Graduate Faculty Philosophy Journal

Adaptive Naturalism in Herder’s Aesthetics: An Interpretation of “Shakespeare,” by Rachel Zuckert

The two aspects of Herder’s aesthetic theory—the emphases on art’s cultural embeddedness and historical variation (“culturalism”) and on natural norms of artistic value (“naturalism”)—appear to be in some tension. In her paper, Rachel Zuckert explores this tension in Herder’s thought by attending to one of his most influential and focused treatments of cultural and historical diversity in the arts, namely Herder’s essay “Shakespeare.” This essay, Zuckert argues, may be understood as presenting a Herderian resolution to his naturalist/culturalist tension, which the author calls “adaptive naturalism.” On this view, Herder both emphasizes adaptation to one’s circumstances (harmony with the environment) as a natural good, and takes the natural good itself to be adaptive (i.e., to take on different forms as historical and social circumstances differ). Zuckert begins by presenting the two sides of the tension: Herder’s aesthetic naturalism and the culturalist position of “Shakespeare.” The author suggests that Herder’s central concern in both cases and the locus of apparent conflict between the two views is normative. By attending to Herder’s references to “nature” in “Shakespeare,” Zuckert considers two ways that one might try to reconcile Herder’s culturalism with his naturalism. Although both interpretations correctly capture some part of Herder’s view, neither is quite satisfactory, in the author’s view. Zuckert concludes by suggesting that adaptive naturalism combines the strengths of those interpretations and briefly considers a question raised by Herder’s view.

Article available through Philosophy Documentation Center, here.

Rachel Zuckert is Associate Professor of Philosophy and German at Northwestern University. She is the author of Kant on Beauty and Biology: An Interpretation of the Critique of Judgment (Cambridge, 2007). Among her numerous articles on eighteenth- and nineteenth-century European philosophy are “Herder and Philosophical Naturalism,” Herder Jahrbuch (2014); “Sculpture and Touch: Herder’s Aesthetics of Sculpture,” Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism (2009), and “Kant’s Rationalist Aesthetics,” Kant-Studien (2007).

Rachel Zuckert, “Adaptive Naturalism in Herder’s Aesthetics: An Interpretation of  ‘Shakespeare,'” Graduate Faculty Philosophy Journal 36:2 (2015), pp. 269–93.

About GFPJ

The Journal, published semi-annually in association with the Department of Philosophy at The New School for Social Research, provides a forum in which contemporary authors engage with the history of philosophy and its traditions.

Take The Next Step

Submit your application


To apply to any of our Bachelor's programs (Except the Bachelor's Program for Adult Transfer Students) complete and submit the Common App online.

Graduates and Adult Learners

To apply to any of our Master's, Doctural, Professional Studies Diploma, Graduates Certificate, or Associate's programs, or to apply to the Bachelor's Program for Adult and Transfer Students, complete and submit the New School Online Application.