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Level 6

6AANA034 Aesthetics


Credit value: 15
Module tutor: Dr Sacha Golob


  • Summative assessment: 1 x 3,000 word essay (100%) 

  • Formative assessment: 1 x 2,500 word essay


  • Summative assessment: 2 x 2,500 word essays (50% each) 

  • Formative assessment: 1 x 2,500 word essay

Students are reassessed in the failed elements of assessment and by the same methods as the first attempt.

Teaching pattern: one one-hour weekly lecture and one one-hour weekly seminar over ten weeks.

Pre-requisites: This module has been designed with third-year philosophy students in mind; it is not intended as an introductory course in philosophy.  The module will assume substantial familiarity with a variety of philosophical distinctions and concepts (e.g. a basic acquaintance with propositional logic) and an ability to read texts in contemporary analytic philosophy without extensive guidance from the instructor.  Students who have not completed at least one level 5 philosophy module in the philosophy department are highly discouraged from enrolling in this module. Students in doubt about whether this module is suitable for them are encouraged to contact the instructor.

This module introduces and examines a number of the key thinkers and the central debates within Aesthetics and the Philosophy of Art.

The first half of the course looks in detail at four influential, historical analyses of art - by Hume, Kant, Hegel, and Heidegger. Central questions addressed include the nature of beauty, whether all artistic preferences are equally valid, the relationship between art and art theory, and the role of artworks in enshrining, sustaining, or undermining, social institutions.

The second half of the course focuses on contemporary treatments of some of the core questions in aesthetics. The main topics considered include: Can a work of art be immoral? If so, would it be bad art?; Can I make something a work of art simply by saying so?; How do pictures represent, and to what degree is pictorial representation conventional?; Can pornography be art?; What, if anything, is wrong with kitsch? Does a work of art have a single ‘correct’ meaning? If so, what determines it?

Additionally, there will be a special summative question available from Reading Week on contemporary artistic practice - details are at the end of this document.

Further information

Module aims

This module introduces and examines a number of the key thinkers and the central debates within Aesthetics and the Philosophy of Art.

Learning outcomes

Generic Learning outcomes

In successfully completing the course, students will demonstrate and refine an advanced ability to assess and criticise arguments, and to identify and analyse the rhetorical and stylistic structure of writing and speech. They will also have demonstrated and developed an ability to conduct individual research, to participate in seminars and seminar presentations, and to work to deadlines.

Specific Learning Outcomes

The capacity to grasp, assess and analyse the philosophical content of some of the most important developments and issues within the philosophy of art.

Indicative reading list
  • Lessing, A., ‘What is wrong with a forgery?’, Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, Vol. 19 (1965), pp.461-7.

  • Hume, 'Of the Standard of Taste' in his Essays: Moral, Political and Literary (Liberty Classics, 1987); reprinted in Neill and Ridley (eds.), The Philosophy of Art (McGraw, 1995); and in many other anthologies.

  • Hegel, Introductory Lectures on Aesthetics, trans. Bosanquet, ed.Inwood (Penguin: 1993), pp.27-61, 75-97 OR Hegel, Aesthetics: Lectures on Fine Art, trans. T.M. Knox, Vol. 1 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1975), sections 1-8.

  • Danto, A., ‘The Artworld’ in Journal of Philosophy Vol.61 1964, pp.571-584. Also reprinted in Neill and Ridley (eds.), The Philosophy of Art (McGraw, 1995), and many other anthologies.

  • Kulka, T., ‘Kitsch’, The British Journal of Aesthetics, Vol. 28 (1988), pp. 18-27.

  • Kieran, M., ‘Pornographic Art’ in Philosophy and Literature, Vol. 25, (2001), pp. 31-45.

Past syllabi

Please note that module syllabus and topics covered may vary from year to year. 


The modules run in each academic year are subject to change in line with staff availability and student demand so there is no guarantee every module will run. Module descriptions and information may vary between years.

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