PHL 230



Dr. Bob Zunjic

Office Hours:
By appointment

Phone: (401) 874-5499

Course Description:

I envision this course as an introduction to general Aesthetics. Aesthetics, or the philosophy of art, is a theoretical endeavor to explicate the essence of art by defining its nature, its specific function, and the grounds for its recognition and appreciation. The course outlines strategies purporting to answer the most basic questions about the status, origin and purpose of art as articulated by classic and modern thinkers. In an effort to understand and explain artistic creativity in its various forms we shall particularly focus on the following problems: "What makes an artwork an artwork?", "Is it an accurate representation of reality or something else?", "Must art be representational at all?", "What is artistic value?", "What are aesthetic qualities?", "What is beauty?", "Is beauty in the eye of the beholder?", "Does it lie in objective proportions and forms or is it purely physiological and cultural?", "Are aesthetic judgments merely subjective statements?", "What is taste?", "Is there any inter-subjective standard of taste or is it entirely relative?", "Are judgments of taste inextricably bound to subjective feelings or are they rather intellectual?", Last but not least, "Is art coming to its definitive end or is it just caught in a process of never ending transformations?"

All these questions center around the most fundamental issue: "Can art be defined and delineated from non-art?" Our course explicitly or implicitly revolves around this central issue. Instead of reaching one final point it questions the very distinction by highlighting its presuppositions. If art perpetually recreates itself it is futile to set solid boundaries to its forms even if this would impede our effort to definitely answer the above questions. This may be a disappointing outcome to those who seek formulas and clear-cut answers but it does more justice to the complexity of art manifestations. The questions regarding art are extremely difficult to answer given the immense variety of art forms, non-formulaic character of artistic works, and the ever changing historical and social settings of artistic productivity. Rather than trying to provide definitive answers to all the puzzles of art we shall thoroughly examine some representative art theories that should unravel both the complexity and the importance of aesthetic issues. The selected theories range from the Representation (mimetic) and Expression theory over Formalist and Cognitive approaches up to the World-disclosing and Ideational elucidations of artworks.

The course study includes the following five areas:

  1. Forms of Creativity: Art, Craft, Popular Art, Commercial Art, Avant-garde.
  2. Art and Society (Morality, Religion, Politics).
  3. Art as Representation (mimesis).
  4. Mental Taste and Judgment.
  5. Beautiful Form and Disinterested Liking.
  6. Art as Expression and Experience.
  7. Aesthetic Appreciation and Criticism.
  8. Discourse about Art and the Underlying Dichotomies.

Course Text:

Stephen David Ross, Art and Its Significance, An Anthology of Aesthetic Theory, State University of New York Press, Albany 1994, 3rd edition.

The course is based on this single reader. All readings will be taken from this book. Our sample of readings, with necessary adjustments, draws from the respective sections of this anthology. We cannot cover all the included topics in class nor do we intend to. The participants in the course are expected to use the book as a wider resource for different aesthetic approaches, important artistic programs and ongoing philosophical debates on major aesthetic issues.


The course combines lectures, interpretive exercises in the assigned texts, classroom discussions and small research work. It will also include two papers and one viewing or listening assignment. No matter what the form of a particular class may be, basically we will do one and the same thing: close interpretation of the texts and careful analysis of their arguments.


The goals of this course may be stated as follows: To demonstrate the centrality of aesthetic experience in human life, to appreciate its different forms and functions, to get acquainted with the most fundamental aesthetic concepts and ideas, to recognize the need and the complexity of aesthetic reasoning, to learn how to understand major theoretical articulations of aesthetic experience and finally, to relate and apply theoretical elaborations of aesthetic experience to everyday life and personal evaluation of art.


(a) Students are expected to do all weekly assigned readings on time and as thorough as they can. We shall read and comment upon many critical passages in class, but always as a continuation of your individual reading, not as a substitute! Therefore, prepare for classes and always bring your book! Our focus will be on the complexity of formulations that require an appropriate analytical approach and increased sensitivity for divergent interpretations.

(b) Students are expected to write two papers based on the course texts (either philosophical treatises or artistic manifests). The papers should be strictly based on the course texts, but the method and approach are a matter of choice. The papers are due for the Midterm and Final exam respectively. The suggested scope is 2 to 5 pages. In addition, you are expected to do one home assignment that would require a short report on your own artistic experience or any other exposure to art in a gallery, theatre, concert hall, or everyday setting. The purpose of these assignments is to enable the participants to test some theoretical hypotheses or to provide additional evidence for certain aesthetic positions.

Attendance: Regular attendance and doing reading on time are indispensable for being successful in this course (they will be reflected in the participation grade accordingly). What counts most, however, is not mere physical presence, but a productive participation in answering questions, in doing presentations and taking part in class discussions. Ultimately what matters is what you say and how you say it, not the sheer fact that you are talking. And remember: class discussion is not a battlefield wherein everyone fights everyone in order to establish personal superiority. Our objective is not to defeat others but to collaboratively find the right interpretation, the correct argument and possibly the true explanation of the problem. Therefore, everybody's contribution should be phrased in accordance with that objective.


There will be two exams including one final. They will consist of multiple choice and short essay questions.


First Exam: 30%
Second Exam: 30%
Papers: 15%
Assignment: 5%
Attendance and Class Participation: 20%

Regular attendance, doing readings on time and taking part in class discussions are included in the participation grade. Permission to be excused from a scheduled exam will be granted only for serious medical or personal reasons and must be properly documented.

Disabilities: Any student with a documented disability is welcome to contact me early in the semester so that we may work out reasonable accommodations to support your success in this course. One should also contact Disability Services for Students.


Introductory: What is Aesthetics Week 1
Arthur Danto, The Artworld Week 2
Plato, Republic II,III, X Week 3, 4
Plato, Ion Week 5
Plato, Symposium Week 5
Aristotle, Poetics Week 6
Mid - Term
David Hume, Of the Standard of Taste Week 7
Immanuel Kant, The Critique of Judgment Week 8, 9, 10
Leo Tolstoy, What is Art? Week 11
Michel Foucault, The Order of Things Week 11
Jacques Derrida, The Truth in Painting Week 12


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