Dubos, Abbé Jean-Baptiste

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Dubos, Abbé Jean-Baptiste (1670-1742): French, Philosopher

Jean-Baptiste Dubos (or “Du Bos”) is primarily remembered for his work of aesthetics, Réflexions critique sur la poésie et sur la peinture (1719), which influenced later French and German aesthetic thought. After studying theology and law, Dubos became a diplomat and an historian. He was involved in negotiations for the peace of Utrecht in 1701. Shortly thereafter, supported by benefices and pensions, he retired from diplomacy to devote himself to his studies. He published historical works throughout his life, including Histoire critique de l’établissement de la monarchie française dans les Gaules (1734), which argues that the authority of Caesar was transferred to the Franks through the peaceful request of the Gauls for Frankish rule. It is characteristic of Dubos’ esteem for the Ancients that he sought to establish continuity between Rome and the French monarchy by disproving the Frankish conquest of the Gauls.

In 1719, Dubos published Réflexions critique sur la poésie et sur la peinture (two volumes), which reveals the influence of Locke’s sensualism. Dubos takes the non-Cartesian view that the enjoyment of art is located in its affective qualities and in emotional response, which avert boredom, rather than in rational reflection. Although he espouses a non-rational criterion for judging art which seems based on public taste rather than expert opinion, Dubos also returns respectfully to the classical canon, examining classical art in terms of its historical ability to evoke sentiment. One of the first of numerous eighteenth-century treatises on aesthetics, Dubos’ work was influential in establishing aesthetics as a discipline.

Further reading:

L. Tavernier, “A propos Illusion: Jean Baptiste Dubos’ Einführung eines Begriffes in die französische Kunstkritik des 18. Jahrhunderts,” Pantheon 42 (1984): 158-160.

Janet Bertsch