Elements of Criticism
is Kames’s most influential work. When it first appeared, in 1762, it was the most comprehensive philosophical work on “criticism” in English, and it was published in five editions during Kames’s lifetime and another forty editions over the next century. In America, Elements of Criticism
served as a standard text for college students of English.In Elements, Kames sets out his argument that the “science of criticism” is a “rational science”; it is “a subject of reasoning as well as of taste.” By examining human reactions to art and literature, Kames believed that we could enhance our understanding of the human mind, just as an understanding of the mind could enrich our responses to the arts. Volume one explores the nature and causes of the emotions and passions.Volume two delineates principles of rhetoric and literary appreciation, ending with a discussion of the formation of a standard of taste. Kames illustrated both volumes with a vast range of examples from classical literature and the arts of his own day.With this publication, Liberty Fund makes a modern version of this influential work available for a wide readership. The Liberty Fund edition is based on the text of the sixth edition of 1785, which was the last edition authorized by Kames himself..
Henry Home, Lord Kames (1696–1782), one of the leaders of the Scottish Enlightenment, was a judge in the supreme
courts of Scotland and wrote extensively on morals, religion, education, aesthetics, history,
political economy, and law, including natural law. His most distinctive contribution came through
his works on the nature of law, where he sought to combine a philosophical approach with an
empirical history of legal evolution.
Peter Jones is Professor Emeritus of
Philosophy at the University of
Knud Haakonssen is Professor of Intellectual History and Director of the Centre for Intellectual History at the University of