PHIL 431.0101 Fall 2008 TTH 12:30-1:45 Skinner 1115

Instructor: John Brown. Office: 1118B Skinner. Office Hours: T 2 and by appointment. Tel. 405-5702 Email:


E-reserve: available on ELMS course reserve for Phil 431.

Course Description

In this course we deal with core issues in aesthetic theory as well as a selection of topics concerning applications. The core issues include the conception of the aesthetic as a distinctive domain of human experience and activity, the relation between the aesthetic and the artistic, the nature of aesthetic properties, the ontology of art objects and events, criteria of interpretation, and the like. Among the topics in applied aesthetics will be environmental and architectural aesthetics.

Supplementary resources

The materials for PHIL 230 (Philosophy of the Arts) and PHIL 332 (Philosophy of Beauty) on the instructor's website provide relevant background material and discussion of particular topics. So do the articles also to be found on the website. Reference will be made to especially pertinent parts as the course develops, and students will be expected to be familiar with the ideas and arguments of these sections.


Robert Stecker, Aesthetics and the Philosophy of Art , 2005. Rowan and Littlefield.

Articles on the library e-reserve.

Course requirements

A midterm test (20%), an 8-10 page paper (30%), a final exam (30%), and contributions to a discussion file on the course website plus class contributions (20%).

Discussion file participation

The discussion file, which is found on the course website listed above, is intended as an extension of the collective discussion component of the course. There is never enough time in the class for everyone to say everything worth saying, and not all thoughts occur to one immediately or are most easily expressed in speech. The discussion file lets us deal with all these limitations. To contribute a comment to it, send an email to the instructor, who will then post your comment along with his response. Any relevant new information or new thoughts or arguments about issues in the course are relevant. This includes comments relating to previously posted comments. Each student is expected to contribute at least five comments over the course of the semester, two of which are submitted before the midterm test. The content of the file is included in the required reading material for the course.

Schedule of readings by week

(Various small additions will be posted on the instructor's website.)

Sept. 1: Stecker , Ch. 1, Introduction, “Aesthetics and the philosophy of art.”

Sept. 8: Stecker , Ch. 2, “Environmental aesthetics: natural beauty.”

Sept. 15: Stecker , Ch. 3, “Conceptions of the aesthetic: aesthetic experience;” Clive Bell, “The aesthetic hypothesis,” on e-reserve.

Sept. 22: Stecker , Ch. 4, “Conceptions of the aesthetic: aesthetic properties”

Sept. 29: Stecker , Ch. 5, “What is art?”

Oct. 6: Stecker , Ch. 6, “What kind of object is a work of art?” and Roman Ingarden, “The aesthetic experience and the aesthetic object,” and the instructor's commentary. On e-reserve.

Oct. 13: Catch up and review for the Midterm Test, Oct. 21.

Oct. 20: Midterm Test, Tuesday, October 21; Stecker Ch. 7, “Interpretation and the problem of relevant information.”

Oct. 27: Stecker , Ch. 8, “Representation: fiction and depiction.”

Nov. 3: Stecker , Ch. 9, “Expressiveness in music and poetry.”

Nov. 10: Stecker , Ch. 10, “Artistic value.”

Nov. 17: Stecker, Ch.11, “Interaction: ethical, aesthetic, and artistic value.”

Nov. 24: Catch up

Dec. 1: Stecker , Ch. 12, “The value of architecture” and “Conclusion.” Term paper due, Thursday, Dec. 4.

Dec. 8: Catch up and review for final examination.

Final Examination: Friday, December 19, 1:30-3:30 p.m. in the classroom.


PHIL 431 Paper Assignment Fall 2008


The paper is to be about eight pages in length. References to sources should be given in parentheses in the text keyed to a bibliography at the end. Note also the documentation requirements noted in the topics section. Due date, Thursday, Dec. 4.


There are two options for the paper topic. One is theoretical, the other applied.

1. Theoretical aesthetics topic

Select some topic in theoretical aesthetics or theory of art and pursue it using the material in textbook and lectures plus at least one additional source. It will be necessary for you to carry the discussion further than is done in the common course material. One way to ensure this is through the attention you give to the additional source – presuming that this takes a somewhat different position, or poses different arguments, than are represented in the common material. Another way is go into greater detail than can be found there. A third is to argue for a position different from the one taken by Stecker or the instructor (this overlaps with the first way since the additional source should be chosen for the support it gives you). For the reader’s convenience, photocopy the relevant pages of the additional source and attach as an appendix.

2. Applied aesthetics topic

Choose something of high (intense, serious) aesthetic interest to you – a work of art or some object or event that can be presented in an accessible form as an attachment – and probe the reasons for your aesthetic/artistic interest in it. Identify in suitable detail its properties of aesthetic interest, both its merits and its limitations. For its descriptive aesthetic properties, give an account of the impression they convey to you that brings out the associations (e.g., the cross-categorial similarities) the impression contains or is based on. Cover the different types of aesthetic property discussed in the text material. Give a profile of your positive and negative hedonic response to these properties, and similarly of what you take to be its worthiness to be responded to in that way. How does it compare with other things in the same category? It will help if you find a commentary on things of that kind – art/music analysis or sports commentary or nature appreciation or whatever – that mentions relevant properties possessed by things of that sort. Without some help from others we are often at a loss to say much about the things we love.

It’s essential that the object of your discussion is available to the reader. Attach an illustration, a CD, a reference to a website or some other means enabling him to compare your responses with his. Also photocopy and submit a copy of the commentaries used, with relevant passages highlighted.