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            The main goal of the course is to introduce the student to the history and logic of philosophy's ways of thinking about the aesthetics of nature and the fine arts.  The secondary goal is to probe the context for aesthetics by considering the relations among truth, beauty, and goodness.  We approach these goals through readings discussed in class, by quizzes on the readings and other ideas presented in class, and by two projects which interface course topics with daily life.



(1) Stephen David Ross, ed., Art and Its Significance, 3rd edition, State University of New York Press, 1994.  ISBN: 0-7914-1852-9.  (2) Allen Carlson and Arnold Berleant, eds., The Aesthetics of Natural Environments Broadview Press, 2004 ISBN  1-55111-470-4.


Evaluation is based on participation (10 points): We are a community of inquiry, and our interaction has a life of its own; so you are expected to attend regularly, be on time, have the reading done, and be ready to participate.  More than six absences may affect the grade; if you miss a month, how can I pass you?  Second, there are two written project reports (30 points each).  The projects facilitate growth by nudging you to let your study illuminate your experience and vice-versa.  If you feel you have a reason to request an alternative to any of the projects, please speak with the instructor.  One more thing about the papers.  Writing is so important for your future role; English well used is important for our world, especially when so much communicating is mediated by machines; and it is a vital skill that school sometimes fails to teach.  If I don't fuss about writing, you should see what some folks hand in!  So I fuss, and I generally get quite decent writing.  Thus papers must be well written to receive a C or above.  It's a good idea to familiarize yourself with the Writing Center's services and its website: http://dept.kent.edu/english/WritingCent/writngcenter.htm .  Speaking of communication, the University obliges you to check your KSU e-mail address.  If I have messages to send to the whole class, e.g., about changing a syllabus assignment, or keeping in touch in the case of an epidemic, I will use those addresses.  Third, there are three quizzes (including the final--10 points each), mostly multiple-choice; quizzes may cover material from earlier quizzes as well as new material.

My office hours are MWF, 1:30-3:10 (Bowman 320H) and by appointment (330-672-0276; e-mail: jwattles@kent.edu; I do not receive e-mail at home, and weekends I may not be in to the office).

            In accordance with University policy, if you have a documented disability and require accommodations to obtain equal access in this course, please contact the instructor at the beginning of the semester or when given an assignment for which an accommodation is required.  Students with disabilities must verify their eligibility through the Office of Student Disability Services (SDS) in the Michael Schwartz Student Services Center (672-2972).

            The Philosophy Department Grievance Procedure for handling student grievances is in conformity with the Student Academic Complaint Policy and Procedures set down as University Policy 3342-4-16 in the University Policy Register.  For information concerning the details of the grievance procedure, please see the Departmental Chairperson.



Week 1.  January 17, What is aesthetics and its place in philosophy?  January 19, from Stephen David Ross, ed., Art and Its Significance, read (before class) the selection from Plato's Symposium, pp. 56ff.  Read also the web notes at http://www.personal.kent.edu/~jwattles/sympos.htm.  One more thing.  The translation of the key passage beginning p. 62 is badly mistranslated; be sure to see the substitute translation given in the Plato part of the course website: http://www.personal.kent.edu/~jwattles/esthetic.htm

 Week 2.  Jan. 22-24, Republic selection, 9ff.  Jan. 26, both Aristotle selections, 66ff.

 Week 3.  Jan. 29, Kant, 95-103 plus web materials on Kant; Jan. 31-Feb. 2, 103-115.

 Week 4.  Feb. 5-7, Kant 115-127.  Feb. 9, finish the Kant selection.  Quiz 1.

 Week 5.  Feb. 12, Bell, 185.  Feb 14. Nietzsche, 161ff.. Feb. 16, Paper 1 due.

 Week 6.  Feb. 19, Dewey, 203-220; Feb 21-32, Heide Göttner-Abendroth, 556-77.

 Week 7.  Feb. 26, Heidegger, 254-264; Feb. 28, 264-72, Mar. 2, 273-80.

 Week 8.  Mar. 5, Benjamin, 526.  Mar. 7, Derrida 401-411 (inclusive).  Mar. 9, 411-428.

 Week 9.  Mar. 12, Derrida, 429-37.  Mar. 14-16, Danto 469-82.

 Week 10. Mar. 19, Goodman, 237-46; Mar. 21, 247-52.  Mar. 23, Quiz 2.

 Week 11. Apr. 2, The Aesthetics of Natural Environments, Introductory essay by Allen Carlson and Arnold Berleant.  Apr. 4-6 Hepburn, 48-59.

 Week 12.  Apr. 9-11, Hepburn 127-140.  Apr. 13, Rolston

 Week 13.  Apr 16 Rolston, continued.  April 18-20, Godlovich.

 Week 14.  Apr. 23-25 Fischer on the sounds of nature.  Apr. 26, on former KSU faculty member, Emily Brady on the role of imagination.

 Week 15.  April 30, Brady, continued.  May 2, Paper 2 due.  May 4, review.

 Final examination and discussion of projects, Thursday, May 10, 10:15-12:30. 


