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Philosophy of Expression

Fall 2008; Jeffrey Wattles, instructor

MWF 1:10-2:00, 315 Bowman


            This course uses diverse traditions of aesthetics to reflect on the art of living in contemporary culture.  Each student will select a film, piece of music, poem, novel, painting, work of architecture, or sculpture so that the class has a canon on which to test ideas from the readings.  We will examine concepts of expression represent theological, neo-Kantian, Hegelian, Nietzschean, Wittgensteinian, and pragmatist philosophies.


Texts: (1) G. W. F. Hegel, Aesthetics: Lectures on Fine Art, Volume I, trans. T. M. Knox (NY Oxford University Press, 1998) ISBN-10: 0198238169 [$55 list/ $47 amazon] paper 640pp. (2) Other materials can be acquired through OhioLink, and some will be distributed, e.g., as electronic documents.

Requirements: participation including presenting summaries of selections from the assigned readings; a midterm and final, and a two-part term paper (which will involve some written exercises along the way) on some question pertaining to the concept of expression as it relates to the student’s experience of the arts and of daily living.

1.  The first responsibility is participation: come to class regularly, on time, and well-prepared, having done the reading, and ready for discussion.  Missing more than five days may affect your grade, and you cannot pass if you miss a month.  There will be seminar presentations to do as well.  15%

2.  There are two papers, 30 points each.  The quality of written English—such an important and often neglected part of your education!—is a significant part of the grade on the papers (poor English can reduce the grade one letter, and very poor English earns the paper a D+ max).  Late assignments may receive a 10% penalty.  Please see the instructor if you have reason to request an alternative to any assignment.

3.  There are two quizzes, 10 points each (later quizzes include material covered on earlier quizzes).

            Office hours (Bowman 320H): MWF 10:50-11:50 and T/H 12:20-1:20 and by appointment (330-672-0276 or jwattles@kent.edu).

            Review university policy regarding academic cheating and plagiarism, summarized in a document toward the top of the “classes” webpage (see the URL above).

            University Policy 3342-3-01.3 requires that students with disabilities be provided reasonable accommodations to ensure their equal access to course content.  If you have a documented disability and require accommodations, please contact the instructor at the beginning of the semester to make arrangements for necessary classroom adjustments.  Please note, you must first verify your eligibility for these through Student Accessibility Services (contact 330-672-3391 or visit www.kent.edu/sas for more information on registration procedures).   

            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.



            This syllabus is tentative and will be revised as the course proceeds, according to the interests and capacities of the students.


August 25.  Introductions.  The denial of expression; expanded expression; constricted expression; expressing our higher and lower selves.  Plato’s critique of, and neglected counterproposal to, much poetry that he saw in his day.  The concept of expression implicit in Psalm 19.  Hans Urs von Balthasar’s concept of the relation of beauty to the glory of the Lord.  A concept of divine expressiveness linked with medieval aesthetics: the actus essendi [act of being] as a communicative act of each created entity as a participation metaphysics/Thomist basis for human understanding, putting expression, in a sense, as metaphysically central (see Philip Rolnick, Analogical Possibilities, 65-69).

27  John Muir and the expressiveness of nature (document to be provided by the instructor).

29  . . . continued discussion, and introduction to Kantian aesthetics.  For a summary background on Kant (partly to prepare for Hegel), see selected links here: http://www.personal.kent.edu/~jwattles/classes.htm .


Week 2


  3  Eldridge, The Persistence of Romanticism.  Introduction to Eldridge’s book.  Initial discussion of chapter 2.  Turn in a one- or two-page description of the painting, piece of music, poem or other work of literature, sculpture,  architecture, or film that you choose to contribute to the canon of works that we will bring to the encounter with our philosophers.  The work needs to have intellectual interest.  Append a photograph, if relevant and available, or a copy of the poem. 

  5  . . . discussion continued plus introduction to chapter 3.


Week 3

  8  Eldridge, Romanticism, chapter 3 (on music and more).  For this difficult chapter we shall assign sections for summary reports to be given by students (sections 3 and 5 are the longest).

10  chapter 3, continued, and chapter 6 (on Wordsworth) begun.

12  chapter 6 concluded.


