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Anno accademico 2020/2021

Codice dell'attività didattica
Gregory Paul Currie (Titolare del corso)
Corso di studi
laurea magistrale in Filosofia
Philosophy International Curriculum M.A.
1° anno 2° anno
Periodo didattico
Secondo semestre
SSD dell'attività didattica
M-FIL/01 - filosofia teoretica
Modalità di erogazione
Lingua di insegnamento
Modalità di frequenza
Tipologia d'esame
General familiarity with philosophical argument; an interest in the arts; formal study of aesthetics is less important than some basic understanding of philosophy of mind and metaphysics.

Sommario insegnamento


Obiettivi formativi

The teaching aims to provide students with an understanding of the nature of art and its capacity to connect an audience with the maker of the art. Within this overall aim there are several objectives:

  • To understand approaches to aesthetics in the last eighty years, and the tendency to explain aesthetic interests as cut off from practical concerns;
  • To understand the limitations of such approaches and some of the contemporary criticisms of them;
  • To explore the idea that aesthetic interest is concerned in part with the way an art work manifests the qualities of its maker;
  • To apply some of these ideas to the specific problem of the relations between painting and photography.

See the fact sheet in English.


Risultati dell'apprendimento attesi

At the end of the teaching the student will be able to demonstrate

  • An understanding of the recent history of thinking about the aesthetic and its relation to art;
  • An ability to assess claims represented by this debate;
  • An ability to assess arguments that suggest a strong connection between our interest in art and our interest in other people;
  • An ability to generate and assess arguments concerning the relations between painting and photography.

See the fact sheet in English.


Modalità di insegnamento

There will be 6 hours per week of teaching, plus two office hours during which students may see me individually. I expect there to be three hours of lectures and three hours of seminars, each week. Seminars will involve presentations from students. Lectures will be highly interactive with discussion encouraged.

See the fact sheet in English.


Modalità di verifica dell'apprendimento

I suggest a final essay of 5,000 words on a topic agreed between myself and the individual students. Marking will conform to the Philosophy Department's scale: Successful examination: from 30 cum laude (the top) to 18 (the bottom). Unsuccessful examination: under 18.

See the fact sheet in English.


Attività di supporto

None, other than attendance at office hours.



In this teaching we will ask the question "What is involved when we take an aesthetic interest in a work of art?" Classically, answers to this question have assumed that such an interest will focus on a rather narrow range of features of the work — in the case of painting, the colors and shapes on the surface, in music on the sound structure. Of course, these things are essential; you cannot appreciate a picture if you do not see it, or a work of music if you do not hear it. But is it right that an aesthetic interest ignores everything else? These days many philosophers answer "No". I am one. But then the question arises "What must we attend to and what can we ignore?" There is no agreement on this question. I will try to give a partial answer by arguing that an aesthetic interest in a work is an interest in how the qualities of the maker of the work are made evident in the work itself. I will use a number of arguments to support this view: (1) it makes good sense of our reactions to forgery in art; (2) it helps explain some recent experimental work in social psychology on people's attitudes to authenticity; (3) it fits well with the ways that art experts describe the qualities of the works they investigate.

One idea will keep coming up in our discussions: aesthetic values, like moral values, are dependent: objects have aesthetic qualities because they have other sorts of qualities. Thus two things cannot differ only in their aesthetic (or moral) qualities. This idea is referred to as supervenience , and we will have some discussion of exactly what it means and what its implications are for thinking about the place of art in a universe that can be described in purely physical terms.

Below is a (rough) outline of topics for each week.

Week 1: Introduction and overview of the topic; structure of teaching and assessment; introduction to the idea of ​​aesthetic interest, aesthetic value and to the problem of what aesthetic value depends on.

Week 2: The central idea of classical thinking about the aesthetic; the ideas of supervenience and “aesthetic empiricism”. Recent criticisms of the latter and the need to reformulate the supervenience claim.

Weeks 3: The relation between the work of art and its maker: ideas of Walton, Levinson, and Currie. The idea of “authenticity” and its importance in art and in other activities; some work in social psychology which sheds light on this; understanding the problem of forgery in art.

Week 4: Admiring a work of art and admiring its maker: How closely connected are these? Ideas from psychology about the ways we humans assess each others’ qualities and the importance in evolution of this practice; the idea of art as a means of signalling qualities; the significance of all this for understanding aesthetic supervenience.

Week 5: A case study: understanding the relations between painting and photography, two kinds of visual arts that differ greatly in the qualities of the maker that they display. “Realism” in photography and in painting.

Week 6: Some implications of these ideas for the nature of aesthetic value: the distinction between final and intrinsic value. Why are aesthetic value supervenient? Summary of the teaching and general conclusions.

See the fact sheet in English.

Testi consigliati e bibliografia


Reading materials

Many of my arguments and examples will be drawn from painting. This book

Michael Baxandall, Painting and Experience in Fifteenth Century Italy. Oxford University Press.

is a brilliant and influential account of the things it is good to know about a work before one can properly appreciate it. It is well worth reading as a supplement to the philosophical literature recommended below. This is not required reading — merely a suggestion for useful background.

Required readings week-by-week (further reading will be assigned at the time of the lectures)

Week 1:

Lecture 1

Currie, Art and the anthropologists. In Shimamura, A., ed., Aesthetic Science Oxford University Press.

Lecture 2

Davies, Beardsley and the Autonomy of the Work of Art, Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 63 (2005): 179-183.

Korta & Perry, Pragmatics, Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy, especially Sections 2.1.2 and 3.2.

Lecture 3

Zangwill, Aesthetic judgement, Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy

Shelley, The concept of the aesthetic, Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy

Sibley, Aesthetic concepts, in his Approach to aesthetics, Oxford University Press, 2001.

Week 2

Lecture 4

Currie, An Ontology of Art, Macmillan 1989. Chapter 2. (relevant for lectures 4,5 & 6)

Friend, Categories of Literature, Journal of Aesthetics and Art criticism 782020: 70-74

Robson, Aesthetic Testimony, Philosophy Compass,

Lecture 5

Walton, Categories of art, in his Marvelous Images. Oxford University Press, 2008. (Highly relevant for lectures 5 & 6).

Zangwill, “In Defence of Moderate Aesthetic Formalism”, Philosophical Quarterly, 50 (2000): 476-493.

"Supervenience" Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy ,

Lecture 6

Same as for lecture 5, especially Walton, Categories, 

Week 4: Style

Walton, Style and the products and processes of art, in his Marvelous Images, Oxford University Press, 2008.

Robinson, Style and personality in the literary work, Philosophical Review, available at

Currie, Style and the agency in art, forthcoming in S Sedivy (ed) Art, Representation, and Make-Believe: Essays on the Philosophy of Kendall L. Walton. Routledge, forthcoming (available on this web site).


Week 5

Walton, Transparent pictures, in his Marvelous Images, Oxford University Press, 2008.

Scruton, Photography and representation, at

Lopes, The Aesthetics of Photographic Transparency, Mind, 112 (2003): 433-448

Currie, G. Pictures and their surfaces, in J. Pelletier & A. Voltolini (eds) Pictorial Experience and Aesthetic Appreciation. Routledge, pp.249-269. (extended version available on this web site)


See the fact sheet in English.

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