The Good, the Bad, and the Beautiful: The Ethics of Art




What, if anything, is the relationship between art and morality? Can art be immoral? Or is it a mistake to evaluate a work of art in such terms? Can the moral of a content of a work bear on its aesthetic value, that is, whether it is good art? What of the moral status of artists—does the (im)morality of an artist bear on the success of her work? Should art serve as an instrument of moral education? A force for liberation? A method of unifying people? How do the arts shape who and what is seen? And how should we think of the representation (or appropriation) of race, gender, and culture in the arts? This seminar will challenge students to grapple with questions of art, ethics, and the human condition alongside contemporary and historical thinkers alike—from Plato to Confucius to Tolstoy. In addition to philosophical texts, we will engage with a wide variety of art, including poetry, film, theater, painting, sketch comedy, classical music, rock and roll, and games. And maybe most importantly, we will engage with one another—this is a class in which all of us will be doing philosophy together, working through what we think about fundamental questions of art and ethics. The seminar will meet in the Harvard Art Museums and include a trip to the MFA, providing opportunities to see many of the seminar’s central artworks in person and consider questions about the ethically and politically significant work of art collection and exhibition.
Additional Information:
Faculty: Patrick White
Semester: Full Fall Term
Time: Tuesday, 9:00 - 11:45 am