Paper $40.00 ISBN: 9780226680866 Published April 2020
Cloth $120.00 ISBN: 9780226680729 Published April 2020
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Aesthetic Science

Representing Nature in the Royal Society of London, 1650-1720

Alexander Wragge-Morley

Aesthetic Science

Alexander Wragge-Morley

272 pages | 11 halftones | 6 x 9 | © 2020
Paper $40.00 ISBN: 9780226680866 Published April 2020
Cloth $120.00 ISBN: 9780226680729 Published April 2020
E-book $10.00 to $40.00 About E-books ISBN: 9780226681054 Published April 2020
The scientists affiliated with the early Royal Society of London have long been regarded as forerunners of modern empiricism, rejecting the symbolic and moral goals of Renaissance natural history in favor of plainly representing the world as it really was. In Aesthetic Science, Alexander Wragge-Morley challenges this interpretation by arguing that key figures such as John Ray, Robert Boyle, Nehemiah Grew, Robert Hooke, and Thomas Willis saw the study of nature as an aesthetic project.

To show how early modern naturalists conceived of the interplay between sensory experience and the production of knowledge, Aesthetic Science explores natural-historical and anatomical works of the Royal Society through the lens of the aesthetic. By underscoring the importance of subjective experience to the communication of knowledge about nature, Wragge-Morley offers a groundbreaking reconsideration of scientific representation in the early modern period and brings to light the hitherto overlooked role of aesthetic experience in the history of the empirical sciences.

1 Physico-Theology, Natural Philosophy, and Sensory Experience
2 An Empiricism of Imperceptible Entities
3 In Search of Lost Designs
4 Verbal Picturing
5 Natural Philosophy and the Cultivation of Taste

Conclusion: Embodied Aesthetics

Review Quotes
"Wragge-Morley successfully melds a readable narrative of the Scientific Revolution in England with an original historical interpretation of the foundations and methods of empirical science underlying the work of its key figures. . . . Despite explicating the subtle interactions of 17th-century empirical discoveries and emerging empirical methods, philosophy, and theology, the work is remarkably free of unnecessary jargon or pedantic argument. It should be in every library with strengths in intellectual history, European history, or the history and philosophy of science. . . . Essential."
John Brewer, Eli and Edythe Broad Emeritus Professor in Humanities and Social Sciences, California Institute of Technology
"Wragge-Morley boldly challenges a long-standing orthodoxy about the Royal Society's attachment to plain language in scientific description. The work is original, moves across the disciplines, and is an important contribution to the poetics of early modern science and to the debate about objectivity."
Joanna Picciotto, University of California, Berkeley
"Riveting and consequential. This is a book that transforms our understanding of Royal Society science while providing an alternative genealogy of modern aesthetics. Wragge-Morley reveals how physico-theology, long treated as a merely apologetic discourse, shaped contexts of discovery. As he brilliantly demonstrates, physico-theological assumptions effectively required natural phenomena like snowflakes to be analyzed as ruins, vestiges of an originally perfect design. Making new sense of the diversity of Royal Society projects, Wragge-Morley recovers a still-vital tradition of aesthetic thinking governed by physico-theological rather than Kantian assumptions. His aesthetic approach to his materials makes the most compelling argument of all: a demonstration that the imbrication of metaphysics, theology, and early modern scientific practice can only be revealed through a history of experience."
Dániel Margócsy, author of Commercial Visions: Science, Trade, and Visual Culture in the Dutch Golden Age
"This is an important and exciting book. Aesthetic Science shows how members of the early Royal Society engaged with the problem of representation while supporting an ideology of empirical science. Historians have spilled much ink on documenting the emergence of empiricism in the early modern period, yet they have failed to note that empiricist natural philosophers were acutely aware of the limits of representation. Wragge-Morley surveys an impressive cast of characters, and what emerges is a new interpretation of what the early Royal Society was up to. The story told is rich, complex, and thoroughly convincing."
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