Aesthetic ScienceRepresenting Nature in the Royal Society of London, 1650-1720

Aesthetic ScienceRepresenting Nature in the Royal Society of London, 1650-1720

Alexander Wragge-Morley

Print publication date: 2020

ISBN: 9780226680729

Publisher: University of Chicago Press

Abstract

The scientists affiliated with the early Royal Society of London have long been regarded as forerunners of modern empiricism, rejecting the symbolic and moral goals of Renaissance natural history in favor of plainly representing the world as it really was. Aesthetic Science revises this interpretation, showing that key figures such as John Ray, Robert Boyle, Nehemiah Grew, Robert Hooke, and Thomas Willis saw the study of nature as an aesthetic project. Seeking to obtain knowledge of the natural world through their senses, they practiced a science that depended on harnessing the embodied pleasures and pains arising from sensory experience. The book therefore demonstrates that judgments of taste and the pleasures of aesthetic experience had a central role in the emergence of what we now understand as scientific objectivity. It shows that scientists of the later 17th century sought to obtain consensus not only about facts, but also about the pleasures and pains arising from embodied encounters with nature. It thus concludes by calling for a new approach that pays close attention to the role of aesthetic experience in the history of science. Indeed, it argues not only that the sciences of the 17th century had a far more significant role in the emergence of aesthetics and art criticism than has so far been recognized, but also that the conceptual resources of taste and aesthetic judgment can make a major contribution to our understanding of the formation of consensus in scientific communities.