Shaftesbury, consolidating the knowledge we have of him and at the same time offering new perspectives that encourage and facilitate fresh approaches to his work. The upcoming publication of the Earl’s complete correspondence will, as its editors hope, solidify the academic community’s interest in him.13 Finally, recent decades have seen various of the Earl’s writings published either for the first time ever or in reliable (old-spelling) critical editions designed to take the place of older printed texts which, while widely used, long cited, and, for a good eighty years after 1900, the ‘point of ← 19 | 20 → entry’ to Shaftesbury’s world for almost all scholars (for some still that now), have, in a sense, outlived their original purpose.14

(Re)reading these texts, today’s scholars have come to recognise that here is an author of great depth and range. In the eighteenth century the delight of freethinkers and bugbear of High Churchmen, Shaftesbury’s writings – not least because of his accomplished concealment of their true sense – still continue to elude any consensus in discussions of their author’s philosophical, political, and other intentions. In fact, the sheer diversity of the Earl’s output is quite overwhelming for the novice: the various and variform treatises collected in Characteristicks, the enigmatic and reflective Askêmata, the challenging, fragmentary Second Characters, the two patently propagandistic (and frequently overlooked) political tracts, together with the erudite Pathologia and Chartae Socraticae (both recently edited for the first time)15 seem at first sight to present themselves as a motley crew of styles and forms. But there is method to the madness, even if we have only just begun to understand in how far these different projects were all part and parcel of one overriding design and combined seemingly divergent components within one widely ramified theory that was, as Klein has so convincingly shown, meant to redefine cultural standards for Great Britain.

The various theoretical approaches of which modern critics and scholars can avail themselves are reflected in the different new interpretations and revisionist readings we now have of Shaftesbury. Literary scholars, to name just one group, have re-examined the Earl’s sexual politics, combining feminist theory, the principal tenets of cultural materialist thought, and psychoanalysis in order to supplement the findings of more traditionally-minded historians of ideas. The range of interpretations reflects the character (both elusive and allusive) of the prose which those attempt to illuminate. From a perspective which regards Shaftesbury as one of the principal representatives of “civic humanism,” this the “most authoritative fantasy of masculinity in early eighteenth-century ← 20 | 21 → Britain,”16 it appears that, in Characteristicks, “the lover of boys … is more disinterestedly focused on to kalon than the heterosexual lover.”17 Others may find in Characteristicks “a kind of therapeutic mental masturbation – a way of purging sexual self-indulgence in order to purvey a philosophical product that is free, in the end, of seductive possibilities,”18 whereas the Earl’s Askêmata has been seen to contain “an aggressive sexualization of philosophy which … leads, finally, to a metaphorical sexual assault on the ‘Deity’ who in the opening entries was the necessary guarantee of universal moral order.”19 While it may be difficult for some to agree with these views, such fresh interpretations are without doubt the perfect food for the savoury dialectical process in which alone the thus stimulated digestive juices will help us break down the texts under analysis.20

Apart from sexual politics, there are of course various other aspects of Shaftesbury’s philosophy which have recently been reconsidered, among them his views on art (including his role as patron).21 One very important field in which much remains to be learned is that of the Earl’s rhetorical strategies of concealment, especially the ways in which he disguised his political views in order to disseminate them under a clandestine cloak of allusions and contextual referencing.22 The Platonic, Stoic, and Socratic ingredients in his thought are ← 21 | 22 → still an often chewed bone of contention.23 Last but not least, Shaftesbury’s attitude towards and position within the Deist movement will continue to fuel studies.24 This variety of opinions notwithstanding, one thing can perhaps be agreed on, something which seems to be confirmed by each new publication: Shaftesbury stood, paradoxically almost, at the intersection between a classical rigour oriented towards the past and a forward-looking philosophy of enlightenment – an intermediary, as it were, between the traditional and the modern.

“New Ages … new Opinions” (Askêmata 211): the essays collected in this volume reflect the diversity and vitality of Shaftesbury studies some three hundred years after the Earl’s death. They are the fruits reaped from a conference held in Nürnberg in August/September 2012, three days devoted to a presentation and discussion of the latest research on his life, work, and intellectual context. The speakers, chosen from a number of different academic fields, represented a broad spectrum of approaches, and the underlying agenda of the conference was, as it is now for the present volume, to encourage and reflect interdisciplinary discussion and constructive argument. The international line-up that converged in Nürnberg stood, moreover, for the widespread appeal of a ‘cosmopolitan’ thinker whose work managed to fascinate intellectuals all over Europe in the eighteenth century. One of the initial concepts behind the conference was to embrace the philosopher Shaftesbury and the man, a holistic approach which reflects the diversity of his interests and which accordingly meant that the call for papers included no restrictions in terms of subject matter. The resulting (and wholly appropriate) miscellany now covered in this volume includes ethics, aesthetics and art, politics, literary criticism, landscaping, and ← 22 | 23 → biography. It has been ten years since the last collection of essays devoted exclusively to Shaftesbury was published, but this is a rhythm which needs to be broken: multa desiderantur.

