Up until fairly recently it was philosophical orthodoxy – at least within analytic aesthetics broadly construed – to hold that the appreciation and evaluation of works as art and moral considerations pertaining to them are conceptually distinct. However, following on from the idea that artistic value is broader than aesthetic value, the last 15 years has seen an explosion of interest in exploring possible inter-relations between the appreciative and ethical character of works as art. Consideration of these issues has a (...) distinguished philosophical history but as the Compass survey article suggests ('Art, Morality and Ethics: On the (Im)Moral Character of Art Works and Inter-Relations to Artistic Value.' Philosophy Compass 1.2 (2006): 129–43), it is only very recently that figures in the field have returned to it to develop more precisely what they take the relationships to be and why. Consensus is, unsurprisingly, lacking. The reinvigoration of the issues has led sophisticated formalists or autonomists to mount a more considered defence of the idea that aesthetic and literary values are indeed conceptually distinct from the justification or otherwise of the moral perspective or views endorsed in a work (Topic I). The challenges presented by such a defence are many but amongst them are appeals to critical practice (Lamarque and Olsen), scepticism about whether or not art really can give us bona fide knowledge (Stolnitz) and the recognition that truth often seems to be far removed from what it is we value in our appreciation of works (Lamarque). One way to motivate consideration of the relevance of a work's moral character to its artistic value concerns the phenomena of imaginative resistance. At least sometimes it would seem that, as Hume originally suggested, we either cannot or will not enter imaginatively into the perspective solicited by a work due to its morally problematic character (Topic II). In some cases, it would seem that as a matter of psychological fact, we cannot do so since it is impossible for us to imagine how it could be that a certain attitude or action is morally permissible or good (Walton). The question then is whether or not this is a function of morality in particular or constraints on imaginative possibility more generally and what else is involved. At other times, the phenomena seem to be driven by a moral reluctance to allow ourselves to enter into the dramatic perspective involved (Moran) or evaluation of the attitude expressed (Stokes). Nonetheless, it is far from obvious that this is so of all the attitudes or responses we judge to be morally problematic. After all, it looks like we can and indeed often do suspend or background particular cognitive and moral commitments in engaging with all sorts of works (Nichols and Weinberg). If the moral character of a work interacts with how we appreciate and evaluate them, then the pressing question is this: is there any systematic account of the relationship available to us? One way is to consider the relationship between our emotional responses to works and their moral character (Topic III). After all, art works often solicit various emotional responses from us to follow the work and make use of moral concepts in so doing (Carroll). Indeed, whether or not a work merits the sought for emotional responses often seems to be internally related to ethical considerations (Gaut). Yet, it is not obvious that we should apply our moral concepts or respond emotionally in our imaginative engagement with works as art as we should in real life (Kieran, Jacobson). A different route is via the thought that art can convey knowledge (Topic IV). There might be particular kinds of moral knowledge art distinctively suited to conveying (Nussbaum) or it may just be that art does so particularly effectively (Carroll, Gaut, Kieran). Either way where this can be tied to the artistic means and appreciation of a work it would seem that to cultivate moral understanding contributes to the value of a work and to betray misunderstanding is a defect. Without denying the relevance of the moral character of a work some authors have wanted to claim that sometimes the immoral aspect of a work can contribute to rather than lessen its artistic value (Topic V). One route is to claim that there is no systematic theoretical account of the relationship available and what the right thing to