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What Good Are The Arts? A modern explanation of an 'ancient quarrel'

What Good Are The Arts: A Modern Exploration of an Ancient Quarrel
Peter Faulconbridge & Claire Stone

The piece is a dramatic performance of a dialogue, between a concerned 'layman' and such historical thinkers as Socrates, Gautier, Oscar Wilde and William Blake upon the question of the relationship between morality and the arts. Examples would be: ‘Do we have a duty to create art that serves a moral purpose? Or should art have no end beyond itself?’

The layman would be the interlocutor or 'spokesperson' who, personally struggling with these questions, engages in a philosophical dialogue with the thinkers to try and find the answers.

The production will provide an entertaining exploration of the lively debates which continue to surround these important questions, combining challenging philosophical issues with humour and drama as the great thinkers play off against each other and respond to the layman’s provocative questions.

The learning experience of the performance

Plato at various times made the distinction between doxa and episteme, which we might translate as belief and knowledge. To give an example of the difference he saw between the two, we might say that if someone had been told the directions to get from A to B, then they would have a true belief about how to get from A to B, whereas someone who has travelled the route many times would know the route. Plato saw this as a significant distinction, and he and Socrates used the dialogue form to attempt to instil meaningful knowledge in others, as opposed to following the sophistic tradition of merely telling others what to think. In modern terms we might see this distinction as operating in the discussions regarding learning – perhaps in the sophists we might perceive a classic 'banking' style of teaching, whereas Plato and Socrates represented something more holistic. Certainly it seems that parallels could be drawn between learning through dialogue on the Socratic model and some of the important features of experiential learning. The dramatic enactment of a philosophical dialogue will provide an experiential aspect to the learning experience of the audience, thus bringing them to a more thorough appreciation of the subject matter.

The second-order educational questions

As the central character finds themselves pulled in various directions by their various partners in conversation, questions will inevitably arise both explicitly in the text, and inevitably in the audience's mind about the nature of the dialogue as a form of teaching/learning; for example: Who leads the dialogue, and what effect does this have on its outcomes? Why can it be so easy to be talked into a position which one did not previously hold? To what extent does participation in a dialogue create new knowledge, and to what extent does it reveal things already known? These questions touch on some important questions about the nature of knowledge and learning in general, and the dialogue form in particular.


The subject matter under discussion in this piece is directly interdisciplinary. It applies philosophy to the arts not didactically, but in a relation of mutual influence – the debates started by philosophy will be informed by discussion of specific works of art, and receive new significance and vigour through dramatic embodiment. Furthermore, in the natural course of discussion topics will arise which touch on diverse disciplines like psychology and history. Thus the performance will directly engage with a number of academic disciplines, whilst also being itself an experiment in the combination of these disciplines with performance.