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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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Introduction Reading Shaftesbury in the Twenty-First Century


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.

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