Virtually all societies invest strongly in fictional stories, pictures and other "impractical" cultural products. These things are valued for their beauty, for their display of imaginative and other admirable skills, and for their capacity to connect us with other people in our past and present.

Thinking about culture in this last way--as a transaction between people over space and time--suggests that these products may have what are sometimes called "cognitive" values, or capacities that enable us to generate and transmit the insight or understanding that goes with various forms of practical and theoretical knowledge. We ask:

  • What are the limits of art’s capacity to embody these values? 
  • How do they connect with other values we attribute to art, such as beauty or vividness of character-portrayal? 
  • Are beautiful things more beautiful for conveying knowledge? 
  • If a cultural object spreads ignorance, error and bad judgement, is it thereby less beautiful, less worthy of being called art?

The Project

The project, generously funded by the UK’s Arts and Humanities Research Council, examines the relations between cognitive and aesthetic values, and their place in our cultural practices.

It is led by Peter Lamarque and Greg Currie, now both at the Department of Philosophy, University of York. We bring together expert researchers from a wide range of disciplines who will contribute their varied and divergent perspectives at workshops on this relationship. Funding from the Arts and Humanities Research Council is given as part of their current large-scale project: Cultural Value.

Each of three workshops will focus on a particular case-study, chosen to recognise the great diversity of cultural artefacts.
  • One of the most ancient examples of proto-artistic activity, the animal depictions at Chauvet cave, in Southern France.
  • Our second example is a group of Shakespeare's poems in sonnet form meditating on the subject of time and mortality.
  • Our final example brings us to very recent times and perhaps the most global current artistic form: Ridley Scott's film Blade Runner.