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In Search of Lost Designs

In Search of Lost Designs

(p.73) 3 In Search of Lost Designs
Aesthetic Science
Alexander Wragge-Morley
University of Chicago Press

The design argument is usually interpreted simply as an apologetic strategy, used by members of the early Royal Society such as John Ray to deflect accusations of irreligion. This chapter, however, uses a comparison between antiquarianism, architectural criticism, and natural history to show that the design argument was no mere polemical tool, but rather an aesthetic assumption that played a crucial role in the investigation and interpretation of nature. Comparing Robert Hooke's efforts to interpret the ruins of Snowflakes with contemporary attempts to do the same with the ruins of Stonehenge, this chapter shows that naturalists and antiquarians employed a strikingly similar set of approaches to the interpretation of objects they thought had been designed. Taking in a range of further examples and comparisons, including previously overlooked exchanges of correspondence between the naturalists Martin Lister and Nehemiah Grew, the chapter reveals that the empiricism of the early Royal Society was not as empirical as has been assumed. Instead, it was an empiricism shaped by aesthetic assumptions about the appearance of objects thought to have been designed. Naturalists such as Hooke aimed to generate for their readers an aesthetic experience of ease and pleasure.

Keywords:   design argument, architecture, antiquarianism, ruins, snowflakes, Stonehenge, Robert Hooke, Martin Lister, Nehemiah Grew

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