Cavendish’s Aesthetic Realism

Philosophers' Imprint 23 (15):1-17 (2023)
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In this paper, I offer a new interpretation of Margaret Cavendish’s remarks on beauty. According to it, Cavendish takes beauty to be a real, response-independent quality of objects. In this sense, Cavendish is an aesthetic realist. This position, which remains constant throughout her philosophical writings, contrasts with the non-realist views that were soon after to dominate philosophical reflections on matters of taste in the early modern period. It also, I argue, contrasts with the realism of Cavendish’s contemporary, Henry More. While there are passages in Cavendish’s work that might seem to count against my reading—specifically, passages on disagreement in aesthetic judgement, on the power of beauty to elicit the passions, and on our inability to specify the nature of beauty—I show that, when situated against the background of Cavendish’s broader metaphysical and epistemological views, those passages in fact support the realist interpretation.

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Daniel Whiting
University of Southampton


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