Objective Poetics: Victorian Literature and the Science of Aesthetics


In my dissertation, I attempt to demonstrate how both Romantic and Victorian literature and science came together to produce the idea of “objectivity.” Whereas prior naturalists had tended to embrace an epistemic ideal of what they called “truth to nature”—which involved manipulating observed phenomena to capture their underlying structure—I argue that philosophers of science soon came to recognise that this tendency distorted, instead of elucidated, the objects which they set out to study. In attempting to uncover the abstract form beneath material facts, scientists often ended up merely projecting their subjective beliefs onto nature itself. To prevent this epistemic misunderstanding, I suggest, philosophers began to emphasise the need for what they called “objectivity.” This meant attempting to regulate the unconscious biases of subjects through adopting both particular technologies—notably photographic reproduction—yet also mundane methods of self-regulation, including an emphasis on the need for reproducibility within observation. Through these different forms of epistemic self-restraint, which sought to remove personal belief from science, Romantic and Victorian authors thus attempted to capture the objective structure of nature.






Richardson, Ben (2020). Objective Poetics: Victorian Literature and the Science of Aesthetics. Dissertation, Duke University. Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10161/21014.


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