Philosophy of Art (Summer I 2014)

Philosophy of Art

PHIL 230-01 | CRN# 1061 | MTWR 7:45-9:55 | Craig-Lee 201 | Summer 2014

Course Syllabus

Instructor: Dr. Aaron Smuts | | office hours: 219 Alger Hall, After Class


The course covers both the nature of art and its value. It is a topically oriented survey of the area. We will confront philosophical problems and evaluate arguments about the nature of art and its value. The class will enter debates with contemporary philosophers, historians, and critics, as well as important thinkers from the past. But this is not a historical survey; rather, it is an engagement with live issues: What is art? Is there a difference between high and low art? Can we learn from fiction? Are aesthetic judgments objective? Is it irrational to feel fear and pity for merely fictional characters and events?


There are three highly recommended books for this course:

  1. Peter Lamarque and Stein Haugom Olsen (eds.). Aesthetics and the Philosophy of Art. (Blackwell) [AA] (Buy a used copy on Amazon.)

  2. Colin Wilson. Let's Talk about Love: A Journey to the End of Taste (Continuum, 2010). [LT]

  3. Noël Carroll. A Philosophy of Mass Art. (Oxford, 1998). [MA] (Buy a used copy on Amazon.)

There are four other optional books:

  1. Andrew Lawrence Roberts. The Thinking Student's Guide to College: 75 Tips for Getting a Better Education. University Of Chicago Press, 2010. ISBN-10: 0226721159.

  2. Stephen Davies. The Philosophy of Art (Blackwell, 2006). [PA]

  3. Noël Carroll. The Philosophy of Art: A Contemporary Introduction [PACI]

  4. Noël Carroll. The Philosophy of Horror: Or, Paradoxes of the Heart (Routledge, 1990). [PH]

Most of the readings will come from articles posted on Blackboard [BB].


There will be two different forms of coursework: (best 18 out of 22) daily quizzes and three take-home examinations. I will give a short quiz at the beginning of each class that will require one or two sentence answers. The quizzes are closed-book, but open-note. The bulk of your grade comes from the take-home exams. All assignments must be completed to pass the course.

Quizzes (10%) + first exam (30%) + late-term exam (30%) + final exam (30%).

I encourage students who are doing well to write a term paper in place of the final exam. If you chose this option, please let me know two weeks before Thanksgiving. I'll help you refine your topic and develop an outline. You must give me an abstract and a rough outline one month before the final exam period. I will not accept a term paper otherwise.

Attendance Policy

Although I record every class meeting, attendance is required. If you miss 4 or more classes, you will receive a 0 for your quiz grade. If you miss 8 or more classes, you will receive an F for the course. (There are no excused or unexcused absences. But please talk to me if something major comes up that dramatically effect your attendance.)

Tardiness Policy

If you are more than 5 minutes late, I will not accept your daily quiz and you will be marked absent. Come to class on time. If you are more than 10 minutes late, you will not be admitted to class.

Leaving Early Policy

No matter the reason, if you leave early, I will not accept your daily quiz and you will be marked absent. It doesn't matter if you have a court date, a doctor's appointment, or if you have to get to work. If you leave early, you will be marked absent.

Classroom Etiquette Policy

Pay attention; don't have distracting side conversations with other students; don't read newspapers or do crossword puzzles in class; don't sleep; don't text; don't sigh loudly with displeasure. This kind of behavior is disruptive. Be civil. Be courteous. This isn't high school. If your behavior is disruptive, I will ask you to leave. If I have to ask you to leave twice, you will receive an F in the class.

Laptop Policy

Laptop use is prohibited. The same goes for tablet computers and smartphones. Consider this rehab for Facebook addiction. You should print the articles posted on Blackboard and bring them to class.

Academic Honesty

Plagiarism—claiming someone else’s ideas or written work as your own—will not be tolerated. The tests are not collaborative. All sources must be cited. Anyone caught cheating will be given a failing grade in the course. I am also required to report you to the Vice President of Academic Affairs. But I would report you even if it was optional. Plagiarism is a serious offense.

Class Schedule

* The readings for each class are nested under the date. You should do the readings before class. There will be a short quiz every class.

Topic I: What is Art?

  • Week 1

    • C1 (M: 5/19) Introduction and Overview

      • Background Reading

        • Carroll, Introduction to PACI [BB] (pp. 2-13) *optional

      • Further Reading

        • Lamarque and Olsen, "General Introduction" [AA]

    • C2 (T: 5/20) Aesthetic Theories

      • Readings

        • Beardsley, "An Aesthetic Definition of Art" [AA]

      • Further Reading

        • Davies, PA Ch.2 "Defining Art" [BB]

        • Dickie, "The Myth of the Aesthetic Attitude" [BB]

        • Stolnitz, "The Aesthetic Attitude" [BB]

    • C3 (W: 5/21) Aesthetic Experience

      • Readings

        • Carroll, PACI Ch.4 "Art and Aesthetic Experience" [BB] (Part I, pp.156-182)

      • Further Reading

        • Carroll, "Beauty and the Genealogy of Art Theory" [BB] (*pp.35-40)

        • Carroll, "Four Concepts of Aesthetic Experience" [BB]

