Shaftesbury, Third Earl of

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Shaftesbury, Third Earl of


(Anthony Ashley Cooper). Born Feb. 26, 1671, in London; died Feb. 15, 1713, in Naples. English moral philosopher, aesthetician; deist.

A student of J. Locke, Shaftesbury expressed ideas characteristic of the early Enlightenment. A supporter of freethinking and an opponent of church religiosity and fanaticism, he saw reason as the single criterion of truth. Shaftesbury’s philosophy was the expression of an extremely optimistic view of the world and history. Using Neoplatonic images borrowed particularly from the Cambridge Platonists, he drew a sweeping picture of a universe at the same time eternally created and in the process of being created, with a single origin of the true, the good, and the beautiful. Shaftesbury’s image of the universe was the expression of man’s striving for the ideal of harmonious naturalness as the reasonable order of human existence. Morality, according to him, is rooted in an innate human “moral sense”; its essence lies in the harmonious combination of individual and social inclinations. Shaftesbury’s characteristic aesthetization of the world was linked with an assertion of the aesthetic nature of moral perfection, the indissoluble unity of beauty and morality (the dialogue The Moralists: A Philosophical Rhapsody, 1709). He analyzed the principles of classicist realism, elaborated the problem of character, which was crucial to Enlightenment art, and developed the doctrine of intrinsic form.

Shaftesbury’s aesthetic ideas were systematized by British philosophy of the 18th century (F. Hutcheson and D. Hume) and were developed in English poetry and moralistic prose, beginning with A. Pope, J. Addison, and R. Steele. Shaftesbury strongly influenced aesthetic ideas in France (D. Diderot) and especially Germany (C. M. Wieland, J. G. Hamann, J. G. Herder, J. W. von Goethe, F. von Schiller, and the Jena romantics).


Characteristicks of Men, Manners, Opinions, Times, vols. 1–3. London, 1711.
The Life, Unpublished Letters and Philosophical Regimen. London, 1900.
Second Characteristicks, or the Language of Form. Cambridge, 1914.
In Russian translation:
Esteticheskie opyty. Moscow, 1975.


Mikhailov, Al. V. “Esteticheskii mir Sheftsberi.” In Esteticheskie opyty. Moscow, 1975. Pages 7–76.
Walzel, O. Das Prometheussymbol von Shaftesbury zu Goethe, 2nd ed. Munich, 1932.
Wolff, E. Shaftesbury und seine Bedeutung. Tubingen, 1960.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.