Research Programs: Fellowships for University Teachers

Period of Performance

9/1/2017 - 8/31/2018

Funding Totals

$50,400.00 (approved)
$50,400.00 (awarded)

The Naturalist Aesthetics of German Philosopher J. G. Herder (1744-1803)

FAIN: FA-252258-17

Rachel E. Zuckert
Northwestern University (Evanston, IL 60208-0001)

Completion of a book-length study of the aesthetics of German philosopher Johann Gottfried Herder (1744-1803).

This project, to write a book presenting J. G. Herder’s aesthetic theory, has three central arguments. First, I interpret Herder's aesthetics as a naturalist theory, accounting for aesthetic value and art production on the basis of understanding human beings as organisms conditioned by and responding to their environments, both natural and social. I argue that Herder’s theory thus constitutes a pivotal moment in the philosophical tradition: the transition from eighteenth-century philosophies of taste to nineteenth-century systematic philosophies of the arts. For Herder argues that to understand aesthetic response (taste), one must understand the objects and socio-historical contexts that elicit and form such responsiveness. In emphasizing the place of aesthetics within embodied human existence and cultural contexts, third, Herder’s aesthetics is also a neglected alternative to the dominant understanding of aesthetics and art in the tradition, as disembodied and disinterested.

Media Coverage

Naturalist Herder and Arty Kant (Media Coverage)
Author(s): Richard Marhsall
Publication: 3:16 a.m.
Date: 12/18/2021
Abstract: Interview: Rachel Zuckert focuses on Kant and his philosophical context, broadly understood: both his eighteenth-century contemporaries, and post-Kantian, nineteenth-century philosophy. Here she discusses Herder, reasons for his relative obscurity, his naturalism, naturalism and culture in Herder, Herder on art, art as embodied naturalism, Kant and the “je ne sais quoi” of art, how aesthetic judgements make universal and necessary claims, comparing the teleological claims of biology and those of the art critic, differentiating between informed and uninformed perception of an artwork, Kant and the associative sublime, beauty as a ‘symbol of morality’, and what inferences Kant drew from the relationship between immortality the existence of God and moral agency.

Associated Products

Herder's Naturalist Aesthetics (Book)
Title: Herder's Naturalist Aesthetics
Author: Rachel Zuckert
Abstract: In this book, Rachel Zuckert provides the first overarching account of Johann Gottfried Herder’s complex aesthetic theory. She guides the reader through Herder’s texts, showing how they relate to eighteenth- and nineteenth-century European philosophy of art, and focusing on two main concepts: aesthetic naturalism, the view that art is natural to and naturally valuable for human beings as organic, embodied beings, and – unusually for Herder’s time – aesthetic pluralism, the view that aesthetic value takes many diverse and culturally varying forms. Zuckert argues that Herder’s theory plays a pivotal role in the history of philosophical aesthetics, marking the transition from the eighteenth-century focus on aesthetic value as grounded in human nature to the nineteenth-century focus on art as socially significant and historically variable. Her study illuminates Herder’s significance as an innovative thinker in aesthetics, and will interest a range of readers in philosophy of art and European thought.
Year: 2019
Access Model: purchase
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Type: Single author monograph
Copy sent to NEH?: No

Formalism and Cultural Style; Herderian Reflections (Conference Paper/Presentation)
Title: Formalism and Cultural Style; Herderian Reflections
Author: Rachel Zuckert
Abstract: Following the lead of J.G. Herder's essay, "Shakespeare," I propose that one element of aesthetic appreciation is the cultural style of an artwork.
Date: 10/13/18

Author Meets Critics panel, on Herder's Naturalist Aesthetics (Conference Paper/Presentation)
Title: Author Meets Critics panel, on Herder's Naturalist Aesthetics
Author: Rachel Zuckert
Abstract: comments by Jonathan Weinberg (Arizona), Naomi Fisher (Loyola University Chicago), and Whitney Davis (Berkeley).
Date: 4/21/2020
Conference Name: American Philosophical Association, Pacific Division