Aesthetics and the Crisis of Judgment in the Eighteenth Century


ACLS Fellowship Program




The purpose of this project is threefold: first, it diagnoses a widespread crisis of judgment in the present, a crisis which is at once cultural and epistemological. Second, it traces the genealogy of the crisis back to the eighteenth century, by demonstrating the vanishing place of judgment between the nascent discourses of empiricism and aesthetics. Third, and most importantly, it uses the novels of Jane Austen, accounts of natural and formal language, theories of play, and philosophies of experience to offer a new phenomenology of judgment. By describing carefully the unique structure and logic of acts of judgment, this project shows that judgment constitutes a distinctive cognitive habitus with its own legitimacy, irreducible to either knowledge or opinion. The argument is both a vindication of humanistic modes of inquiry and an account of why literary narrative is a privileged vehicle for cultivating judgment.