Ethics and the arts
a critical review of the new moralisms
This chapter explores the nature of any relationship between ethics and the arts. At one time, the dominant position in the philosophy of art was that there was no relationship. Aesthetics and ethics were seen as autonomous spheres. The various "new moralists' argue that, in some circumstances, there is a relationship. Noël Carroll and Berys Gaut, for example, argue that moral "flaws' in some works of art may detract from the work's aesthetic value, while others, such as Daniel Jacobson and Matthew Kieran, counter that a morally reprehensible quality in a work may contribute positively to its aesthetic value. Although the polarities are reversed, both of these positions accept that there is—or may be—a relationship between morality and aesthetics.Others however take a less theoretically based view in acknowledging that there may be a relationship in which a moral quality is seen to add to, or detract, from the aesthetic value a work of art, but that this can only be maintained by a critical assessment of a particular work of art and not by rigid application of theory. This chapter sides with those who are resistant to applying prior moral standards in judging art and puts the view that ethics and aesthetics are independent discourses, although they potentially illuminate one another. The chapter also explores whether moral repugnance, in responding to particular works of art, such as any of Michel Houellebecq's novels, can be indicative of aesthetic merit or deficiency. It is argued however that no one aspect (moral, affective, or cognitive) can be assumed, in advance, to trump another, and the relative weight given to any of these, is itself a part of a reflection on the aesthetic merit of a particular artwork.
Macneill, P. (2014)., Ethics and the arts: a critical review of the new moralisms, in P. Macneill (ed.), Ethics and the arts, Dordrecht, Springer, pp. 167-178.
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