Philosophy 280: Aesthetics

(T,TH 9:25-10:40, Ed. Center, 111 )


       Ned Hettinger                                                                                                                 Office: 16 Glebe, Rm. 201

       Fall 2010                                                                                                                         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 be art? Is rap art?) Must good art express emotion? Does it make sense to be moved by fictional events or to enjoy movies that terrify and disgust us? If an artist intends her work to mean something and critics disagree, who is right? Can we distinguish between good/bad or better/worse art? For example, are the Beatles 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? In the aesthetics of nature we ask how it differs (if at all) from the aesthetic appreciation of art. For example, should the aesthetic appreciation of nature be scientifically-informed (unlike art)? 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 these ideas.



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 7

      Final exam (23%) Tues, Dec 14, 8-11, in classroom

      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 (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 29. The paper is due on Friday, Nov 19, 1pm, 14 Glebe mailbox.

      Reading Quizzes (10%)

Weekly unannounced quizzes on the reading for that day. I do not give quiz makeups, but I do give “free quizzes” that can be used to substitute for a missed quiz. Also if you must miss a class, you can email me a brief description of the reading (or readings) for that day before class and that will count for the quiz, should we have one.

      Class Participation and Attendance (10%)

This includes quality of class involvement, answer to a Davies’ chapter question, response to the Bluesphere event you attend, and class 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 on the days we discuss that chapter. You will sign up for a particular question. Please email me your response to the question by the day before we discuss the relevant chapter.

          Each student will attend a lecture or exhibit related to Bluesphere and turn in a written response. I recommend writing up your response within a day or two of attending the event. Tuesday, Dec 7th is last day to turn in responses.

           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 dramatically lower your grade and is grounds for failing the course. If you have a good reason for missing class, please write it on a piece of paper (or email me) and include the date missed and your name. 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 make sure you have signed 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