1 Shaftesbury, Characteristics of Men, Manners, Opinions, Times, ed. Lawrence E. Klein (Cambridge, et al.: Cambridge University Press, 1999), p. vii.

2 J. B. Broadbent, “Shaftesbury’s Horses of Instruction,” The English Mind: Studies in the English Moralists Presented to Basil Willey, eds Hugh Sykes Davis and George Watson (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1964), pp. 79-89 (89).

3 See William E. Alderman, “Shaftesbury and the Doctrine of Optimism in the Eighteenth Century,” Transactions of the Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts, and Letters, 28 (1933), 151-59.

4 This persistent tradition was sparked by Ernst Cassirer’s The Platonic Renaissance in England, trans. James P. Pettegrove (Austin, Texas: University of Texas Press, 1953 [1932]), chapter 6.

5 Chester Chapin, “Shaftesbury and the Man of Feeling,” Modern Philology, 81 (1983), 47-50 (p. 50).

6 Basil Willey, “Natural Morality: Shaftesbury,” The Eighteenth-Century Background: Studies on the Idea of Nature in the Thought of the Period (London: Chatto and Windus, 1980 [1940]), pp. 57-58.

7 Broadbent, “Shaftesbury’s Horses of Instruction,” p. 80.

8 Broadbent, “Shaftesbury’s Horses of Instruction,” pp. 79-80. For a similar synopsis, see Eighteenth-Century Critical Essays, ed. Scott Elledge (Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press, 1961), p. 520.

9 William Warburton to Richard Hurd, 30 January 1749/50; Letters from a Late Eminent Prelate to One of his Friends (London: T. Cadell and W. Davies, 1809 [1808]), p. 36 (Letter XVII). Pope’s was not a minority view: an entire generation of writers from George Berkeley over Elisha Smith up to John Brown saw Shaftesbury as, to use an expression culled from the subtitle of Smith’s The Cure of Deism (1737), an “oracle” of Deist thought.

10 In the same year as Klein’s paperback student edition came out (see footnote 1), Philip Ayres published a hardback text in two volumes (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999). For the principal differences between these two editions, see Lawrence E. Klein, “Review of Anthony Ashley Cooper, Third Earl of Shaftesbury, Characteristicks of Men, Manners, Opinions, Times, ed. Philip Ayres, 2 vols (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1999),” Huntington Library Quarterly, 64 (2002), 529-37. The third version appeared two years later: Characteristicks of Men, Manners, Opinions, Times, ed. Douglas J. den Uyl, 3 vols (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2001). A general classification and assessment of all three editions is found in Michael B. Prince, “Editing Shaftesbury’s Characteristicks,” Essays in Criticism, 54 (2004), 38-59; unfortunately, Prince does not discuss the Standard Edition.

11 Robert B. Voitle, The Third Earl of Shaftesbury, 1671-1713 (Baton Rouge and London: Louisiana State University Press, 1984).

12 Lawrence E. Klein, Shaftesbury and the Culture of Politeness: Moral Discourse and Cultural Politics in Early Eighteenth-Century England (Cambridge, et al.: Cambridge University Press, 1994).

13 The letters will be published as SE Volumes III 1-3. So far, only parts and selections of Shaftesbury’s correspondence have been made available in print: in the eighteenth century editions of his letters to Michael Ainsworth (now SE II 4) and to Robert Molesworth (1721, edited by John Toland), in the nineteenth his correspondence with Benjamin Furly (Original Letters of Locke; Algernon Sidney; and Anthony Lord Shaftesbury, Author of the “Characteristicks”, ed. Thomas Forster [London: J. B. Nichols and Son, 1830]). A broader collection appeared in The Life, Unpublished Letters, and Philosophical Regimen of Anthony, Earl of Shaftesbury, Author of the “Characteristicks”, ed. Benjamin Rand (London: Swan Sonnenschein and New York: Macmillan, 1900), pp. 273-535; see also Anthony Ashley Cooper, Earl of Shaftesbury (1671-1713) and ‘Le Refuge Français’-Correspondence, ed. Rex A. Barrell (Lewiston, et al.: Edwin Mellen Press, 1989).


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2014 (April)
Ästhetik Moral Philosophy 18. Jahrhundert Ethik Literaturkritik Religion
Frankfurt am Main, Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Wien, 2014. 327 pp., 18 b/w fig.

Biographical notes

Patrick Müller (Volume editor)

Patrick Müller studied English, German, and Philosophy in Münster (Germany) and Edinburgh (United Kingdom), receiving his PhD from Münster University. He worked for The Shaftesbury Project at the University of Erlangen-Nürnberg (Germany) and has lectured and published widely on both eighteenth-century literature and contemporary fiction. He is currently teacher of English at the German Federal Office of Languages.


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