say is depends on the particular case involved (Jacobson). Another involves the claim that this is so when the defect connects up in an appropriate way to one of the values of art. Thus, it has been claimed, only where a work reveals something which adds to intelligibility, knowledge or understanding in virtue of its morally problematic aspect can this be so (Kieran). The latter position looks like it could in principle be held whilst nonetheless maintaining that the typical or standard relationship is as the moralists would have it. Yet perhaps allowing valence change for such reasons is less a mark of principled explanation and more a function of downright inconsistency or incoherence (Harold). The topics themselves and suggested readings given below follow the structure articulated above as further amplified in the Compass survey article. The design and structure given below can be easily compressed or expanded further. Author Recommends 1. Carroll, Noël. 'Art, Narrative and Moral Understanding.' Aesthetics and Ethics: Essay at the Intersection . Ed. Jerrold Levinson. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1998. 126–60. This article develops the idea that engaging with narrative art calls on moral concepts and emotions and can thereby clarify our moral understanding. 2. Carroll, Noël. Beyond Aesthetics: Philosophical Essays . Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2009. Part IV consists of six distinct essays on questions concerning the inter-relations between art and morality including the essay cited above and the author's articulation and defence of moderate moralism. 3. Gaut, Berys. 'The Ethical Criticism of Art.' Aesthetics and Ethics: Essay at the Intersection . Ed. Jerrold Levinson. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1998. 182–203. 4. Gaut, Berys. Art, Emotion and Ethics . Oxford: Oxford UP, 2007. This monograph provides the most exhaustive treatment of the issues and defends the claim that, where relevant, whenever a work is morally flawed it is of lesser value as art and wherever it is morally virtuous the work's value as art is enhanced. Chapters 7 and 8 defend concern ethical knowledge and chapter 10 is a development of the article cited above concerning emotional responses. Chapter 3 also gives a useful conceptual map of the issues and options in the debate. 5. Jacobson, Daniel. 'In Praise of Immoral Art.' Philosophical Topics 25 (1997): 155–99. A wide ranging and extended treatment of relevant issues which objects to generalising moral treatments of our responses to art works and defends the idea that particular works can be better because of rather than despite their moral defects. 6. Kieran, Matthew. 'Forbidden Knowledge: The Challenge of Cognitive Immoralism.' Art and Morality . Ed. Sebastian Gardner and José Luis Bermúdez. London: Routledge, 2003. 56–73. A general argument for immoralism is elaborated by outlining when, where and why a work's morally problematic character can contribute to its artistic value for principled reasons (through enhancing moral understanding). 7. Kieran, Matthew. Revealing Art . London: Routledge, 2005. Chapter 4. This chapter argues against both aestheticism and straightforward moralism about art, elaborating a defence of immoralism in relation to visual art whilst ranging over issues from pornographic art to the nature and demands of different genres in art. 8. Lamarque, Peter. 'Cognitive Values in the Arts: Marking the Boundaries.' Contemporary Debates in Aesthetics and the Philosophy of Art. Ed. Matthew Kieran. Oxford: Blackwell, 2006, 127–39. This article concisely outlines and defends a sophisticated aestheticism that denies the importance of truth to artistic value. 9. Stolnitz, Jerome. 'On the Cognitive Triviality of Art.' British Journal of Aesthetics 32.3 (1992): 191–200. This article articulates and defends the claim that no knowledge of any interesting or significant kind can be afforded by works appreciated and evaluated as art. 10. Walton, Kendall. 'Morals in Fiction and Fictional Morality, I.' Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, Suppl. 68 (1994): 27–51. This article builds on some comments from Hume to develop the idea that when engaging with fictions it seems impossible imaginatively to enter into radically deviant moral attitudes. Online Materials 'Aesthetics and Ethics: The State of the Art.' American Society of Aesthetics online (Jeffrey Dean): http://www.aesthetics-online.org/articles/index.php?articles_id=15 >. 