Philosophy 280: Aesthetics

(M,W 3:25-4:40, Maybank 206, Fall 2015)


       Ned Hettinger                                                                                                                 Office: 16 Glebe, Rm. 201

Email:                                                                                          Off Hrs: Wed, 11-3

       Webpage:                                                                            (Also, stop by my office or    

       Course webpage:                             make an appointment)   

Office Phone: 953-5786                                                                                                 


Course Description and Goals

       This course explores philosophical issues in the aesthetic appreciation of art (and nature). Questions include: What is art? (For example: Can food be art? Can a urinal be art?) Must good art be beautiful? Must it express emotion? Is it crazy to be moved by events we know to be fictional or to enjoy art that terrifies or disgust us? If an artist intends her work to mean something and critics disagree, who is right? Can we distinguish between good and bad–or better and worse–art? Does it make sense to ask if the Beatles are as good as Beethoven? We will also examine political and moral questions about art. For example, should art be publicly funded? Should it ever be censored or controlled by the public? Do moral values ever (usually, always?) trump aesthetic values? Can aesthetic values ever trump moral values? In the aesthetics of nature we ask how it differs from the aesthetic appreciation of art. For example, should the aesthetic appreciation of nature be scientifically-informed (unlike art appreciation)? Is all nature beautiful (again, unlike art, where some is presumably ugly)? Is environmental art “an aesthetic affront to nature” or does it have a positive contribution to environmental sensibility?

       The main goal of this course is to have each of you develop your own thinking about philosophical aesthetics in light of the knowledge you gain about the field. General education student learning outcomes and assessment: (1) Students analyze how ideas are represented, interpreted or valued in various expressions of human culture, namely philosophical thinking about aesthetics. (2) Students examine relevant primary source materials and interpret the material in writing assignments. The assessment of these outcomes will be measured in the student’s final paper.



Stephen Davies, The Philosophy of Art (2006)

       Alex Neill and Aaron Ridley, Arguing About Art (3nd edition, 2008)

Articles available on the class web page


Course Requirements 

      Midterm exam (20%) Monday, Oct 12nd

      Final exam (23%) Monday, Dec 14, 4-7pm, in classroom

      Paper (33%), including a one-page (minimum), typewritten paper proposal. This is a 6-8 page paper on an aesthetics topic of your choice. Any of the course topics are appropriate (I will provide a list of suggested topics), but suitable topics are not limited to those we discuss. However, all papers should be significantly informed by the class readings and discussions. A paper proposal is due on Friday, Oct 23, by email to The paper is due on Friday, Nov 20, 1pm, 14 Glebe (inside) mailbox (paper copy)

      Reading Quizzes (10%) There will be unannounced quizzes on the reading for the day (approximately 10 for the semester). I do not give quiz makeups, but I do give “free quiz opportunities” that can be used to substitute for a missed quiz. Also, if you will be absent, you may email me a summary of the reading for that day before the class begins and this will count for the quiz, should there be one.

      Critical Questions (4%) Two days on which you write a critical question or comment on the board before class. These should raise a question, objection, or issue about the reading for that day. They should be more than one sentence and should show some understanding of the material. Be prepared to speak to the class about your issue. Please also provide me with a paper copy of your question/comment/issue. You will sign up for these. You will also need to come to class early to have time to write these questions on the board.

      Class Participation and Attendance (10%) This includes general quality of class involvement and attendance. Attendance is particularly important in this class. I want you to learn from each other and from class discussion. Developing the skill of thinking philosophically requires practice and following examples. These can't be adequately done on your own. Poor attendance will lower your grade; extremely poor attendance (missing over two weeks of class) will significantly lower your grade. If you have a good reason for missing class, please email me an explanation. Please also come to class on time: Assignments, reading quizzes and an attendance sheet are given at the beginning of class. It is your responsibility to sign the attendance sheet. If the sheet somehow misses you during the class, sign it at end of class.

Grading Scale:             I use the College’s numeric grading scale. A = 4.0 , A- = 3.7, B+ = 3.3, B = 3.0, B- = 2.7, C+ = 2.3, C = 2.0, C- = 1.7, D+ = 1.3, D = 1.0, D- = 0.7, F = 0.0