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Sensualism in Germany. The Constitution of Sensualistic Aesthetics from Meier to Lessing

Without sensualism, Kant’s aesthetics wouldn’t exist. But what is sensualism? The project examines the construction of sensualist aesthetics in the second third of the 18th century in Germany.

Project No. G 410

Olga Katharina Schwarz

The discussion over the importance of anthropological tendencies in literature and aesthetics in the 18th century, ongoing since the 1970s, leads to the question of the extent to which an independent aesthetic sensualism can be defined. Using the oeuvres of G.F. Meier, M.C. Curtius, J.G. Sulzer, M. Mendelssohn and G.E. Lessing, and taking Jean-Baptiste Dubos as a starting point, the thesis investigates how aesthetics changed under the influence of sensualism.

By considering the contemporaneous anthropological discourse of knowledge, I intend to examine the effect of the new understanding of the human being on aesthetics and the moral mission of art, taking into account the different concepts of emotion of each author. Changes in the concept of the effect of art will be analyzed and their importance for the aesthetic concepts of the time evaluated.

This analysis will allow me to summarize systematically the conditions and specific aspects of German sensualism and to reconstruct the conditions under which the paradigm shift from rationalist to sensualist aesthetic-poetological reflections took place. The fundamental turn in comparison with Gottsched’s idea of imitation; the re-evaluation of the imagination; the new definition of the idea of illusion; the subjectivity of taste and aesthetic judgment; the initial stages of an idea of genius independent from rules: all of these can thus be understood and explained in their development.


German studies


Prof. Dr. Peter Sprengel

Prof. Dr. Ernst Osterkamp