PHIL 539A 001 2022W1 Aesthetics - AESTHETICS

PHIL 539A 001 2022W1 Aesthetics - AESTHETICS

Dominic McIver Lopes
Office: Mondays 11h30–12h30 in Buchanan E367

This seminar explores a neglected history of aesthetics, one where theories of aesthetic value and aesthetic normativity articulate visions of what is shared or common in the human experience, especially as that might be in tension with something like freedom or autonomy.

The scope is large on one dimension: we will read texts from the ancient Mediterranean, South Asia, and the Euro tradition. At the same time, the scope is limited to aesthetic value and normativity, which excludes nineteenth-century writing that shifts the focus squarely onto art. The aesthetic tradition remains live and well today, and we will close by reading recent work by young philosophers.

Members of the seminar enrolled in philosophy are encouraged to connect to cognate research in metaphysics and epistemology, philosophy of mind, value theory, and other areas of the history of philosophy. Members of the seminar from other disciplines are encouraged to bring their disciplinary knowledge to the table and to spin the seminar material towards their research interests.


The seminar requirements are one short (ten minute) presentation, possibly a longer presentation, seminar participation, and three to five thousand words in writing (in anything from many short pieces to one long piece).

Short Presentation (10% or 20%) You will make a ten minute presentations to structure discussion of a reading. Your aim is to highlight the issues and their significance, articulate the main arguments, and raise objections or queries that get to the heart of the matter. Treat this like an APA commentary. You will get feedback from the instructor but the presentations are not graded.

Longer Presentation (10%) If you are submitting a term paper, you will make a twenty minute presentation of your term paper ideas. Your aim is to highlight the issues and their significance in a way that generates constructive feedback. You will get feedback from the instructor but the presentations are not graded.

Seminar Participation (10 %) Your goal is to make contributions to the seminar that are (1) regular, (2) pertinent, and (3) constructive. 10/10 for all three; 8/10 for any two, 7/10 for one.

Writing: Short Papers Option (70 %) Submit three to five thousand words in the form of any reasonable number of smaller papers submitted throughout the term. Think of these papers as: partial literature reviews, conference-style comments, journal discussion pieces, blog entries, reports from the front for non-philosophers, lecture outlines, notes to self… be creative. 

Writing: Term Paper Option (70 %) Submit between three and five thousand words as a single term paper. Excellent term papers make original contributions of a kind that promise impact on the work of other scholars, they are situated in ongoing debates and bring out the motivations for positions in those debates, they charitably represent opposing considerations, they have impeccable logic, and they are written in a clear and vigorous prose with a supple and economical structure. 


September 7

Introduction: A Crash Course in Aesthetics

September 14

Classical Aesthetic Hedonism

Plato, Protagoras
Martha Nussbaum, “Plato on Commensurability and Desire,” Aristotelian Society Supplementary Volume 58 (1984) 55-80

Hume, “On the Standard of Taste"
Jerrold Levinson, “Hume's Standard of Taste: The Real Problem,” Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 60.3 (2002): 227–38

September 21

Kant on Beauty

Immanuel Kant, Critique of the Power of Judgement, ed. Paul Guyer, trans. Paul Guyer and Eric Matthews (Cambridge University Press, 2000[1790]) selections TBA

September 28

Kant on Aesthetic Normativity 

Rachel Zuckert, Kant on Beauty and Biology (Cambridge University Press, 2007) selections TBA
Dominic McIver Lopes, “Beyond the Pleasure Principle: A Kantian Aesthetics of Autonomy,” Estetika: The European Journal of Aesthetics 57.1 (2021): 1–18

October 5

Bolzano on Beauty

Bernard Bolzano, Essays on Beauty and the Arts, ed. Dominic McIver Lopes, trans. Adam Bresnahan (Hackett, 2023{1843+1848]), selections TBA

October 12

Bolzano on Beauty and Practical Reasons

Dominic McIver Lopes, “Bolzano on Aesthetic Normativity" MS


October 19

Rasa Theory

Abhinavagupta, "The New Dramatic Art," Rasa Reader: Classical Indian Aesthetics, ed. and trans. Sheldon Pollock (Columbia University Press, 2016), 187–223

October 26

KCB on Rasa

K. C. Bhattacharyya, “The Concept of Rasa,” Indian Philosophy in English: From Renaissance to Independence, ed. Nalini Bhushan and Jay L. Garfield (Oxford University Press, 2011[1930]) 195–206, read Part 1
Dominic McIver Lopes, “Feeling for Freedom: KC Bhattacharyya on Rasa,” British Journal of Aesthetics 59.4 (2019) 465–77

November 2

KCB on the Paradox of Sorrow

Bhattacharyya, “The Concept of Rasa,” read Part 2
Emily Lawson and Dominic McIver Lopes, "Courageous Love: KC Bhattacharyya on the Paradox of Sorrow" MS

Exploring Value

Samantha Matherne, "Beyond the Either/Or in Aesthetic Life: A New Approach to Aesthetic Universality” MS

November 16

Recent Work on Community and Autonomy

Anthony Cross, “Aesthetic Alienation” MS
Kenney Walden, “Aesthetic Sources of the Self” MS
Nick Riggle, “Aesthetic Value and the Practice of Aesthetic Valuing” MS

November 23 Presentations
November 30 Presentations
December 7 Presentations


Course Summary:

Date Details Due