Art and Morality
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Literature course (WB2BL0001/WB3BL0001/WBML0001)
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As literature courses are an ongoing affair, changes to them will, also, be made continuously.
As a result, you may be working on the basis of a course description that, recently, became obsolete. Whenever the website description changes there is no way for you to retrieve the older version that you used when enlisting.
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|Institute||Department of Philosophy|
|Credit Points||7,5 ECTS|
|Osiris Code||Handed out upon finishing the course (contact the teacher)|
|Level||2, 3, or Masters|
|Prerequisites||Either Inleiding in de filosofie van de kunsten (WB2/3BD3024) or Kunst en het kwaad. Nieuwe thema's uit de kunstfilosofie/esthetica (WB2/3BD3025), or UCU Humanities course HUM243 Philosophy of Art, or an adequate alternative.|
|Period||Any period, assuming that beforehand dates of beginning and finishing the course are agreed upon.|
|Language||Dutch or English|
|Contents||the subject of the literature-module Art and Morality is the question whether, or not, we can morally judge works of art. The compulsory reading for the module consists of two books and a couple of articles. The literature is divided over six subthemes. (Click the Manual-button above for more details).|
|Examination||Examination takes place through regular meetings with the teacher regarding the writings of the student. The student is supposed to study a subtheme and submit a paper about it. Before heading on with the next paper contact is required with the teacher.|
2 (level 2): six small papers of approx. 3 pages
3 (level 3): five small papers and one larger, synthesising final paper
M (Masters): same as level 3, but add another paper processing the additional literature
|Compulsory literature||Levinson, Jerrold. 1998. Aesthetics and Ethics. Cambridge, New York: Cambridge University Press.
Davies, Stephen, ed. 1997. Art and its Messages. Meaning, Morality and Society. Pennsylvania: Pennsylvania State University Press.
A few articles. |
At Masters level the readings include an additional 100-200 pages literature chosen by the student, in concurrence with the teacher.
|Contact||Dr. R.C.H.M. van Gerwen|
Make an appointment with the teacher: Rob.vanGerwen AT phil.uu.nl
|Teacher||Dr. R.C.H.M. van Gerwen|
Students who take this course at level 2, write six three-page papers, 1500 words each.
Students who take this course at level 3, write five three-page papers, and one longer paper, of max. 3000 words. This longer paper addresses all or most of the issues presented in the literature, in an effort to summarize or synthesize the debates.
Before writing this paper a proposal for it is to be submitted, specifying the philosophical problem that is to be addressed, the thesis to be defended about it, and the strategy followed for its defense.
Students who take this course at Masters level, follow the Level 3 approach, and write an added 7th paper, of max. 3000 words. This second long paper connects arguments developed in the 6th paper to arguments derived from extra readings chosen by the student in concurrence with the teacher.
Submitting your work
Students submit their work both in print, delivered at the department, and digitally, through E-mail.
Texts for this course
Most of the articles are collected in these two books (compulsory reading):Levinson, Jerrold. 1998. Aesthetics and Ethics. Cambridge, New York: Cambridge University Press. Davies, Stephen, ed. 1997. Art and its Messages. Meaning Morality and Society. Pennsylvania: Pennsylvania State University Press.
Some of the extra papers can be downloaded through these pages (contact the teacher for your login data), or via Omega (through the University Library, UBU). This is done best from a location at the UU, or via this link from any other location. (You shall need a 'PDF-reader', such as Adobe's Acrobat Reader. Available as free download.)
At M-level, students propose an extra 100-200 pages of relevant literature after consulting with the teacher.
Examination takes place through regular meetings about six small papers of approx. 3 pages (level 2), or five small papers and one larger synthesizing endpaper (level 3), or, lastly, or five small papers and two larger endpapers (M level).
The student is supposed to study each of the sub themes in sequence, and submit a paper about it. Before heading on with the next paper, contact is required with the teacher.
Six sub themes
1. DISINTERESTEDNESS, FORMALISM
- It is often said that art is an autonomous practice, meaning with this that in its name things can be done which would never have been allowed in real-life. In this first theme we look at two ways to conceive of this autonomy, both traceable, at least in part, to arguments developed by Kant. One is the thesis of the disinterestedness of beauty (whether of nature or of art), the other is formalism.
