Adaptive Naturalism in Herder’s Aesthetics

Graduate Faculty Philosophy Journal 36 (2):269-293 (2015)
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I discuss an apparent tension between two aspects of Johann Gottfried Herder’s aesthetic theory: his emphasis on and endorsement of art’s cultural embeddedness and historical variation, and his reliance on natural norms of artistic value. I propose that Herder’s essay, “Shakespeare,” suggests a possible resolution to this tension, a position I call “adaptive naturalism.” On this view, aesthetic value comprises a work’s capacity to promote the exercise of human natural capacities in harmony with the (natural or social) environment. Thus such naturalistically grounded value does and must vary in form, in line with differences among social environments – and yet also may succeed or fail according to natural norms: some artworks are and promote better adaptation to their circumstances, than others.



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Rachel Zuckert
Northwestern University

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