Sunday, January 12, 2020

Roger Scruton (1944-2020)

Roger Scruton died earlier today at the age of 75. He had been undergoing treatment for cancer. He was, I think, one of the greatest philosophers working in aesthetics in the twentieth century; his works in philosophy of architecture (e.g., The Aesthetics of Architecture) and philosophy of music (e.g., The Aesthetics of Music) are exemplary. He became politically conservative when he was in Paris during the student protests of May 1968; from that point on, his career was a career of controversy. During the 1980s, which were in many ways his most fruitful period, he actively worked with dissidents in Czechoslovakia, smuggling books and giving lectures; he was detained and expelled from the country in 1985 as well as placed on the Index of Undesirable Persons. The Czech Republic would later give him several honors for his work.

From his Gifford Lectures, The Face of God [Bloomsbury (New York: 2012)]:

We shape our surroundings as a home by farming, by building, by arranging the world. Aesthetic values govern every form of settlement, and it is the nomads, those 'passing through', who acknowledge no responsibility for the way things appear around them. The face of nature, as we see it in the great landscape paintings of Constable and Crome, of Courbet and Corot, is a face turned towards us, giving and receiving both frowns and smiles. And later artists showed another kind of expression, called forth onto the face of nature by the urgent desire to find what is really there, regardless of all the myths and stories. In the paintings of Van Gogh trees, flowers, orchards, fields and buildings break open to the artist's brush, in something like the way that a human face can break open in response to a smile, to reveal an intense inner life and an affirmation of being. Throughout the nineteenth century artists, poets and composers were in this way exploring and imploring the face of nature, eager for a direct and I-to-I encounter. The desire to perpetuate this face and to save it from unnecessary blemishes motivated the environmental movement, which was (in its origins, at least) the political expression of a profoundly Romantic sensibility. (p. 137)

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