'Art, Censorship and Morality' downloadable podcast of Nigel Warburton interviewing Matthew Kieran at Tate Britain (BBC/OU Open2.net as part of the Ethics Bites series): http://www.open2.net/ethicsbites/art-censorship-morality.html >. 'Art, Morality and Ethics: On the (Im)Moral Character of Art Works and Inter-Relations to Artistic Value.' Philosophy Compass 1.2 (2006): 129–43 (Matthew Kieran): http://www3.interscience.wiley.com/journal/118557779/abstract >. 'Ethical Criticism of Art.' Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Ella Peek): http://www.iep.utm.edu/a/art-eth.htm >. 'Fascinating Fascism.' New York Review of Books Piece Discussing Leni Riefenstahl (Susan Sontag): http://www.nybooks.com/articles/9280 >. 'The Beheading of St. John the Baptist (1450s), Giovanni de Paolo' (Tom Lubbock): http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/art/great-works/great-works-the-beheading-of-st-john-the-baptist-1450s-giovanni-di-paolo-1684900.html >. Vladimir Nabokov and Lionel Trilling discuss Lolita (CBS): http://www.listal.com/video/3848698 >. Sample Syllabus Topic I Autonomism/Aestheticism • Anderson, James C. and Jeffrey T. Dean. 'Moderate Autonomism.' British Journal of Aesthetics 38.2 (1998): 150–66. • Beardsley, Monroe. Aesthetics: Problems in the Philosophy of Criticism . New York: Harcourt, Brace and World, 1958. Chapter 12. • Kant, Immanuel. The Critique of Judgement.Trans. James Creed Meredith . Oxford: Oxford UP, 1952 . • Lamarque, Peter. 'Cognitive Values in the Arts: Marking the Boundaries.' Contemporary Debates in Aesthetics and the Philosophy of Art . Ed. Matthew Kieran. Oxford: Blackwell, 2006, 127–39. • ——. 'Tragedy and Moral Value.' Australasian Journal of Philosophy 73.2 (1995): 239–49. • Lamarque, Peter and Stein Olsen. Truth, Fiction and Literature . Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1994. Chapter 10. • Stolnitz, Jerome. 'On the Cognitive Triviality of Art.' British Journal of Aesthetics 32.3 (1992): 191–200. Topic II Imaginative Capacities, Intelligibility and Resistance • Moran, Richard. 'The Expression of Feeling in Imagination.' Philosophical Review 103.1 (1994): 75–106. • Nichols, Shaun. 'Just the Imagination: Why Imagining Doesn't Behave Like Believing'. Mind & Language 21.4 (2006): 459–74. • Stokes, Dustin. 'The Evaluative Character of Imaginative Resistance'. British Journal of Aesthetics 46.4 (2006): 387–405. • Tanner, Michael. 'Morals in Fiction and Fictional Morality, II'. Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, Suppl. Vol. 68 (1994): 51–66. • Walton, Kendall (1994). 'Morals in Fiction and Fictional Morality, I'. Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, Suppl. Vol. 68 (1994): 27–51. • Weinberg, Jonathan. 'Configuring the Cognitive Imagination.' New Waves in Aesthetics . Eds. K. Stock and K. Thomson-Jones. London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008. 203–23. Topic III Moralism and Emotions • Carroll, Noël. 'Moderate Moralism.' British Journal of Aesthetics 36.3 (1996): 223–37. • Carroll, Noël. 'Art, Narrative and Moral Understanding.' Aesthetics and Ethics: Essay at the Intersection . Ed. Jerrold Levinson. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1998.126–60. • Gaut, Berys. Art, Emotion and Ethics . Oxford: Oxford UP, 2007. Chapter 10. • ——. 'The Ethical Criticism of Art.' Aesthetics and Ethics: Essay at the Intersection . Ed. Jerrold Levinson. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1998. 182–203. • Hume, David. 'Of the Standard of Taste.' Selected Essays . Oxford: Oxford UP, 1993 . 133–53. • Kieran, Matthew. 'Emotions, Art and Immorality.' Oxford Handbook to the Philosophy of Emotions . Ed. Peter Goldie. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2009. 681–703. • Tolstoy, Leo. What is Art? . London: Penguin, 2004. Chapters 5 and 15. Topic IV Moralism and Knowledge • Aristotle. Poetics . Trans. M. Heath. London: Penguin, 1996 [367–322 BC]. • Carroll, Noël. 'The Wheel of Virtue: Art, Literature and Moral Knowledge.' Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 60.1 (2002): 3–26. • Gaut, Berys. Art, Emotion and Ethics . Oxford: Oxford UP, 2007. Chapters 7 and 8. • Gaut, Berys. 'Art and Cognition.' Contemporary Debates in Aesthetics and the Philosophy of Art . Ed. Matthew Kieran. Oxford: Blackwell, 2006. 