Aesthetics and Ethics: The Late Victorians


Wednesday, 6 pm - 8 pm


H. Li

Course Description

This course examines the late Victorians’ intellectual efforts to move beyond mid-Victorian culture. In particular, we will focus on their conception of the relations between ethics and aesthetics, as a paradigm shift away from mid-Victorian ideas of ethics, which were primarily rational and prescriptive. By analyzing experimental forms of cognitive aesthetics in George Eliot, William Morris, Thomas Hardy, Walter Pater and Oscar Wilde, we will reconstruct a contestatory conception of ethics in these writers that was ironic, sensory and counter-factual, a new “higher ethics” (Walter Pater). Issues to be discussed include ethology of skepticism, dialectics of futuristic envisioning, utopian superscription, naturalistic affect, and feelings as the intellect.

Course Texts

  • Walter Pater, The Renaissance (1873 and 1893)
  • George Eliot, Daniel Deronda (1876)
  • William Morris, News from Nowhere (1890)
  • Oscar Wilde, Picture of Dorian Gray (1890), De Profundis (1905)
  • Thomas Hardy, Jude the Obscure (1895)

Critical readings by Theodor Adorno, Amanda Anderson, Derek Attridge, Alain Badiou, Stanley Cavell, Jürgen Habermas, Emmanuel Levinas, Alastair MacIntyre, Martha Nussbaum, and Charles Taylor.

Course Method of Evaluation and Course Requirements

  • Seminar presentation: 25%
  • Participation 20%
  • Major Essay 55%

Term: S-TERM (January 2023 to April 2023)
Date/Time: Wednesday 6:00 pm to 8:00 pm
Location: Room BL 305 (Claude T. Bissell Building, 140 St. George Street)
Delivery: In-Person