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Theories of Value: Aesthetics and Ethics (Level 6)


Module description

Our engagement with objects of aesthetic or artistic value shares many features with our engagement with objects of ethical or moral value and gives rise to many of the same fundamental philosophical questions. In this module, we explore some of these questions as they arise both in aesthetics and ethics and compare some of the most influential answers given to them across the two domains. The questions addressed include: Do aesthetic or ethical judgments express beliefs or cognitions about the world, or do they rather express our personal feelings or emotions? Are there any objective standards for good or bad aesthetic or ethical judgment, or are aesthetics and ethical judgments subjective or relative? When we attribute either aesthetic or ethical features to things or otherwise classify things aesthetically or ethically, do we truly describe the world as containing aesthetic or ethical properties? To what extent, if any, would the existence of aesthetic or ethical properties depend on how humans are disposed to respond to the world? How should we explain aesthetic and ethical disagreement?

In exploring these and other questions, this module will introduce you to theories of value espoused by some of the most important philosophers writing on aesthetics and ethics (such as Hume and Kant) as well as to some of the most influential contemporary theories of value.

Indicative module syllabus

  • Aesthetic and ethical judgement
  • Realism and anti-realism
  • Cognitivism and non-cognitivism
  • Subjectivity, relativity, objectivity
  • Ethical and aesthetic properties
  • Dispositionalism and response-dependence
  • Aesthetic and ethical disagreement

Learning objectives

By the end of this module, you will be able to:

  • demonstrate a systematic understanding of different theories of value, such as realism and anti-realism, cognitivism and non-cognitivism, dispositionalism and response-dependence, as well as their interrelationships with issues in aesthetics and ethics
  • demonstrate in-depth understanding of different ideas, contexts and frameworks deployed by contributors to debates over the objectivity of aesthetic and ethical values and properties, and recognise some of their strengths and weaknesses
  • undertake thorough critical analyses of different philosophical theories of aesthetic and ethical judgement, properties and disagreement, and evaluate the outcomes
  • critically challenge philosophical accounts of the nature and objectivity of aesthetic and ethical value.