115–26. • Kieran, Matthew. 'Art, Imagination and the Cultivation of Morals.' Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 54.4 (1996): 337–51. • Nussbaum, Martha. 'Finely Aware and Richly Responsible: Literature and the Moral Imagination.' Love's Knowledge . New York: Oxford UP, 1990. 148–68. • Plato. The Republic . Trans. D. Lee. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1974. Book 10. Topic V Immoralist Contextualism • Harold, James. 'Immoralism and the Valence Constraint.' British Journal of Aesthetics 48.1 (2008): 45–64. • Jacobson, Daniel. 'In Praise of Immoral Art.' Philosophical Topics 25 (1997): 155–99. • ——. 'Ethical Criticism and the Vices of Moderation.' Contemporary Debates in Aesthetics and the Philosophy of Art . Ed. Matthew Kieran. Oxford: Blackwell, 2006. 342–55. • John, Eileen. 'Artistic Value and Moral Opportunism.' Contemporary Debates in Aesthetics and the Philosophy of Art . Ed. Matthew Kieran. Oxford: Blackwell, 2006. 331–41. • Kieran, Matthew. 'Forbidden Knowledge:The Challenge of Cognitive Immoralism.' Art and Morality . Ed. Sebastian Gardner and José Luis Bermúdez. London: Routledge, 2003. 56–73. • Kieran, Matthew. Revealing Art . London: Routledge, 2005. Chapter 4. • Patridge, Stephanie. 'Moral Vices as Artistic Virtues: Eugene Onegin and Alice.' Philosophia 36.2 (2008): 181–93. Focus Questions 1. What is the strongest argument for the claim that the moral character of a work is not relevant to its artistic value? Does artistic or literary criticism tend to concern itself with the truth or morality of works? If so, in what ways? If not, why do you think this is? 2. What different explanations might there be for difficulty with or resistance to imaginatively entering into attitudes you take to be immoral? How might this relate to the way our imaginings work as contrasted with belief? How might different literary or artistic treatments of the same subject matter make a difference? 3. How do narrative works draw on our moral concepts and responses? Can we suspend our normal moral commitments or application of moral concepts in responding emotionally to art works? Should we respond emotionally to art works as we ought to respond to real world events we witness? Why? Why not? 4. How, if at all, do art works convey moral understanding? How, if at all, is this related to the kinds of moral knowledge art works can teach or reveal to us? When, where and why might this be tied to the artistic value of a work? How can we tell where a work enhances our moral understanding as opposed to misleading or distorting it? 5. What art works do you value overall as art which commend or endorse moral values and attitudes that you do not? Is appreciation of them always marred or lessened by the morally dubious aspect? If not, what explains the differences in evaluation? What, if anything, might you learn by engaging with works which endorse moral attitudes or apply moral concepts different from those you take to be justified? How, if at all, might this connect up with what makes them valuable as art? (shrink)
Apparently snobbery undermines justification for and legitimacy of aesthetic claims. It is also pervasive in the aesthetic realm, much more so than we tend to presume. If these two claims are combined, a fundamental problem arises: we do not know whether or not we are justified in believing or making aesthetic claims. Addressing this new challenge requires an epistemological story which underpins when, where and why snobbish judgement is problematic, and how appreciative claims can survive. This leads towards a virtue-theoretic (...) account of art appreciation and aesthetic justification, as contrasted with a purely reliabilist one – a new direction for contemporary aesthetics. (shrink)
On a contemporary Humean-influenced view, the responses of suitably idealized appreciators are presented as tracking, or even determining, facts about artistic value. Focusing on the intra-personal case, this paper argues that (i) facts about the refinement and reconfiguration of aesthetic character together with (ii) the manner in which autobiography and character are implicated in artistic appreciation make it de facto unlikely that we can reliably come to know how our ideal counterpart would respond to a given artwork. Attribution of superhuman (...) abilities to our ideal counterpart partially addresses this worry, but undermines a central feature of the theoretical motivation for the idealizing model. Insofar as response-dependent accounts of artistic value are inextricably tied to an idealizing view of critics, we have reason to reject them. (shrink)
