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Study information

Philosophies of Art

Module titlePhilosophies of Art
Module codePHL1009
Academic year2024/5
Module staff

Dr Tom Roberts (Convenor)

Duration: Term123
Duration: Weeks


Number students taking module (anticipated)


Module description

The arts – painting, sculpture, drama, poetry and music – have been central to philosophy ever since Plato and Aristotle. In this course, we will look at some of the main theories of art that have been put forward over the centuries, and examine some contemporary debates. We will see how philosophical theories of art have reflected and encouraged developments within the arts themselves, and explore some enduring philosophical problems from aesthetics, such as whether it is ever rational to feel emotionally involved with characters who we know to be fictional; whether offensive humour can ever be funny; whether a forgery can have the same aesthetic worth as an original; why we enjoy tragedy; and what it is for music to express our emotions. The module will offer you an in depth study of classic and contemporary thinking on central topics in the philosophy of art, and teach you to think critically about artworks while drawing upon your own tastes and experience.

There are no pre-requisites or co-requisites for this module, and the module is suitable for those with an interest in the philosophical and interdisciplinary study of art and aesthetics. 

Module aims - intentions of the module

The module aims to make you familiar with enduring debates in the philosophy of art and aesthetics, and how these connect to philosophical issues in other areas of the discipline, such as ethics and the philosophy of perception and emotion. The module speaks to those with an interest in the interdisciplinary study of the arts, and introduces ways in which philosophical thinking can be applied to real-life concerns. Core areas of the module will be “research-led”, in the sense that it will be informed by the module leader’s current research projects concerning perception and emotion. 

Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs)

ILO: Module-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 1. Demonstrate familiarity with major movements in the history of Philosophy of Art;
  • 2. Demonstrate understanding of key philosophical problems surrounding topics in Aesthetics, and existing responses to these problems;

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 3. Illustrate a variety of philosophical positions on a specific topic;
  • 4. Critically evaluate, orally and in writing, several philosophical positions;

ILO: Personal and key skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 5. Engage in complex arguments verbally and in small groups;
  • 6. Analyse, critically engage with, and report accurately upon, existing written material while articulating it within a structured and cogent argument; and
  • 7. Demonstrate the ability to work independently, within a limited time frame, and without access to external sources, to complete a specified task.

Syllabus plan

The module has two main parts: the first part looks at theories from the history of philosophy concerning the nature and status of art, while the second explores some individual philosophical problems arising in the field of aesthetics.Whilst the module’s precise content may vary from year to year, it is envisaged that the syllabus will cover some or all of the following themes:

Theories of art:

  •  Art as representation
  •  Art as expression
  •  The institutional theory of art

Philosophical problems in Aesthetics:

  • Hume’s critique of taste
  • Forgery
  • Emotional responses to fictional characters
  • The paradox of tragedy
  • Humour and the morality of art
  • Beauty and the natural environment

Learning activities and teaching methods (given in hours of study time)

Scheduled Learning and Teaching ActivitiesGuided independent studyPlacement / study abroad

Details of learning activities and teaching methods

CategoryHours of study timeDescription
Scheduled Learning and Teaching activity16.5Weekly 2-hour lecture/seminars
Guided Independent Study122.5A variety of reading and private study activities guided by the module leader. These tasks may include: Reading assignments (40 hours) Formative assessment preparation, including research and writing (20 hours) Essay preparation, including literature review, research, and writing (30 hours) Revision and exam preparation (30 hours)

Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
One 400 word written report on seminar reading400 words1,2,5,6written

Summative assessment (% of credit)

CourseworkWritten examsPractical exams

Details of summative assessment

Form of assessment% of creditSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Essay 1501800 words1,2,3,4,5,6Written and oral
Essay 2501800 words1,2,3,4,5,6written

Details of re-assessment (where required by referral or deferral)

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
EssayEssay (1500 words)1,2,3,4,5,6August/September reassessment period
ExaminationExamination (90 minutes)1,2,3,4,5,6August/September reassessment period

Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

Basic reading:

Plato, ‘Republic, III & X’,

Beardsley, M.C. ‘Intentions and Interpretations: A Fallacy Revived’

Hume, D. ‘Of the standard of taste’,

Walton, K. ‘Fearing Fictions’,

Scruton, R. ‘Understanding Music’,

Lamarque, P. ‘Tragedy and Moral Value’,

Gaut, B. ‘The Ethical Criticism of Art’,

Indicative learning resources - Web based and electronic resources

Stanford Encyclopedia:

PhilPapers online database of philosophical papers:

Key words search

Philosophy, Art, Aesthetics

Credit value15
Module ECTS


Module pre-requisites


Module co-requisitesNone
NQF level (module)


Available as distance learning?


Last revision date