Discipline: Art

(19th century)

Naturalistic aesthetics arose out of 19th-century positivism, and were developed in literary theory above all by the French writer EMILE ZOLA (1840-1902) who spoke of the 'experimental novel'.

Rejecting the emotional emphasis of romanticism and notions of idealism and stylization, it sought to represent natural objects as they appear, acting as the mirror for nature. Its theoretical basis is not far removed from that of realism, particularly in its claim for scientific objectivity of recording, but built in is a Darwinian ideology of the animal nature of the human, portraying violence and primitive passion.

During the 17th century, the Italian art historian BELLORI (1672) was the first to characterize work by the followers of MICHEL ANGELO MERISI CARAVAGGIO (1569-1609) as naturalistic.

G J Becker, ed., Documents of Modern Literary Realism (Princeton, 1963)


Discipline: Philosophy

Any view holding that things in general, or things in some sphere under investigation, are all of one kind (as opposed to being of radically different kinds), and are amenable to study by scientific methods, without appeal to supernatural intervention or special kinds of intuition. In art or literature, any of a variety of views saying the artist should imitate the natural world or actual human behavior.

In recent philosophy, naturalism has usually taken the form of an ethical theory, denying the fact/value distinction, and also denying that ethical facts are sui generis in nature; those ignoring either of these denials are said to commit the naturalistic fallacy.

Ethical naturalism is akin to, but not identical with, descriptivism (George Edward Moore (1873-1958) was a descriptivist but not a naturalist).

P Foot, ed., Theories of Ethics (1967)


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