For internet searches, remember the academic sources: www.searchedu.com and the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy http://plato.stanford.edu/


First aesthetics project and the February 16 project report

1.  Take time looking at some objects or scenes in nature that you find beautiful, and use your understanding of Plato to try out developing your aesthetic experience in a new way.  (There is no need to describe an experience of erotic physical attraction to a person; a description of a river or landscape or sunrise will do just fine.  Nor do you need to find every one of Plato's levels from the Symposium ladder relevant.)  In your project report spell out in about two pages what kind of a process of experiencing the scene you go through working with Plato's aesthetics of beauty on different levels.  

2.  When we study Kant, do the same.  Spell out in a couple of pages the experience that you have looking at the same scenes according to Kant's ideas.

3.  Last, write down in a page or so what in your experience is not included in either the Platonic or Kantian frameworks.

Evaluation: English: 10%  (unless the English is very poor—spelling, punctuation, and grammar matter); Development of experience, 20%; discussions of Plato and Kant, 60%; response to the final problem 10%.  These proportions are customary; in some cases, however, the instructor may give additional weight to an outstanding section.  The grade will be entered as a proportion of a possible 30 points.

            Here is a "rubric" describing levels of achievement correlated with grades on the various parts of the assignment.

Experiential dimension

A.  The experience report shows that the student has taken the time to develop a genuine experience in the direction indicated by Plato (of course no peak experience of beauty itself is expected) and along the lines indicated by Kant and has things to say in Part 3. 

B.  The report indicates some sincere effort in the direction of the project, but the report indicates an experience less sustained, less wholehearted, and written with more unnecessary or chatty detail.  The learning was average.

C.  The project experience seems to have been brief and half-hearted and shows little discovery.

D.  The report indicates a severe misunderstanding of the assignment.

F.  The report gives little or no evidence of effort along the lines of the assignment.


Discussion of Plato and Kant

A.  The application of the ideas of Plato and Kant shows accurate understanding and reasonable completeness.  The discussion goes beyond notes from class and shows a thoughtful study of the assigned readings.

B.  The discussion is accurate but largely a restatement of what was said in class. 

C.  The discussion is too brief, and there are some significant misinterpretations of the texts.

D.  The paper indicates a severe misunderstanding of the assignment and shows problems that should have been discussed earlier with the instructor.

F.  The paper gives little or no evidence of effort along the lines of the assignment. 


Second Project: The comparative aesthetics of nature and art


            Do we need one kind of philosophical aesthetics for nature and a different kind for art?  Or is there an aesthetic theory that can adequately embrace both?  Are the aesthetic differences that some authors claim between these realms simply a matter of degree, or are there generalizations that hold good for the most part even though we can think of exceptions?  What do our authors say or imply about what may be called, for immediate purposes, "comparative aesthetics"?  (Normally such a term would refer to a comparison and contrast of aesthetic traditions arising from different cultures.)


I.  The experience

            The project requires a course of experience, study, and reflection--then, on that foundation, the project report is to be written.  During this third unit in the course, beginning April 2, you need to be engaged in ongoing engagement with nature as well as the arts, and keep a journal relating your experiences to the readings.  As you read the assigned essays and excerpts, make note of the comparative judgments made and implied by the authors.  You are encouraged to test your aesthetic theory or theories on at least three works of art (or reproductions) and on different natural settings.  The examples you choose for the comparisons should be different enough to provide a good test.  In discussing comparative aesthetics a flower may suggest a different response than a forest, so beware putting too much emphasis on just a single example which could yield misleading generalizations.


II.  The report

            The project report is to be an organized account, 6-10 pages (not just a series of journal entries) describing the course of experience over the month of April and the conclusions (however tentative) at which you have arrived--as related to the issues emerging from the claims (explicit or implicit) of aestheticians about the aesthetics of nature and art.  You are welcome to include reference to experiences before the project period, but you must give some account of what you were able to do in April.  The report must show sustained aesthetic experience in both realms, nature and the arts.

            The paper will feature one or more samples from the arts and one or more natural settings.  You need to bring in at least some reference (neither trivial nor merely in passing) to Plato and Kant, to two philosophers from the second unit of the course (Bell to Benjamin and Derrida), and two from The Aesthetics of Natural Environments.

            Select passages where a philosopher makes comparative judgments about the aesthetics of nature and the arts (either generalizing over both realms, implying no important difference for aesthetics between them--or indicating some important contrast, which of course may come with qualifications).  Then support or challenge the philosopher's claim by appeal to your own experience and reflection.


III.  Evaluation

            Evaluation is based on (1) the quality of the writing (as stated in the syllabus) as you communicate your response to the different aspects of the assignment, (2) evidence of sustained involvement in the project experiences (observation/engagement, study, and reflection) during the time of the project (include a bit of blunt reporting about the time you spent, when, how long, how often, engaged in project-related activities), (3) the clarity and accuracy of your interpretation of the aestheticians' remarks on comparative aesthetics, and (4) the quality of thinking evident in your reasoning and organization.



Truth (aletheics, to use a rare term) Beauty (aesthetics) Goodness (ethics and political theory)

Here are some of philosophy's subdisciplines in the realm of truth:


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