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Topics in Philosophy and the Arts (PH9F7)

This module will bring together students from a broad range of backgrounds and introduce you to a range of topics, both general and particular, in the philosophy of art and the philosophy of particular art forms.

The larger part of the module will pose some foundational and methodological questions about approaching the arts philosophically. What is it to study the arts in a philosophical as opposed to a critical or historical manner? Is there a basic, common core of philosophical issues relevant to every art form, or do we need a distinctive approach for painting, film, photography, literature, and so on? Within a given field, such as literature, do we then need a different approach for different forms, such as novels and poems, and within these for different genres, such as epic and lyric, or crime versus Bildungsroman, or are the philosophical issues each raises of a more general nature? How should we understand the philosophy of art itself; is it a descriptive or normative endeavour: does it essentially try to make sense of existing creative and critical practices, or does it try to generate constitutive or critical principles for how they should, rationally, be conducted? What is the relation between artistic and other forms of value, aesthetic, theoretical, moral? Need they always align, or can moral flaws, (for example), sometimes constitute aesthetic values? We will also be interested in how art and philosophy are related, more broadly, as disciplines, and what most distinguishes them.

With these foundational issues on the table, the latter part of the module will turn to a range of specific case studies across the art, cases focused around particular authors and artists, works or genres. These will help motivate issues of general concern, but will also give you a chance to explore the philosophical interest and challenge of individual cases. One of the greatest challenges facing philosophers of art is how to bring such general questions and concerns to bear, without thereby obscuring the particularity of individual works. While cases studied will vary from year to year, an indicative list might include literary works by authors such as Herman Melville, Lydia Davis, and JM Coetzee; film genres such as film noir, science fiction, or Hollywood ‘comedies of remarriage’; the painting of Edouard Manet, Paul Cézanne or Gerhard Richter, the photography of Jeff Wall or James Welling; or ostensibly problematic genres for aesthetics such as conceptual art or various more recent artistic practices that are hard to discriminate from everyday objects and events. We may also consider the extent to which philosophy of art needs to take account of recent experimental work in empirical science, including neuroscience.

Students will be asked to give a presentation during the course of the term.

Module Directors:

Diarmuid Costello

Eileen John


This module is worth 20 or 30 CATS depending on your programme of study.