Introduction to Aesthetics

Aesthetics: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Art

Fall Semester
Rona Cohen
Office Hours: by appointment


Short description:

The ability to judge objects as beautiful is a universal disposition rooted in human nature, a sensus communis (common sense) for the appreciation of beauty. Following Kant’s seminal work The Critique of the Power of Judgment, the philosophical discipline of aesthetics argues that the phenomena of beauty and its enjoyment involve a particular sort of experience irreducible to any other domain of human experience, such as cognition or morality. This course introduces fundamental concepts and key questions in philosophical aesthetics, paying special attention to the “modernist break” in 20th century art, after which the pursuit of beauty, formerly perhaps the loftiest aspiration of western artists throughout history, had become an indication of conservatism, epitomized by artist Barnett Newman’s argument that “the impulse of modern art is the desire to destroy beauty”. Other topics to be addressed in the course include questioning whether art is merely an imitation of nature, a “shadow of reality”, like Plato held, and therefore merely a fictitious deception devoid of truth or  is art an event of truth, like Heidegger held? How do works of art express an idea or a concept through material sensible components? Do works of art have the power to express things that words cannot? Is the category of “aesthetic” obsolete with the politicization of art in the 20th century? How does everything we know about art and aesthetics changes in the 20th century with Marcel Duchamp’s introduction of a urinal into the museum: does this act mark the “end of art” as Hegel had predicted?


Final requirement: Paper, 6 pages

Grade: Participation 15% Final Requirement 85%



Attendance is mandatory. Students are permitted a maximum of three unexcused absences without penalty. Any additional absences will affect the final grade and may result in failure of the course.


Academic conduct:

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