The Third Earl of Shaftesbury: A Study in Eighteenth-Century Literary Theory

The Third Earl of Shaftesbury: A Study in Eighteenth-Century Literary Theory

The Third Earl of Shaftesbury: A Study in Eighteenth-Century Literary Theory

The Third Earl of Shaftesbury: A Study in Eighteenth-Century Literary Theory

Excerpt

In the essay which follows I have tried to do three things, though these are not entirely distinct from each other: to give an account of Shaftesbury's aesthetic and literary theory; to discuss the part he played in furnishing the minds of the Augustan writers with some of their guiding ideas; and to estimate the success of his attempt to keep alive a philosophy that he considered more sympathetic to the arts than the new philosophy of empiricism.

The third Earl of Shaftesbury is generally known as the founder of the "moral sense" school of philosophy; a school which made an important contribution to ethics in the eighteenth century. Although in recent years there has been a steadily increasing recognition of his importance to literature and literary criticism, no full-length study has yet been devoted to this. Indeed, no extensive modern study of his thought exists, apart fromFowler Shaftesbury and Hutcheson, published in 1882. I am concerned primarily with those aspects of Shaftesbury's writings which merit the attention of the student of literature, but this concern has led me in places to discuss questions of a philosophical importance. Though I apologize to those of my readers who happen to be philosophers for any philosophical ineptitude I may have shown, I hope I need not apologize to those whose interests are mainly literary; for an understand of Shaftesbury's place in literature such philosophical excursions are necessary and he himself would have considered the modern fashion of rigid specialization merely vulgar.

This book has grown out of research which I carried out at Oxford under the supervision of Professor D. Nichol Smith. It gives me great pleasure to acknowledge the help he gave and the kindness he has always shown me. I should like also to thank the following of my friends: Dr. Stephan Körner, who discussed much of the book with me during its writing, but who does not necessarily agree with all I have said; Professor D. G. James and Mr. M. H. Carré, both of whom read the typescript and made many valuable suggestions; and Mr. Basil Cottle, who very kindly read the proofs with scholarly care and exactness. I have also to thank the Earl of Shaftesbury for courteously answering certain questions I asked . . .

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