Paper Assignment, Philosophy 280: Aesthetics (Fall 09)

Write a 6-8 page paper on a topic of your choice in aesthetics (this includes, the philosophy of art, environmental aesthetics, and the aesthetics of the everyday). Your paper must focus on philosophical dimensions of the topic you choose and it must tie in with the ideas explored in this course in a significant way. (It must be clear that the writer of the paper was in this course.) Within these constraints, you are free to choose any topic. The paper should do two–equally important--things: Clearly explain (and analyze) what (some) others have said about the topic you choose and develop your own ideas, thoughts, and arguments about this topic. To insure that your discussion is grounded in (some of) the preexisting literature on your topic, you are required to use at least one “outside”(not read in this course) philosophical article in your paper. The “own ideas” dimension of your paper might include criticizing (or supporting with your own reasons) the ideas of others or comparing or synthesizing them.

A one-page, typewritten description of the proposed paper is due on Friday, Oct. 23, 1pm, 14 Glebe Mailbox. These paper proposals should identify the topic of the paper and give a synopsis of its expected content (as much as possible). They should have a proposed title. Describe the major arguments, reasons, or perspectives on the issue that the paper will explore. Try to identify and consider possible objections to the line of thinking you plan to pursue. Identify a major thesis and possible conclusion to the paper. Issues or questions that you would like help with should also be mentioned. Additionally, your paper proposal should identify (with full bibliographic information) and briefly summarize your outside philosophical article and explain how you will use it for your paper.

Journals in the library that are good places to look for supporting philosophical material include The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism (JAAC) and The British Journal of Aesthetics (BJA) (both of which are in the library and available electronically). The BJA is searchable directly here: JAAC can be searched using the library’s electronic online journals page. There are also philosophical articles in The Journal of Aesthetic Education (also in the library and available electronically). It can be searched on line at

One simple way to find you outside philosophical article would be to choose one of the articles from Arguing about Art that we will not be reading.

The paper is due on Friday, November 13, 1pm, 14 Glebe, in my mailbox next to the secretary’s office.

Possible topic areas: Any of the course topics are appropriate subject matter (but others are okay as well). In addition to the list below, look at the course schedule and the midterm study questions to stimulate your choice of a topic. Don’t ignore topics we will be discussing during the second half of the course. You might also write a paper that consists in an explication and critical analysis of a philosophical article in the area of aesthetics, including those that we have read (though your will have to work harder for originality if you choose one of these).

Some possible aesthetics paper topics you can make your own.


1.         Consider:

            a.         Topics from readings in Arguing about Art text

            b.         Topics raised by questions at the end of each chapter in Davies book.

            c.         For relevant articles on topics, see “Readings” at the end of each Davies chapter

2.         Criteria for evaluating rock versus classical music (further development of the midterm essay question); see Davies Ch 4 and

3.         Ontology of rock music: see Davies Ch 4 and see Davies Ch 4 and, especially John fisher’s article “Rock’n’ Recording: The Ontological Complexity of Rock Music”

4.         Is authenticity in musical performance important? See articles in Arguing about Art.

5.         Colorization of movies (see defense by James O. Young British Journal of Aesthetics 28 (1988) 368-72 and Yuriko Saito”Contemporary Aesthetic Issue: The Colorization Controversy” Journal of Aesthetics Education 23:2 1989 21-31

6.         Restoration of artworks

7.         Forgery of art; less valuable? See p. 80 Davies for references.

8.         Criticisms and defenses of museums. How museums have changed and is this good or bad? (See Davies, Ch 1, pp. 13 ff. and the reference at the end of the chapter.)

