Aesthetics and Morality (Bloomsbury Aesthetics)
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Aesthetic and moral value are often seen to go hand in hand. They do so not only practically, such as in our everyday assessments of artworks that raise moral questions, but also theoretically, such as in Kant's theory that beauty is the symbol of morality. Some philosophers have argued that it is in the relation between aesthetic and moral value that the key to an adequate understanding of either notion lies. But difficult questions abound. Must a work of art be morally admirable in order to be aesthetically valuable? How, if at all, do our moral values shape our aesthetic judgements - and vice versa?
Aesthetics and Morality is a stimulating and insightful inquiry into precisely this set of questions. Elisabeth Schellekens explores the main ideas and debates at the intersection of aesthetics and moral philosophy. She invites readers to reflect on the nature of beauty, art and morality, and provides the philosophical knowledge to render such reflection more rigorous. This original, inspiring and entertaining book sheds valuable new light on a notably complex and challenging area of thought.
find ourselves in. The characters we encounter in literature and on stage, screen and canvas, in marble. bronze and even musica l sound expand the range and variety of our acquaintance enormously, and often help us to see things from a certain angl e or to decide on a particular course of action. Last but not least, a world without art would be unrecognizable in virtue of its lacking one of our main sources of pleasure and delight. The enjoyment afforded by our involvement with a favourite art
careful in our evaluat i ons, and by discarding imprudent assessments tha t fa i l to draw on and make use of th i s conceptual distinction. In the second instance, and as Michael Tanner ( 1 994) has pointed out, one of the most unsettling yet interesting things that a good artwork can do is precisely to get us to assent (albeit temporarily and fictionally) to perspectives that we find morally reprehensible. For example. Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita is a great novel partly because it manages to
and, moreo v er, to endorse and feel in sympathy with them ourselves. In this sens e, a 68 MORAL CONVICTIONS AND ARTISTIC APPRECIATION moral Haw may also be considered an aesthetic flaw when a situation somehow fails to elici t from us the appropriate moral response and where the prompting of such a response is an i nte g ral part of the work. So, for ex ample when Raskolnikov is . particularly vindictive and aggressive towards an o ld lady in the opening of Dostoevsky's Crime and
its visual appearance and because of the deeper humanity that he captures in the way he depicts his posture and facial expression. This commonplace does not imply that all the artworks that we deem typical are entirely agreeable to look at, read or listen to. Francis Bacon's Study of Velasquez s Ponrait of Pope Innocent X. for example. is unpleasant to look at in some respects, but overall yields a very worthwhile and enthralling aesthetic experience. The scene depicted has an element of violence
established for an unproblematic observation to the effect that artistic and 133 AESTH ETICS AND MORALITY aesthetic experience can and does l ead to the development of one's moral character. The question is, though, how far does this be understood directly in terms of the nu rturi ng of virtue? Does aesthetic value, in other words, lead directly to moral value in tenns of the virtue of our own characters, or should the connection be understood more in terms of a general propensity? process