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New Ages, New Opinions

Shaftesbury in his World and Today

Edited By Patrick Müller

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.
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The Surprising Passion for Wild Nature: The True Innovation of Shaftesbury’s Aesthetics

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Yu Liu, Niagara County Community College (NY)

“No one supposes that Shaftesbury’s thought is very profound or very coherent, or that it takes account of anything like the whole range of experience.”1 It seems that the author of this statement, Basil Willey, was not familiar with what Ernst Cassirer had already said about the Earl, namely that he was “the first great aesthetician that England produced”2 and that he was “[the founder of] a philosophy in which aesthetics not only represents a systematic province but occupies the central position of the whole intellectual structure.”3 Had he paused to consider Cassirer, Willey would perhaps not have been so sure about the nature of received opinion; however, he may not have seen any need to doubt his own personal evaluation, since Cassirer’s attribution of Shaftesbury’s aesthetic achievement to “Platonic enthusiasm”4 or “Plotinus’s doctrine of ‘intelligible beauty’”5 coincided with his idea of the Earl as “an Augustan Platonist”6 whose philosophical allegiances lay in antiquity rather than in more recent traditions. As the embodiment of two attitudes which are subtly similar and different at the same time and which, albeit in a different form, continue to be held even today, the (dis)agreements of Willey and Cassirer can now incite us to a more fruitful study. The close affinity of Shaftesbury with the classical tradition of European antiquity should be remembered at all times, but the true innovation of the Earl’s aesthetics needs to...

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