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Art and Morality


Admission requirements

Admission to this course is restricted to BA students in Philosophy, who have successfully completed their first year, and who have also completed at least 10 EC’s of the mandatory BA2 courses in philosophy of their second year.


This course examines the relation between two key areas of philosophy, aesthetics and ethics, in historical perspective. Ever since Plato controversially banned artists from his ideal republic on account of what he claimed to be their morally corrupting influence, philosophers have argued over whether art facilitates or frustrates ethical cultivation. Others, however, have contended that those engaging in this debate have wholly failed to illuminate the value of art. They claim that aesthetic phenomena need to be evaluated according to their own unique criteria rather than those specific to the ethical domain. Wilde, for example, famously asserted that “there is no such thing as a moral or an immoral book. Books are well written, or badly written. That is all.”

This course will elucidate these debates by addressing the following two questions: 1. To what extent can art facilitate ethical cultivation? 2. Should art be evaluated in terms of its ethical value? We will begin by examining the ancients (namely, Plato and Aristotle) before moving on to modern German philosophy (namely, Kant, Schiller and Nietzsche). We will then conclude by analysing some contemporary Anglo-American attempts to answer the aforementioned questions (namely, those of Posner and Nussbaum).

Course objectives

This course aims to give students a clear understanding of the relation between aesthetics and ethics in historical perspective.

Students who successfully complete the course will have a good understanding of:

  • the autonomism-moralism debate in historical perspective;

  • ways in which art can contribute to ethical education;

  • key concepts in the history of aesthetics.

Students who successfully complete the course will be able to:

  • write an original and well-argued research paper responding to the debates covered by the course;

  • orally discuss many of the major themes in aesthetics with analytic clarity.


The timetable is available on the BA Filosofie website

  • BA Filosofie, BA3 – BA Plus-traject and Standaardtraject

Mode of instruction

  • Seminars

Class attendance is required.

Course Load

Total course load 10 x 28 hours = 280 hours

To be announced.

Assessment method


  • Written mid-term examination with short, open questions (20%)

  • Oral presentation (20%)

  • 6000-word research paper to be handed in at the end of term (60%)

Sufficient attendance is a prerequisite for completion of the course. No more than two unexplained absences will be permitted. Any further absences must be explained with a signed doctor’s note.


The final mark for the course is established by determination of the weighted average of several subtests (examniation, paper ect.). A subtest can be graded as unsatisfactory.
Class preparation and attendance are required and are conditions for submission of the paper.


To be announced.

Exam review

How and when an exam review will take place will be disclosed together with the publication of the exam results at the latest. If a student requests a review within 30 days after publication of the exam results, an exam review will have to be organized.


Blackboard will be used for:

Reading list

Compulsory Reading

  • Plato, Republic, trans. G. M. A. Grube and C. D. C. Reeve (Indianapolis: Hackett, 1992).

  • Aristotle, Poetics, trans. Ingram Bywater, in The Complete Works of Aristotle: The Revised Oxford Translation, ed. Jonathan Barnes, 2 vols (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1984).

  • Bertold Brecht, “A Short Organum for the Theatre,” in Brecht on Theatre, ed. and trans. John Willett (New York: Hill and Wang, 1964), 179–208

  • Immanuel Kant, Critique of Judgement, trans. James Creed Meredith (Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2007).

  • Friedrich Schiller, “Letters on the Aesthetic Education of Man”, trans. Elizabeth M. Wilkinson and L. A. Willoughby, in Essays, eds. Daniel O. Dahlstrom and Walter Hinderer (New York: Continuum, 1993).

  • Friedrich Nietzsche, The Birth of Tragedy, trans. Ronald Spiers (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999).

  • Friedrich Nietzsche, Twilight of the Idols, in The Anti-Christ, Ecce Homo, Twilight of the Idols, and Other Writings, trans. Judith Norman (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007).

  • Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, trans. Judith Norman (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001).

  • R. Posner, “Against Ethical Criticism,” Philosophy and Literature, 21 (1997): 1–27.

  • Nussbaum, M., “Exactly and Responsibly: A Defense of Ethical Criticism,” Philosophy and Literature, 22 (1998), 343–365.

Recommended reading

A list of recommended readings will be included in the syllabus.


Enrolment for courses and exams through uSis is mandatory.

Students are strongly advised to register in uSis through the activity number which can be found in the timetables for courses and exams.

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Not applicable.


J.S. Pearson MA


Not applicable.