chapter  4
14 Pages

Empiricism: Hutcheson and Hume

ByJAMES SHELLEY

If philosophical disciplines can be said to define themselves in terms of the central terms they attempt to define, then modern aesthetics is that discipline that attempts to define ‘art’ and ‘aesthetic.’ The concepts governing both of these terms derive from the eighteenth century. It is true that the term ‘art’ was long in use before then, but it was not until the eighteenth century that the artforms now included in what Paul Oskar Kristeller famously calls “the modern system of the arts” began to be grouped together, and that the term thus became linked with the concept that now governs it (Kristeller 1951). The reverse is true of the concept of the aesthetic: though it was not until the nineteenth century that the term began to be linked, in the Englishspeaking world at least, with the concept that now governs it, that concept first took on recognizable shape early in the eighteenth century (Stolnitz 1961: 142-3). It is with justice, therefore, that we regard the eighteenth century as the formative period of modern philosophical aesthetics, since it was only then that its defining concepts assumed recognizable form, and only then, therefore, that the modern discipline itself assumed recognizable form.