Accessibility statement

The Arts & the Mind - PHI00090M

« Back to module search

  • Department: Philosophy
  • Module co-ordinator: Prof. Gregory Currie
  • Credit value: 20 credits
  • Credit level: M
  • Academic year of delivery: 2021-22

Module summary

A module suitable for all students, including those with no background in philosophy, with an interest in theories of the nature, practice, and reception of the arts. Of particular relevance to students of art history, image and screen media, drama, and literature. Philosophically based, it draws on ideas from cognitive linguistics, psychology, anthropology, and archaeology.

Module will run

Occurrence Teaching period
A Spring Term 2021-22

Module aims

Through the twentieth century a number of very different intellectual movements sought to separate works of literary, dramatic, filmic and pictorial art from their circumstances of production, some of them driven by an apparently rigorous formalism, distrust of the idea of an artist’s intentions, or theories according to which language provides “encoded” meaning. In recent decades, a number of developments across the disciplines have challenged these outlooks and paved the way for a quite different approach to the arts: work on “mind reading” in psychology, on interpersonal mirroring processes in neuroscience, on the role of pragmatics in linguistics and on “honest signalling” in evolutionary theory. These and other developments have demystified the idea of intention and its relation to action, a subject on which philosophers have devised powerful and explanatory theories. In the light of these developments, we can rethink the relation between the things we make, including such things as narratives, symphonies, sculptures and images, and the ways in which we make them.


The module will introduce key ideas from these fields, review the recent history of the debate over art and intention, and then focus on a small number of areas where ideas of mind, intention and making challenge some of our intuitive ideas about the value of artworks and works of “everyday aesthetic” interest. These are (1) the value of authenticity and the problem of fakes and forgeries; (2) the nature and significance of style and its relation to the way our behaviour expresses our personal characteristics; (3) the expression of emotions and attitudes in art; (4) the relation of such “mechanical” devices of representation as cameras and digital technologies to the “hand made” arts of painting and drawing, and the challenge they pose to more traditional accounts of the relation between the work and the intention-guided action of the artist.

Module learning outcomes

By the end of this module students should be able to

  • Critically assess claims about the relation between understanding the work’s history of making and its context, and appreciating the work itself;
  • Understand central positions in the history of this debate over the last century;
  • Critically assess claims about the nature of skill, expertise and excellence in performance and be able to apply these concepts to acts of making across the arts
  • Critically assess claims about the nature and importance of style and its relation to behaviour, mind and personality
  • Critically assess claims about the nature and importance of authenticity in art and the relation of authenticity to the idea that a person’s qualities (positive and negative) may somehow reside in an artwork or other artefact;
  • Critically assess claims about the similarities and differences between paintings and photographs and the implications of this for film and digital media generally.


Task Length % of module mark
The Arts and the Mind
N/A 100

Special assessment rules


Additional assessment information

The 750-word formative essay plan is due on Monday, Week 8 of Spring Term.

The 4,000-word summative essay is due on Monday, Week 1 of Summer Term.


Task Length % of module mark
The Arts and the Mind
N/A 100

Module feedback

Feedback on the formative assessment will be given before the end of term.

Feedback on the summative assessment will be given four weeks after submission.

Indicative reading

Svetlana Alpers, (1987) Style is what you make it, in B. Lang (ed) The Concept of Style. Cornell

Greg Currie, (2010) Art and the anthropologists. In Shimamura, A., ed., Aesthetic Science Oxford University Press.

Greg Currie, (2021) 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.

Anne Eaton & Ivan Gaskell, (2009). Do subaltern artifacts belong in museums? In J. Young & C. Brunk (Eds.), The ethics of cultural appropriation. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell.

Ellen Fridland, (2020) Skill’s psychological structures. Ethical Theory and Moral Practice.DOI: 10.1007/s10677-020-10132-w

Jenefer Robinson, (1986) Style and personality in the literary work, Philosophical Review, available at

Yiroko Saito, (2010) Everyday Aesthetics, Oxford.

Kendall Walton, (1970) Categories of art, in his Marvelous Images. Oxford University Press, 2008.

Kendall Walton, (1987) Transparent pictures, in his Marvelous Images


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.