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Philosophy of Photography (PH347-15)

Timing & CATS

This module is not running in 2017-18

Module Description

An introduction to a new and lively field of debate in contemporary aesthetics. A range of authors will be studied, mainly from the last 30 years, and a variety of aesthetic and epistemic questions raised by photography as an art and an aid to vision will be considered. Central concerns will be whether photography’s epistemic privilege, vis-à-vis other forms of depiction, comes at the cost of its aesthetic capacities, and what an adequate account of photographic agency might look like. Photography's relation to other depictive art forms such as painting and film will also be considered. The module will thereby introduce students to what it means to do the philosophy of a particular art form..

Learning Outcomes or Aims

By the end of the module students should be able to....

  • Demonstrate an understanding of the central arguments and substantive issues in the set texts and secondary literature
  • Critically assess the key claims and arguments of the core texts, and the debates to which they have given rise
  • Articulate their own view of the relative merits of different positions in the literature, and engage critically with other points of view
  • Demonstrate an understanding of what is at stake in competing methodological approaches to photography in philosophy
  • Explicate what is philosophically interesting and significant about photography as an art and an aid to vision.

Contact Time

Students must attend 2 hours of lectures and 1 hour of seminars per week.

Lectures for 2015-16

Tuesdays 12-2pm, MS.05, Term 1

There will be no lectures in reading week (week 6)

Seminars for 2015-16

Seminars for this course start in week 2

There will be no seminars in reading week (week 6)

Please sign up for a seminar group using Tabula.

Assessment Methods

This module will be assessed in the following way:

  • One 1,500-word essay, produced as a take home examination, based on questions set on a Friday with the deadline the following Monday (worth 15% of the module)
  • One 2-hour examination (worth 85% of the module)

Essays should be submitted to Tabula in line with the essay deadlines schedule.

Background Reading & Textbooks

  • Diarmuid Costello & Dom Lopes (eds.) ‘The Media of Photography, a special issue of The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 70:1 (Winter) 2012
  • Diarmuid Costello & Dawn M Phillips, “Automatism, Causality and Realism: Foundational Problems in the Philosophy of Photography, Philosophy Compass 3 (2009)
  • Scott Walden (ed.) Philosophy and Photography: Essays on the Pencil of Nature, London: Routledge, 2008

For week 1 please read:

  • Nigel Warburton, ‘Photography’ in Jerrold Levinson (ed.) The Oxford Handbook of Aesthetics (Oxford: OUP 2003) pp. 614-626

  • Dawn M Wilson (née Phllips), ‘Photography’ in Gaut and Lopes (eds.) The Routledge Companion to Aesthetics, 3rd Ed (London: Routledge 2013) pp. 585-595.

    Both available from the course materials page (below).

Course Materials

Module Tutor


Dr Diarmuid Costello

Take-Home Exam

The take-home exam paper for this module can be found here from 12pm on Friday Week 10 Term 1.

Take-home exam