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What is the philosophy of art and the art of philosophy?

October 8, 2005

Response from Aaron Meskin on October 10, 2005

The philosophy of art investigates a range of general questions about art. Here are a few: What is art? What is the nature of artistic representation? What is the nature of artistic form? What are the values of art? Is artistic evaluation simply a matter of opinion, or are there objective facts about artistic quality? Philosophers of art are also interested in questions about the individual arts: What is literary value? Is film an inherently realistic medium? What is the nature of musical expression? What is the relationship between a theatrical work and a theatrical performance? There are many other interesting philosophical questions about the arts—even ones about comic books and horror movies!

Sometimes people use the terms ‘aesthetics’ or ‘philosophical aesthetics’ to refer to the philosophy of art, but this can be misleading for two reasons. The first reason is that philosophical aesthetics encompasses more than the philosophy of art—it is also interested in beauty and other aesthetic matters in the (non-artistic) environment. The second reason is that the term ‘aesthetics’ encouraged people to look for narrowly aesthetic purposes in art (i.e., purposes that have to do with the provision of beauty or aesthetic experiences). But works of art may have a range of functions, many of which aren’t naturally understood as aesthetic.

I’m not sure about the expression ‘the art of philosophy’. Sometimes the term ‘art’ is used to refer to a skill or craft (as in ‘the art of fly fishing’). If that’s what’s meant, then I suppose the art of philosophy just is the skill or craft of philosophy. On the other hand, it is interesting to consider whether some works of philosophy are also works of art. I’ll leave you with a couple of questions about that. Do you think it’s possible for a work of philosophy to also be a work of art? Do you think there are any such works?


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