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Reconsidering the Platonism of Sir Joshua Reynolds (1723–1792) and Its Role in His Thought on the Education of Artists

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Chapter Summary

This chapter reconsiders the claim that Sir Joshua Reynolds held to a form of Platonism. It argues that the challenges to this view are thin, being based on an ambiguity concerning what constitutes Platonism, a false dichotomy of either Platonic idealism or Lockean empiricism, and a historically untenable take on what Platonism entails and excludes. The author's claim is that Reynolds shows clear signs of affirming Platonic idealism, but holds to the later Neo- and Christian Platonist syntheses of Plato with Aristotelian epistemology and substance metaphysics. This metaphysic informs Reynolds' understanding of the education of artists-both its stages and aims. For the task of the artist has been to focus not on shadows but on substance. Unlike the novice who must be pointed toward experience to learn exactitude, the artist now understands Ideal beauty and the properties to which "modes of beauty" owe their origin.

Keywords: Aristotelian epistemology; Lockean empiricism; metaphysics; Platonic idealism; Sir Joshua Reynolds



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