Freedom and sentiments: wit and humour in the Augustan Age

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Wit is hardly definable: interpretations and debates in the Augustan Age resulted in confusion instead of clarity. The paper deals with early eighteenth-century philosophical notions such as wit, humour, laughter, mirth, and raillery through such authors as Sir Richard Blackmore, Joseph Addison, Lord Shaftesbury, and Francis Hutcheson. The main thesis is that freedom is at stake when one takes the debates about wit, humour, and laughter into consideration. Along with the discussions about these philosophical-anthropological notions, significant transformations can be discerned in the Augustan Age. The passions traditionally considered as irrational, hardly controllable, and egoistic, which rule the human heart, begin to lose their negative and theologically burdened quality, when Lord Shaftesbury recommends the refinement of sociable affections in the human soul. These natural sentiments and common feelings play an important role in the construction of an old-new ideal of humanity, and can serve as right measures for the conduct of life. Since these sentiments can be refined through "aesthetic" experiences, one could say that the function of theologically interpreted passions is gradually conveyed to that of aesthetic sentiments in the constitution of human mind. And this is, at the same time, a progress of emancipation. We can get rid of the constraining and determining passions when we succeed in turning them into polite affections or aesthetic sentiments.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)79-92
Number of pages14
JournalHungarian Journal of English and American Studies
Issue number1-2
Publication statusPublished - 2008


  • aesthetics
  • freedom
  • Augustan Age


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