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Philosophy of Art from Hume to Tolstoy - PHI00049M

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  • Department: Philosophy
  • Module co-ordinator: Mr. Andrew Ward
  • Credit value: 20 credits
  • Credit level: M
  • Academic year of delivery: 2020-21

Module summary

The aim of this module is to investigate central themes in 18th and 19th century aesthetic theory.

Module will run

Occurrence Teaching cycle
A Autumn Term 2020-21

Module aims

  • To examine critically central themes in 18th and 19th century aesthetic theory and to provide an understanding of how an aesthetic theory can depend on, and itself help to invigorate, an overall metaphysical theory.
  • To provide a grounding for independent research in the Philosophy of Art.
  • To develop students' abilities to understand, analyse, and critically evaluate complex abstract questions.
  • To develop students' abilities to communicate complex abstract ideas in discussion and writing.

Module learning outcomes

By the end of the module:

  • Students should be able to display an in-depth understanding of British empiricist aesthetics of the 18th century, with particular reference to Francis Hutcheson, David Hume and Thomas Reid, and German Idealist aesthetics of the 18th and 19th centuries, with particular reference to Immanuel Kant, G.W. Hegel and Arthur Schopenhauer, together with the aesthetic views of Leo Tolstoy.
  • Students should be able to analyse complex areas of knowledge, displaying critical awareness; synthesise information and ideas from a variety of sources at the forefront of the discipline; evaluate research critically; and show originality in the discussion and application of ideas from the philosophical literature in developing their own arguments.
  • Students should show the ability to work autonomously and self critically on an extended essay that goes beyond the core framework that is provided in lectures and seminars.

Module content

Among the topics to be discussed will be:

  1. Whether beauty is more properly an object of contemplation or feeling
  2. The nature of artistic genius
  3. The status of the work of art
  4. The aesthetic point of view, and its alleged differences from the practical and theoretical points of view.

Students attend relevant UG lectures and seminars (which are research-led) to gain a background in the general area of research, while working with the module convener over the course of the term to define and develop a topic for independent research, on which they will write their assessed essay, which they will work on in parallel with the lecture/seminar course. They will be expected to produce a topic proposal and reading list by week 7, and a plan for their essay by week 10, and will have a minimum of two meetings with the module convener to discuss ideas for an essay topic (before producing the proposal) and to discuss the essay plan (on production of the plan). These meetings are an absolute minimum, and it is expected that in practice students will make use of staff office hours regularly throughout the term to discuss their project with the module convener. Module conveners may also choose to provide feedback on the essay proposal and reading list in person in a further one-to-one meeting, or to meet MA students as a group at the start of term to discuss the subject area and suggest topics for independent research.


Task Length % of module mark
4000 word essay
N/A 100

Special assessment rules



Task Length % of module mark
4000 word essay
N/A 100

Module feedback

Students will receive written or verbal feedback on the essay proposal and reading list at least two weeks after they submit it.

Students will meet their module tutor in week 10 to discuss their essay plan in person.

Students will receive feedback on the 4000 word summative assessment and reassessment four weeks after they submit it.

Indicative reading

Francis Hutcheson Inquiry into the Original of our Ideas of Beauty, including 'Preface' (to both Inquiries)

David Hume 'Of the standard of taste' in his Essays: Moral, Political, and Literary

Thomas Reid Essays on the Active Powers of the Human Mind, Essay V Chap VII

Immanuel Kant The Critique of Judgement, Part I. (Critique of Aesthetic Judgement)

G W F Hegel Lectures on Fine Art (especially his ‘Introduction’)

Arthur Schopenhauer The World as Will and Representation, Vol I, Bk III and Vol II, Chaps XXIX-XXXIX

Leo Tolstoy What is Art?

The information on this page is indicative of the module that is currently on offer. The University is constantly exploring ways to enhance and improve its degree programmes and therefore reserves the right to make variations to the content and method of delivery of modules, and to discontinue modules, if such action is reasonably considered to be necessary by the University. Where appropriate, the University will notify and consult with affected students in advance about any changes that are required in line with the University's policy on the Approval of Modifications to Existing Taught Programmes of Study.