- Formalism is the thesis that art is about form, i.e. about the way in which a work presents whatever it presents. The meaning of the work, its content or the emotions it expresses, are viewed as external to the work, and, therefore, irrelevant to its critical assessment. If formalism is correct, then how can art have a socially or morally relevant significance? But how to make sense of formalism? (Goodman's critique of formalism.)
- It is often said that there is a premonition of the formalist thesis in Kant's argument that we should not base our judgement of taste on what pleases directly in the senses(CJ, §7:1, Pluhar 55, B212), nor on colours or sounds as such, but must base it on their composition (CJ, § 14; Pluhar 72, B 225).
Further reading?Derrida, Jacques. 2000. “The Parergon.” In The Continental Aesthetics Reader, edited by Clive Cazeaux, 412–28. London and New York: Routledge. (oorspr. in La Vérité en Peinture, Paris, 1968.)
2. THE PLACE OF THE WORK OF ART, AND OF ITS BEHOLDER
- A phenomenological thesis is implicated in the thesis of formalism, which says that we assess works of art differently from everyday objects and events.
- The second sub theme addresses the question how (in which manner) a work of art is in the place and time of his beholder, and what consequences this seems to have for the willingness and capacity of that beholder to act in response to the work's meaning.
3. AUTONOMISM, PROPAGANDA, AND FICTIONAL ASSENT
- The third theme addresses the thought that the relevant issues with works of art, are never exclusively about their content, but always also about the ways in which this contents is conveyed.
- Autonomism is the thesis that art forms a morally vacuous domain of culture (or experience), an autonomous practice. The trouble with this thesis is its allowance for artistically meritorious, yet morally evil works, such as, notoriously, Leni Riefenstahl's Triumf of the will.
- The strong version of this thesis, aestheticism, says that we admire art exclusively for its own sake: "l'art pour l'art". According to aestheticism, art has no moral relevance and cannot, therefore, be judged morally. Nowadays, more moderate theses are brought forward, which allow for morality to have more bearing onto art.
- According to David Hume, and Kendall Walton, though we normally accepts untruths in fictional representations, we seem to be incapable of accepting moral fictions that go against our own intuitions. Perhaps this is why we are troubled by works of propaganda?
Extra reading on this subjectGerwen, Rob van. 2004. “Pornografie en propaganda in de kunst.” In Transgressie in de kunst. Jaarboek voor esthetica 2004, edited by Bart Vandenabeele en Koen Vermeir, 129-36. Budel: DAMON.
4. MORALISM, ETHICISM, ETHICAL AUTONOMISM
- Moralism, too, allows for more or less strong versions. The strongest variety, radical moralism, holds that with works of art the contents are always the single most crucial matter, and that works with a content that can be criticized morally can themselves, too, be criticized morally. No film may show a rape. This strong thesis has no defenders, yet it can, in its radicality, show one where the issues are.
- Noel Carroll' modest moralism is the thesis that immoral content may sometimes be held against a work when it horrifies its beholder to the point where he no longer wishes to take up the work.
- Berys Gaut's ethicism holds that the final judgement of a work is a calculation of sorts of aesthetic as well as moral considerations which all put some weight in the balance.
- Rob van Gerwen's ethical autonomism starts from the assessment that the discussion aims at the wrong level of the content. Instead, it should be leveled at the question whether or not we can conceive of works of art as somehow acting onto their audiences, and whether such agency can then be morally assessed.
Extra reading on this subjectCarroll, Noël. 1998. “Moderate Moralism versus Moderate Autonomism.” The British Journal of Aesthetics 38:419-24. (UB: Omega) Conolly, O. 2000. “Ethicism and Moderate Moralism.” The British Journal of Aesthetics 40:302-16. (UB: Omega)
5. MORALITY IN and OF NARRATIVE ART
- The sixth theme concerns the moral relevance of our stories.
- [Positions, such as those defended by Richard Rorty or Martha Nussbaum, which address the usability of narrative works for moral or juridical deliberations, are not included here, although they do somehow play along with the debate, in the background of certain arguments.]
Extra reading on this subjectCarroll, Noël. 1998. “Art, Narrative, and Moral Understanding.” In Aesthetics and Ethics, edited by Jerrold Levinson, 126-60. Cambridge, New York: Cambridge University Press. Currie, Gregory. 1998. “Realism of Character and the Value of Fiction.” In Aesthetics and Ethics, edited by Jerrold Levinson, 161-81. Cambridge, New York: Cambridge University Press.
- Do the moral problems we may have with art provide sufficient legitimation to censor it?