The Philosophy Café


"What's so Great about Art?"


March 16, 2011
7:30 PM ET


Used Books Department
1256 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, MA 02138


This event is free; no tickets are required.

The Philosophy Café at Harvard Book Store is a monthly gathering meant for the informal, relaxed, philosophical discussion of topics of mutual interest to participants. No particular expertise is required to participate, only a desire to explore philosophy and its real-world applications.

The Philosophy Café is held on the third Wednesday of each month, from 7:30-9:30 pm, in the Used Book department on the lower level of Harvard Book Store.

Topic of Discussion for March:

The idea of Art for Art’s Sake is relatively new to human thought. The Ancient Greeks for example had no such conception; they felt that painting, sculpture, music, poetry, drama, etc. were justified by their social and psychological effects. If “Art for Art’s Sake” is a relatively modern conception, it has also been challenged in modern societies. As Art produced for Art’s sake became more esoteric, popular suspicion that Art for Art’s sake was a massive scam operated by cultural elites to make themselves feel superior. Through the study of aesthetics, philosophers have questioned the value of Art. This month the Philosophy Café will discuss whether there are properties that Art has, as Art, that make it valuable.

Some Philosophers have attempted to make beauty the key concept for judging Art. Thinkers such as Kant have attempted to show that there is more to the claim that an object is beautiful than that a particular perceiver happens to find pleasure in perceiving it. For these philosophers the claim that something is beautiful is true or false independently of our individual idiosyncracies. Art for Art’s Sake becomes the search for what everyone should find beautiful. Some people question whether this concept of universal beauty is valid. Others question whether great Art is necessarily beautiful anyway.

An alternative strategy is to say that Art provides a kind of understanding, distinct from scientific or rational knowledge. Twentieth century philosophers Hans Georg Gadamer and Nelson Goodman provide different versions of this claim. The challenge to this strategy is to define what this aesthetic understanding might involve. Some charge that this strategy is overly intellectual and denies the emotional core of Art.

Used Books Department
1256 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, MA 02138

Walking from the Harvard Square T station: 2 minutes

As you exit the station, reverse your direction and walk east along Mass. Ave. in front of the Cambridge Savings Bank. Cross Dunster St. and proceed along Mass. Ave for three more blocks. You will pass Au Bon Pain, JP Licks, and the Adidas Store. Harvard Book Store is located at the corner of Mass. Ave. and Plympton St.

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