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Beauty for the Present: Mill, Arnold, Ruskin and Aesthetic Education

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Disciplines
  • Design
  • Education
  • Literature
  • Philosophy
  • Political Science

Abstract

The present thesis examines the idea of aesthetic education of three eminent Victorians: John Stuart Mill, Matthew Arnold and John Ruskin. By focusing on the essence of what they meant with ‘the cultivation of the beautiful’ and, more importantly, the way their ideas of beauty informed their criticism of society, my study aims to contribute to our understanding of the idea of aesthetic education in the Victorian context and, further, to participate in a recent debate about the nature of beauty and aesthetic education. Chapter One focuses on John Stuart Mill’s concept of ‘feeling’ in a series of essays. I will demonstrate how Mill’s idea of ‘aesthetic education’ was an ‘education of feelings,’ and moreover, how this idea was integrated into his literary criticism, his later critique of democratisation, his description of an ideal liberal society and even his own style of writing. Chapter Two contains a comparative study of Matthew Arnold and Friedrich Schiller. Through a rereading of Arnold, I will argue that his idea of aesthetic education is essentially Schillerian and that their resemblance consists primarily in their stress on the importance of aesthetic unity for modern life, which was becoming increasingly fragmentary and multitudinous. Chapter Three examines John Ruskin’s idea of aesthetic education and concentrates particularly on the cultivation of perception. Perception, as I shall show, was pivotal in Ruskin’s idea of aesthetic education. Just as what happened in Mill and Arnold, the emphasis on the education of seeing continued from his early writings well into his art and social criticisms. It not only differentiated him from his fellow art critics; the conviction that people should perceive with a pure heart also enabled him to link observation of artistic details with moral criticism of contemporary society and, thereby, to turn the cultivation of the beautiful into a moral-aesthetic experience.

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