Aesthetics in Motion. On György Szerdahely’s Dynamic Aesthetics

In Anthropologische Ästhetik in Mitteleuropa (1750–1850). Anthropological Aesthetics in Central Europe (1750–1850). (Bochumer Quellen und Forschungen zum achtzehnten Jahrhundert, 9). Hannover, Németország: pp. 153-180 (2018)
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György Alajos Szerdahely, the first professor of aesthetics in Pest, publishes his Aesthetica in 1778, a work, written in Latin, that not only engages with the eclectic university aesthetics of late-18th-century Germany and Central Europe, but also marks the beginning of the Hungarian aesthetic tradition. Szerdahely proposes aesthetics as the doctrine of taste, a philosophical discipline that can polish our manners and social conduct through a sensual-affective Bildung offered by art experiences. Highlighting his sources in both British criticism and German aesthetics, the paper traces the development of Szerdahely's concept of beauty from beauty as form (uniformity amidst variety) to beauty in motion (sensibility). Initially, Szerdahely argues for unity and variety as the two main constituents of a beautiful object, evoking disinterested contemplation, but he then turns to sensibility as the third necessary condition of beauty: an object becomes aesthetically beautiful only if it has the power to strike the senses (Lux) and stir the affections (Vivacitas), enlivening the whole embodied person. The paper argues that this third principle of sensibility proves to be more emphatic than the first two, leading to (1) the aesthetic conception of beauty as an experiential quality; but more interestingly to (2) the incorporation of the element of self-preservation and self-love into aesthetic experience. The reason for the latter development lies in Szerdahely’s anthropological argument, which traces back every affection to the instantaneous apprehension of good or evil concerning ourselves, implying desire (Adpetitus) or aversion (Auersi) in our reactions.

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Botond Csuka
Hungarian University of Sports Science


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