Week 4

15  Hegel, Aesthetics: Lectures on Fine Art, Volume I, Introduction 1-25

17  . . . discussion continued, 25-69

19  . . . 69-90


Week 5

22 Symbolism, the sublime, and pre-classical art (303-22; 335-47)

24  347-54 [358c; 359c]; 362-77

26  379-426


Week 6

29  Classical harmony of idea and embodiment.  427-443 (be sure to read p. 443)


  1  The ideal of the classical form of art: 453#2, first paragraph; 476-85; 499-501

  3  The dissolution of the classical form of art: 502-16.


Week 7

  6  Modern tension of depth and expressive inadequacy.  517-29

  8  The religious domain of romantic art 530-553.

10  573-76; 586-611


Week 8

13  Paper 1 due. 

15  discussion of papers

17  Midterm examination.


Week 9

20  Alexander Nehamas, The Art of Living: Socratic Reflections from Plato to Foucault (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1998), chapter 6, “A Fate for Socrates’ Reason: Foucault on the Care of the Self” pp. 157-88 plus 245-56 (notes).

22  Continued discussion 

24  Lecture on the art of living in the writing of other philosophers (esp. John Kekes).


Week 10 (last week to withdraw)

27  Charles Altieri, Subjective Agency: A Theory of First-Person Expressivity and its Social Implications, chapter 1

29  . . .

31  Chapter 2-3 summarized.


Week 11 November

  3  Chapter 4

  5  . . .

  7  . . .


Week 12

10  Richard Shusterman’s Pragmatist Aesthetics: Living Beauty, Rethinking Art, introduction, and chapter summaries.

12  Chapter 6

14  Spontaneity as a goal in Confucianism and Taoism.


Week 13

17  Francis Sparshott, The Expressive Line: 1 Art as Expression, and (2) Arts, Works, Artists from The Theory of the Arts.

19  . . .

21 The Expressive Line 2: Arts, Works, Artists


Week 14

24  . . .

26  Paper 2 due.


Week 15 December

  1  Discussion of papers.


  5  Review.


Final examination: Thursday, December 11, 10:15-12:30.



The project: initial definition and exercise

Note: the following represents only the text of a two-page exercise that left appropriate space for brief answers to the questions. 

            The project proposed to students of expression is to grow in your own expressive life.  The project is to be done in conversation with our authors, with the works of the arts that we discuss, and class discussion.  (No logocentrism is intended here.  In other words, it is not assumed that whatever is of meaning and value in the arts, for example, can be adequately expressed in words.)  If any aspect of the assignment is unsuitable for you, please see the instructor to work out an alternative.

            Here is an exercise to get you started.  This is not to hand in.  Responding briefly to these questions should facilitate the progress of your thinking in preparation for the brief written assignment (indicated at the end of this document) that is to be handed in.

 1.  The essence of romanticism (for starters) is its response to the tension between the ideal and the actual.  Do you experience such a tension?  If so, say more.  Are there a number of different tensions, or is does multiplicity amount to variations on a unified theme?

 2.  Select one tension, particular or general, for the purpose of the first run through with the rest of the questions.  You may want to return to the series of questions to facilitate your comparative study of your potentials of response to other kinds of tension you live with.  If you just have time to do this exercise once, please select something that you are willing to write on for class purposes.  This does not have to be shared with others in the class, but there will be submissions to the instructor.

The tension I choose to focus on, for the sake of the immediate exercise, is . . .

 3.  What is the problematic fact (or fact-cluster) in the actual situation in question?

 4.  What is the truth of that fact?

 5.  What is the ideal (or ideal-cluster) in question?

6.  What is the meaning of that ideal? 

7.  What expressive alternatives are yours as you respond to the potentials in that tension?

8.  What is it like when you are expressing at your best?

9.  What implications do the foregoing reflections have for your practice in the minutes, hours, days, weeks, and months ahead?

10.  What decisions are you prepared to take regarding the implications just noted?

11.  How do your experiences of, and thoughts about, expressiveness in tension relate to those of Richard Eldridge? 

12.  Select from your response to the previous question, and please turn in three pages (five pages for graduate students) for the next class (typed, double spaced, proof-read) after consulting the document, “Projects, logic, writing, and presentation”: http://www.personal.kent.edu/~jwattles/papers.htm .