Value Theory via Culture Wars

By L. Ryan Musgrave.

Published by The Arts Collection

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

As long ago as Plato's Republic, theorists have been concerned with the area of applied aesthetics-- or the interaction between art practices, ethics, and politics. This paper charts how students in an interdisciplinary course on 'Culture Wars' move from preconceptions of the arts as privatized and commodified to alternative aesthetic frameworks that recognize the arts as multidimensional. It explores how students' preconceptions reflect what I argue are larger, general patterns within the U.S.: ways I suggest we frequently tame, manage, and thereby diminish the power arts might have in our society. I show how such positions entail a general value relativism, and propose alternative pluralistic ways of understanding ethical, political, and aesthetic dimensions of art engagement that are instead public and collective. Drawing on current New York Times newspaper clippings to mimic one effective strategy from our classroom, I conclude by showing how teaching certain pluralist theorists alongside current culture wars flare-ups can help illuminate both.

Keywords: Art, Interdisciplinarity, Applied Aesthetics, Art, Ethics, And Politics, Moral Imagination, Aesthetics and Politics, Theodor Adorno, Herbert Marcuse, Max Horkheimer, Frankfurt School, Drucilla Cornell, John Dewey, Jane Addams, Hull-House, Pragmatists, Value Relativism, Value Subjectivism, Value Pluralism, Value Theory, Martha Nussbaum, Instrumental Rationality, Mimesis, Plato, The Republic

The International Journal of the Arts in Society, Volume 1, Issue 6, pp.55-60. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 1.695MB).

Dr. L. Ryan Musgrave

Assistant Professor, Department of Philosophy & Religion, Rollins College, USA

My work in value theory centers on debates about how spheres of value do, or don't, overlap in three specific areas: ethics, aesthetics, and politics. I've compared how various schools of philosophy have understood the interaction of these three areas, most notably the Critical Social Theorists with Theodor Adorno and the Pragmatists within American philosophy, mainly John Dewey and Jane Addams. In this work, I draw on my interdisciplinary training in both Philosophy and Literature. I also bring feminist analyses to my work in value theory, and to my research in legal and socio-political philosophy, where I explore feminist critiques of and alternatives to liberal individualism and late capitalist practices of extreme commodification. Within American philosophy, I examine ways the pragmatists argued for combining theory and practice, and try to apply older pragmatist examples of this to current issues-- for example, drawing on Jane Addams' pragmatist approach to arts within Hull House (A Chicago settlement house at the turn of the century) as a useful way of thinking about art and social identity today. The courses I teach regularly at Rollins reflect my varied interests: theoretical ethics, applied ethics courses like Environmental Ethics, Biomedical Ethics, Ethics & the Arts. Other courses I teach include Women's Studies courses, and a number of team-taught courses on particular themes-- such as Evolution And/In the Law, and Culture Wars: Aesthetics, Ethics, and Politics.

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