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While the idea that a work of art was an organic unity whose very "beauty" was constituted by its totality can be traced back to the ancient Greeks (for example, Aristotle's Poetics), this idea enjoyed its culmination in the modern world, especially among the Romantics. Johann Gottfried von Herder (1744–1803) emphasized the idea of an "inner form" that animated a poetic work, a precept that he applied, for instance, to Shakespearean drama. Herder's disciple, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749–1832), soon adapted his insight. The Critique of Judgment (1790) by Immanuel Kant (1724–1804) developed more broadly and explicitly the analogy between a work of art and a living creature, which was developed by German Romantics such as Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph von Schelling (1775–1854) and Friedrich von Schlegel (1772–1829). Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770–1831) declared in his Lectures on Aesthetics (posthumously published in 1835) that genuine art required "self-enclosed completion" to be judged beautiful.

The most influential English critics expounded similar doctrines. Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772–1834) proclaimed that the principle of "unity in multiplicity" constituted the essential feature in human imagination. That is, the genius of imagination was to draw together disparate and even contrary elements into a single, unified, seamless whole. William Blake (1757–1827) seconded this organicist aesthetics, and it was restated regularly by the English as well as Italian schools of neo-Hegelian philosophy of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, represented by figures such as Bernard Bosanquet (1848–1923) and Benedetto Croce (1866–1952).

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Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Octadecanoate to OvenbirdsOrganicism - Logic And Metaphysics, Aesthetics, Theology And Cosmology, Social And Political Thought, Decline Of Organicism