    • C4 (R: 5/22) Open Concept Theories

      • Readings

        • Weitz, "The Role of Theory in Aesthetics" [AA]

        • Davies "Weitz’s Anti-Essentialism" [AA]

      • Further Reading

        • Carroll, PACI Ch.5 "Art, Definition, and Identification" [BB] (part I)

  • Week 2

    • CX (M: 5/26) **NO CLASS - Memorial Day**

    • C5 (T: 5/27) The Cluster Account

      • Readings

        • Gaut, "The Cluster Concept" [BB]

    • C6 (W: 5/28) Identifying Art

      • Readings

        • Carroll, "Identifying Art" [BB] (pp.75-95, skip 95-105)

      • Further Reading

        • Danto "Art as Theory" [AA]

        • Dickie "Art as Institution" [AA]

        • Levinson, "Defining Art Historically" [AA]

Topic II: Popular Art

    • C7 (R: 5/29) The Massification Argument

      • Readings

        • MacDonald, "A Theory of Mass Culture" [BB]

  • Week 3

    • C8 (M: 6/2) A Reply

      • Readings

        • Carroll, Mass Art, ch. 1, pp. 1-30 [MA]

    • C9 (T: 6/3) The Passivity and Formula Arguments

      • Readings

        • Greenberg, "Avant-garde and Kitsch" [BB]

      • Further Reading

        • Collingwood, excerpts from The Principles of Art [BB]

    • C10 (W: 6/4) Replies

      • Readings

        • Carroll, Mass Art, ch. 1, 31-70 [MA]

Topic III: Taste and The Value of Art

    • C11 (R: 6/5) Bad Taste

        • Wilson, pp. 1-51 [LT] (Don't worry. The pages are small.)

  • Week 4

    • C12 (M: 6/9) Taste

      • Readings

        • Wilson, pp. 51-105 [LT]

      • Further Reading

        • Hume, "Of the Standard of Taste" [BB]

        • Bender, "Sensitivity, Sensibility, and Aesthetic Realism" [BB]

    • C13 (T: 6/10) Taste

      • Readings

        • Wilson, pp. 105-163 [LT]

    • C14 (W: 6/11) The Pluralistic Category Approach

      • Readings

        • Carroll, PMP Ch.7, "Evaluation" [BB]

      • Further Reading

        • Daniel Kaufman, "Normative Criticism" [BB]

Topic IV: Art and Emotion

    • C15 (R: 6/12) The Paradox of Fiction

      • Readings

        • Radford, "How Can we be Moved by the Fate of Anna Karenina?" [AA]

  • Week 5

    • C16 (M: 6/16) The Paradox of Fiction

      • Readings

        • Carroll, PMP Ch. 6 [BB]

      • Further Reading

        • Noël Carroll, The Philosophy of Horror, pp. 59-88. [BB]

        • Alex Neill, "Empathy and (Film) Fiction" [BB]

        • Deborah Knight, "In Fictional Shoes: Mental Simulation and Fiction" [PFMP]

    • C17 (T: 6/17) The Paradox of Horror

      • Readings

        • Noël Carroll, The Philosophy of Horror, Ch. 4 [BB]

      • Further Reading

        • David Hume, "Of Tragedy" [BB]

    • C18 (W: 6/18) The Paradox of Painful Art

      • Readings

        • Aaron Smuts, "Art and Negative Affect" [BB]

      • Further Reading

        • Aaron Smuts, "Why Do We Listen to Sad Songs?" [BB]

        • Susan Feagin, "The Pleasures of Tragedy" [BB]

Topic V: Art and Knowledge

    • C19 (R: 6/19) The Problem of Triviality

      • Readings

        • Gaut, "Art and Cognition" [BB]

      • Further Reading

        • Stolnitz, "On the Cognitive Triviality of Art" [BB]

        • Wilson, "Art and Knowledge" [BB]

  • Week 6

    • C20 (M: 6/23) Art and Knowledge

      • Readings

        • Lamarque, "Cognitive Values in the Arts" [BB]

      • Further Reading

        • Lamarque and Olsen, "Literature, Truth, and Philosophy" [BB]

        • Graham, "Art and Understanding" [BB]

Topic VI: Humor

    • C21 (T: 6/24) Theories of Humor

      • Readings

        • Carroll, "The Nature of Humor" (pp. 1-28) [BB]

      • Further Reading

        • Morreall, Taking Laughter Seriously, Chs.1-3 - Theories of Humor [BB]

        • Smuts, "Humor" [BB]

    • C22 (W: 6/25) The Nature of Humor

      • Readings

        • Carroll, "The Nature of Humor" (pp. 29-62)

      • Further Reading

        • Cohen, Jokes, Chs.1-2 - Jokes [BB]

    • C23 (R: 6/26) Questionable Jokes

      • Readings

        • Cohen, Jokes, Ch.6 - Bad Taste [BB]

      • Further Reading

        • De Sousa, "When is it Wrong to Laugh?" [BB]

        • Bergmann, "How Many Feminists Does It Take To Make A Joke?"

        • Smuts, "The Salacious and the Satirical" [BB]

        • Morreall, Taking Laughter Seriously, Ch.8 "Humor and Freedom" [BB]