Philosophy 280: Aesthetics

(T,TH 1:40-2:55, Ed. Center, 111)


       Ned Hettinger                                                                                                                 Office: 16 Glebe, Rm. 201

       Fall 2009                                                                                                                         Office Hrs: W 10-2

       Email:                                                                                          (Also, stop by my office  

       Webpage:                                                                       or make an appointment) 

       Course webpage: 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 or pornography be art?) Does all art express emotion? Is it reasonable to be moved by fictional events? Why do people enjoy horror movies? If an artist intends her work to mean something and critics disagree, who is right? Can we distinguish between good and bad art? Are the Beatles as good as Beethoven? Should art be publicly funded? Should art ever be censored or controlled by the public? Can aesthetic values trump moral values? How is the aesthetic appreciation of nature different from the aesthetic appreciation of art? Should the aesthetic appreciation of nature be scientifically-informed? Is there ugly nature (“the great bag hanging from the bill of a pelican”) as there (presumably) are ugly works of art? Is environmental art “an aesthetic affront to nature?”

The course explores these questions and the underlying aesthetic concepts with the goal of having each of you develop your own thinking about these issues.




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 (23%) Thursday, Oct 8

      Final exam (23%) Thursday, Dec 10, 12-3

      Paper (34%), including a one-page (minimum), typewritten paper proposal. This is a 6-8 page paper on a topic in aesthetics of your choice. Any of the course topics are appropriate (see the course schedule of assignments for ideas), but suitable topics are not limited to those we discuss. However, all papers must be significantly informed by the class readings and discussions. A paper proposal is due on Friday, Oct 23, 1pm, 14 Glebe mailbox. The paper is due on Friday, Nov 13, 1pm, 14 Glebe mailbox.

      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 give “free quizzes” 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 and this will count for the quiz should there be one.

      Class Participation and Attendance (10%)

This includes general quality of class involvement, your answer to the Davies chapter question, and attendance. Each student will write a paragraph answer to one of the questions found at the end of Davies’ chapters and be prepared to present the answer to the class. You will sign up for one of these and turn in your answer at the beginning of class on the day we discuss that chapter (keep a second copy for yourself). 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 is sufficient grounds for failing the course. If you have a good reason for missing class, please write it on a piece of paper or email it to me and include the date missed. Please 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, please come up after class and sign it.


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