Gustus Spiritualis: Remarks on the Emergence of Modern Aesthetics

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The article considers the concept of gustus spiritualis, in particular its possible historical connection with (aesthetic) taste in the 17th century. By “aesthetic” I mean a radically modern phenomenon, attitude, sensibility, &c.—i.e., a new type of experience. Its discourse has many keywords; one of them is the taste, an inner faculty by which its possessor is able to make sharp and proper distinctions, and simultaneously to enjoy fine delights. Here I am obliged to confine myself to the interpretation of some Jesuit authors within the wide tradition of gustus spiritualis: St. Ignatius of Loyola, St. Francis de Sales, Baltasar Gracián and Dominique Bouhours in sequence. The latter two are usually treated in the historical narratives of aesthetics which, however, usually take gustus / gusto / goût as if it would have been a purely secular or worldly (moral, political) notion in the 17th century, while its theological roots are ignored. To explore the role of gustus spiritualis in the evolution of (aesthetic) taste can cast some light, on the one hand, on the important fact that the volition is at stake here, i.e., the determination and enchantment of human desire and hope without constraints; and, on the other, on the historical process in which a new type of “beholder” emerges with sensitive attitude to the transcendence, and, in the same manner, to his worldly life, too; moreover in which, simultaneously, the nature of transcendence is transformed into a tasteable one.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)62-85
Number of pages23
JournalEstetika: The Central European Journal of Aesthetics
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2014


  • aesthetics


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