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References and Further Reading 1. Introduction 'Ethical criticism' refers to the inclusion of an ethical component in the interpretation and evaluation of art. The two traditional opposing positions taken with respect to ethical criticism are 'autonomism' and 'moralism'.
The former claims that ethical criticism is never legitimate since moral and aesthetic value are autonomous, while the latter reduces aesthetic value to moral value. The extreme versions of autonomism and moralism, their appeal and their flaws, are discussed in section two.
A second arm of the ethical criticism debate saw several more moderate, and more plausible, positions proposed. In this body of literature too, the focus was on narrative art.
What is at issue in the current debate is whether the realm of aesthetic value should be taken to include the moral value of narrative art a never, b only sometimes when an artwork displays moral features merits or defectsor c whenever an artwork displays moral features merits or defects.
Due to differences between the modes of expression and content matter of the different art forms, it seems likely that what is true of the ethical criticism of narrative art, which often deals explicitly with human affairs and morality, may not be true of abstract art forms such as music and some fine arts and dance.
Such art forms would require separate consideration and this is something which has not thus far been undertaken in the philosophical literature. Section 3 considers the debate between moderate autonomism, defended by Anderson and Dean, and Noel Carroll's moderate moralism, examining Carroll's reasons for arguing that at least sometimes the moral features of narrative artworks are also aesthetic features.
This claim is shown to be false, and the two positions are clearly distinguished.
Much of the recent debate over ethical criticism - that is the debate between moderate autonomism, moderate moralism and ethicism - focusses on the flaws in the specific arguments presented for moderate moralism and ethicism.
In fact, the central issue in the debate over ethical criticism, which is somewhat masked by the details, is how broadly the aesthetic should be defined.
While the extreme positions, radical autonomism and radical moralism define the aesthetic most narrowly, the position which defines the aesthetic most broadly and inclusively is ethicism. Radical Autonomism and Radical Moralism There are two extreme positions traditionally taken with respect to the relationship between art and morality; one is autonomism, or aestheticism, which is the view that it is inappropriate to apply moral categories to artworks, and that only aesthetic categories are relevant, while at the other end of the scale is moralism, the view that aesthetic objects should be judged wholly or centrally with respect to moral standards or values.
Both autonomism and moralism are widely recognised to be problematic, as they are based on inadequate conceptions of art and aesthetic value. Radical Moralism is the view that the aesthetic value of an artwork is determined by its moral value.
The most extreme version of this position reduces all aesthetic value to moral value. Proponents of radical moralism include Tolstoy, who, arguing against definitions of art that equated art with beauty, said: Social reductionism, such as the 'popular aesthetic' endorsed by Pierre Bourdieu, Roger Taylor and others, is also a version of radical moralism.
Radical moralism has been widely criticised for ignoring certain fundamental aspects of aesthetic value, such as formal features. The radical moralist will have some difficulty explaining how art can be distinguished from other cultural products, including such things as political speeches, due to their failure to include in their criteria for making judgments about aesthetic value anything that is a unique feature of art.
Autonomism and aestheticism are essentially the same position. The label 'aestheticism' captures the fact that the position emphasises the importance of focussing on theaesthetic, that is, the pure aesthetic, features of artworks.
Pure aesthetic qualities may include formal features and beauty or, for some autonomists, formal features only. It is important to note that formalism and autonomism are not identical positions, although advocates of formalism will tend to be autonomists.
Formalism, rejected earlier, is the view that the proper way to respond to art is to respond to its formal features or, in other words, that the aesthetic value of an artwork is determined solely by its formal features.
A formalist, such as Clive Bell, would not include beauty as something we should respond to in art, but those formalists who do include beauty regard it as something that is determined by the formal features the artwork possesses. Interestingly, although the aesthete might not be interested in defending their position, any attempt to do so would likely involve appeals to moral standards; that is, they would have to give a justification for their view that one should take on a predominantly aesthetic attitude in life in terms of moral value.
For example, Richard Posner, in 'Against Ethical Criticism', appears to identify himself as an aesthete, but, ironically, an aesthete who wants to provide a moral justification for his position: In any case, both positions are equally reductive with respect to the scope of aesthetic value.
Autonomism has become the predominant term used in recent literature, most likely because it does capture the notion that aesthetic value is held to be an autonomous realm of value by those who subscribe to any version of this position.
Radical Autonomism is the view that the proper way to respond to art is to respond only to the pure aesthetic qualities, or what is 'in the work itself'; while to bring moral values, or other social values, to bear on art is a mistake.
Oscar Wilde is an example of a radical autonomist. An autonomist position such as this is based on a narrow understanding of the aesthetic value of art, which values the way in which the subject matter of such art is represented which may include formal features and beautybut not the subject matter itself which may include moral features.
However, autonomism, while purporting to give aesthetic value primacy, neglects many of the potential ways in which art can have aesthetic value.About This Report. This report by the Pew Research Center focuses on religious courts and mediation, examining how some of the country’s major Christian denominations and other religious groups – 15 groups in total – routinely decide internal matters and apply their religious laws.
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