9.         Art and ethics (see Davies Ch 8): Is the moral evaluation of art ever legitimate? Is ethics relevant to aesthetics? Can art be beautiful and immoral? When aesthetically judging the Roman coliseum is it relevant to remember it was designed as a place of human sacrifice? Some relevant articles Eaton, Marcia, (1992). “Integrating the Aesthetic and the Moral, ” Philosophical Studies 67: 3, pp. 219-240 and Noel Carroll, “Art and Ethical Criticism: An Overview of Recent Directions of Research,” Ethics 110 (2000), pp. 350-387. I have

10.       Censorship of art: Should we ever ban or censor art? For what reasons, if at all? Is artistic merit relevant to whether or not it should be banned? Consider examples of controversial pieces of art. See the article on “Sensation” on our web site:

11.       What is pornography? Is all erotic art, pornographic? See articles in Arguing about Art.

12.       Public art; its nature and value

13.       The debate over Serra’s Tilted Arc and or the Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial: See Arthur Danto, “Tilted Arc and public art” in The State of Art (Prentice Hall, 1987) and Arthur Danto, “The Vietnam Veterans Memorial,” from The Nation in Higgins ed., Aesthetics in Perspective.

14.       Public subsidies for art: Why should we (or should we not) publically subsidize art?

15.       Why is art valuable? What makes it valuable? Is its value entertainment value?

16.       Defense of formalism in aesthetic theory. See Nick Zangwill’s writings

17.       Aesthetic value is the sole value of art as art; artistic value is irrelevant to art as such

18.       Exploration of the institutional theory of art: See George Dickie’s work.

19.       Historical accounts of art: See Arthur Danto’s work.

20.       Avant-garde art and definitions of art; Why might someone think much recent so-called art is not really art at all? Can you come up with your own definition of art?

21.       Objectivity vs subjectivity in aesthetics; see articles on this topic on class web page about whether tastes can or cannot be disputed

22.       Food as art; perhaps a critique of Telfer’s claim that it is (or can be) art.

23.       Interpretation of art: How important is artistic intention to art interpretation? (Davies Ch 5)

24.       How can we be moved emotionally by fiction, given that the events that move us are not real? Why aren’t such responses irrational? See relevant chapters in Arguing about Art.

25.       What is sentimentality and what is wrong with it, if anything? Is sentimental art, bad art? See articles in Arguing about Art.

26.       Philosophical dimensions of architecture, photography or other art forms (e.g., dance).

27.       Horror movies: Philosophical issues

28.       The aesthetics of everyday life, e.g., the aesthetics of weather, of sports, of smells and tastes.

Below is a list of paper topics on environmental aesthetics 


29.       Environmental art: philosophical issues. Is it an aesthetic affront to nature?

30.       Are windmills aesthetically negative? Does their positive environmental consequences lessen any negative aesthetic value? See Yuriko Saito “Machines in the Ocean: The Aesthetics of Wind Farms” Contemporary Aesthetics: Volume 2 2004, and responses by Jon Boone “The Aesthetic Dissonance of Industrial Wind Machines” and Yuriko Saito  response to Jon Boone’s Critique Both in . Contemporary Aesthetics: Volume 3 2005 available on line at For some relate humor see:

31.       Is knowledge of nature required for the best sort of appreciation of nature?

32.       The (im)possibility of beautiful but harmful nature

33.       Objectivity in environmental aesthetics; see my Ned Hettinger, “Objectivity in Environmental Aesthetics and Protection of the Environment,” in Allen Carlson and Sheila Lintott, eds., Duty to Beauty: From Aesthetics of Nature to Environmentalism (New York: Columbia University Press, 2008).

34.       Is aesthetic appreciation of nature (and art?) thoroughly relative and subjective? Is the aesthetics of art more objective than the aesthetics of nature?

35.       Is all of nature (unlike art) beautiful? The doctrine of positive aesthetics. Is all nature equally beautiful?

36.       Are moral concerns relevant to the aesthetic appreciation of nature? Is it wrong to aesthetically appreciate an atom bomb mushroom cloud or a pollution sunset?

37.       Difference and similarities between the aesthetic appreciation of nature and art

38.       Is “being moved by nature” as aesthetically valuable as having a scientifically informed aesthetic response to nature? The debate between Carroll and Carlson.