Contemporary Debates in Aesthetics and the Philosophy of Art features pairs of newly commissioned essays by some of the leading theorists working in the field today. Brings together fresh debates on eleven of the most controversial issues in aesthetics and the philosophy of art Topics addressed include the nature of beauty, aesthetic experience, artistic value, and the nature of our emotional responses to art. Each question is treated by a pair of opposing essays written by eminent scholars, and especially commissioned (...) for the volume. Lively debate format sharply defines the issues, and paves the way for further discussion. Will serve as an accessible introduction to the major topics in aesthetics, while also capturing the imagination of professional philosophers. (shrink)
The contributions to this volume provide a thorough introduction to the major topics in contemporary aesthetics and the philosophy of art, in the distinctive format of philosophers engaging in head-to-head debate at a level accessible to ...
Why does art matter to us, and what makes good art? Why is the role of imagination so important in art? Illustrated with carefully chosen color and black-and-white plates of examples from Michelangelo to Matisse and Poussin to Jackson Pollock, Revealing Art explores some of the most important questions we can ask about art. Matthew Kieran clearly but forcefully asks how art inspires us and disgusts us and whether artistic judgment is simply a matter of taste, and if art can (...) be immoral or obscene, should it be censored? He brings such abstract issues to life with fascinating discussions of individual paintings, photographs and sculptures, such as Michelangelo's Pietà, Andres Serrano's Piss Christ and Jackson Pollock's Summertime. He also suggests some answers to problems that any one in an art gallery or museum is likely to ask themselves: what is a beautiful work of art, and can art really reveal something true about our own nature? Revealing Art is ideal for anyone interested in debates about art today, or who has simply stood in front of a painting and felt baffled. (shrink)
Imagination is a central concept in aesthetics with close ties to issues in the philosophy of mind and the philosophy of language, yet it has not received the kind of sustained, critical attention it deserves. Imagination, Philosophy and the Arts represents the work of fifteen young yet distinguished philosophers of art, who critically examine just how and in what form the notion of imagination illuminates fundamental problems in the philosophy of art. All new papers, a strong collection on the imagination (...) in philosophy, particularly in relation to literature and the visual arts. The book falls in three parts: emotional imagination, fiction-making imagination and sensory imagination. The volume opens up several new frontiers that will attract substantial interest in philosophers of art, as well as philosophers working on mental representation, emotion theory, perception and fiction. These papers make a large contribution to developing our understanding of 'imagination' in new directions and setting the research agenda for the next decade. (shrink)
The paper proceeds by criticising the central accounts of obscenity proffered by Feinberg, Scruton and the suggestive remarks of Nussbaum and goes on to argue for the following formal characterization of obscenity: x is appropriately judged obscene if and only if either (A) x is appropriately classified as a member of a form or class of objects whose authorized purpose is to solicit and commend to us cognitive-affective responses which are (1) internalized as morally prohibited and (2) does so in (...) ways found to be or which are held to warrant repulsion and (3) does so in order to (a) indulge first order desires held to be morally prohibited or (b) indulge the desire to be morally transgressive or the desire to feel repulsed or (c) afford cognitive rewards or (d) any combination thereof or (B) x successfully elicits cognitive-affective responses which conform to conditions (1)-(3). (shrink)