Recent affect theory has been wary of aesthetics. Critics challenge both the primacy of art in contrast with the lived complexities of affect and their philosophical subsumption under cognitive and moral interests. This synoptic ideology critique depicts aesthetics, from Leibnizian rationalism through the Kantian architecture, as a promise that discursively betrayed the sphere of affect even while restoring it to post-Cartesian attention. The charge truncates, however, the divergent and attentive questioning of affect that played out within the European field of eighteenth-century aesthetics. My argument moves backwards through the Kantian construction of aesthetic judgement to pursue one such exploratory line of questioning from Jean-Baptiste Dubos to Gotthold Ephraim Lessing, Friedrich Nicolai, and Moses Mendelssohn and, finally, Jean Paul. Dubos’ account of art as life-affirming animation was contentiously rethought in arguments about the secondary, or sympathetic, affects engendered by complex representations.