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Modern Aesthetics: The fate of the beautiful and the autonomy of art

Lecturer: Sergio Mariscal

Originally Taught: Winter School 2016

In this subject we will look at a number of issues that have come to be central in the philosophical discussion on the relationship between aesthetics and modern subjectivity. Together with the deconstruction of the metaphysical ideas of the Good and the True, post-metaphysical thinking mounted an attack on the idea of the Beautiful. A sceptical eye was cast on the existence of a higher form constituting a unifying principle for beauty. As a consequence, the idea of the beautiful was not made to disappear, but a rescue operation was launched instead whereby the beautiful was to be sheltered in the sphere of art. We will examine whether or not such an operation had positive consequences for both art and for the idea of the beautiful itself. Furthermore, we will look at the conflation between aesthetics and art that takes on a defined shape at the height of European modernity and how this move has been far from unproblematic for the aesthetic self-understanding of the modern subject. In addition, we will look at the claim for the autonomy of the sphere of art put forward as a way of protecting art from the deleterious forces of modern capitalism and the democratisation of culture as well as a way of making aesthetics into a realm of emancipation. Finally, we will look at an alternative perspective where the beautiful develops an internal relationship with the imaginary of modern subjectivity beyond art, specifically through the notions of human creativity and through an understanding of the human subject that addresses the question of emotions.

Course Schedule

Week 1: Vicissitudes of the concept of the beautiful.

Week 2: The body in the European philosophical tradition.

Week 3: The aesthetisation of beauty: The romantic response.

Week 4: The autonomy of art and aesthetic emancipation.

Week 5: Aesthetics, imagination and emotions.


Selections of the following texts will be distributed:

  • Adorno, Theodor W. Aesthetic Theory. Translated by Robert Hullot-Kentor. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1997.
  • Gadamer, Hans-Georg. The Relevance of the Beautiful and Other Essays. Translated by Nicholas Walker and Edited by Robert Bernasconi. Cambridge: University Press, Cambridge, 1987.
  • Hegel, G.W.F. Aesthetics: Lectures on Fine Art. Translated by T.M. Knox. Oxford: Oxford University  press, 1975.
  • Heller, Agnes. The Concept of the Beautiful. Lanham, Md: Lexington Books, 2012. Print.
  • Kant, Immanuel. Critique of Judgment. Trans. Werner S. Pluhar. Indianapolis, Ind: Hackett Pub. Co, 1987.
  • Plato. Symposium in The Collected Dialogues of Plato, eds. Edith Hamilton and Huntington Cairns Princeton: Princeton University Press,    1961.
  • Schiller, Friedrich. On the Aesthetic Education of Man: In a Series of Letters. Bristol: Thoemmes, 1994.