Saturday, 30 April 2011

A glimpse of French education in philosophy… part I

Going through my external hardrive this morning I was surprised to find that I had kept my philosophy revision notes for my Baccalaureate. Many topics that I studied aren’t included in the HCJ lectures, so I thought I’d share a few of them on this blog.

Imitation principle

Art must represent something that already exists according to Aristotle, which distinguishes it from simple know-how. He believed that people had a natural tendency for representation of reality – poetry, plays – because it generates pleasure/joy. Aristotle wanted to give this natural dimension to pleasure: it can also be intellectual. In his theory he attacked Plato’s idea that separates imitation from truth and reason.


Art must involve genius, otherwise it is only a simple work, not a work of art. But philosophers had different ideas regarding the definition of genius.

According to Plato, genius is a phenomenon that cannot be explained, it’s a divine inspiration, a kind of surnatural delirium. The artist only becomes a medium between God and mortal people.

Kant believed that an artist had genius/talent when he was unable to explain how he made the work of art. If the “artist” follows determined rules, then he’s just applying general rules in order to make a product. The artistic product comes from talent and imagination. Technique and talent make the artist.

Stravinsky (XXth century Russian pianist) didn’t believe in genius. According to him, a work of art is made with technique/know-how and emotions. The creation process comes from inspiration, which is an emotion.

Nietszche demystified the idea of genius. The process of creation is a constant work, and the idea of genius itself is an illusion. The viewer has an impression that the result was easily achieved when watching the finished work of art.

Rules of art

Art revolutions don’t allow us to establish a knowledge/understanding of beauty.

Some works of art don’t suffer any change in rules/taste/fashion/current/genre. This is why we can empirically set rules of art – determined from the previous work of arts, what works and what doesn’t work, according to Hume.

Can anyone judge beauty?

Still according to Hume, a good judge must have an innate sensitivity, master a form of art, and must refuse any kind of prejudices.

Understanding, sensitivity and imagination are essential qualities when juding a work of art, according to Kant. Everyone is equal when it comes to art, it must generate pleasure without needing previous knowledge or concept.

Bourdieu disagreed with this idea: in his case he believed that the pleasure people get out of art is different according to which social class they come from.

If a group of people from various social backgrounds have a look at this p
icture - Hands of a farm woman by Russell Lee, it is quite likely that they will have different thoughts/feelings about it.

Does art imitate life or does life imitate art?
Click here to find out*

*Sorry, I couldn't help it.


Chris Horrie said...

Very interesting. None of this is taught / discussed in British schools. Even at A-level philosophy (taken by a tiny proportion of students) there is no course in formal logic, and very little on ancient philosophy. It is all dominated by current ethical debates and very much informed by recent American neo-pragmatism in the style of Quine who of course, following Wittgenstein, rejects all philosophy as meaningless and not worthy of study - he is thus in the so-called anglo-saxon tradition of analytic empiricism. The tradition in France and Germany is very different where Descartes etc are still studied, and not just because of his contribution to geometry.

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