Thursday Morning

9:00–10:50 PAPER SESSION 1

ARTS AND ETHICAL DEVELOPMENT

Room 210

KEVIN SCHUT – WHEN IS TAKING OVER THE WORLD NOT TAKING OVER THE WORLD? A CONSIDERATION OF VIDEO GAMES, FRAMES, CHOICE, NARRATIVE AND ETHICS

The player control of characters in video games is the cause of both praise and criticism of the medium. On the one hand, fans love the intellectual stimulation and immersion of interactive entertainment. Critics, however, argue that the violent and sexist themes of games train gamers to be antisocial: if violent television is a problem, how much worse is entertainment where the consumer performs the killing and maiming? This disagreement extends to consideration of ethical decision-making in video games. Many video games give players the opportunity to act in both good and evil ways. Some game critics see this as a positive: by giving players the chance to roleplay, games give us the chance to expand our moral imagination and help us to make well-reasoned decisions in real life. Others are not so sanguine: wouldn’t the tremendously evil actions possible in video games potentially expand our moral imagination in directions that we all agree is negative? Might games trivialize suffering, pain and death? We are, in short, grappling with the cultural (and more specifically, ethical) implications of a new medium. Is there a substantial difference between simply imagining evil (via reading or watching) and enacting an imaginary evil? I think this is a very reasonable question to ask, but the answer is far more complicated than it would seem on the surface. I propose to investigate how the element of rule-based choice in video games can impact the experience of ethical decision-making. I argue that while our application of ethics usually invokes narrative, the video game medium introduces non-narrative communicative forms that encourage players to adopt multiple psychological and cultural frames—and some of these frames make some apparently ethical choices not about ethics at all.

Kevin Schut is Associate Professor and Chair of the Department of Media + Communication in the School of the Arts, Media + Culture at Trinity Western University in Langley, BC. Early in his grad studies, his prof explained that students should study what they love, which Kevin took as an excuse to study video games, and has been reading, presenting and publishing on the topic for almost a decade. In his spare time, he likes to research video games like the Monkey Island series with his three daughters.


MARGARET I. HUGHES – WHAT IS WRONG WITH ‘BABY MOZART’: A VIRTUE ETHICS CRITIQUE

This paper offers a critique of the genre of recordings of classical music marketed specifically for babies: ‘Baby Mozart,’ ‘Bach for Babies,’ and so on. It will argue that ‘Baby Mozart’ recordings are unethical because they do not promote delight in good music and so do not promote human flourishing. This argument is based on a theory of virtue ethics, which takes as ethical that which promotes human flourishing. Human flourishing is the proper functioning of the human as a whole, and is attained through the proper functioning of all of his parts. One of those parts is the senses. A sign of flourishing is that a human takes delight in the appropriate things, that is, in the things that contribute to his flourishing. A flourishing human being, then, takes delight in the objects that are appropriate to his senses and that engage his senses in functioning well. One such type of object is beautiful art, which is enjoyed for its own sake. This paper will argue that ‘Baby Mozart’ recordings are unethical because they are not aimed at being a proper object of the senses and so at being delightful. ‘Baby Mozart’ is produced, as the title suggests, specifically for babies. Adults play it for children, not because they find it delightful and wish to share that delight with their children, but for some other end, whether it be the child’s brain development, calmness, attainment of a smattering of culture, and so on. The reduction of beautiful music, which is a good in itself, to some further end also reduces the flourishing of the child to some further end. The recordings convey to the child that his proper end is something other than flourishing and so the recordings do not form him ethically.

Margaret I. Hughes is writing her dissertation at Fordham University on the role that the perception of beauty in art can play in moral formation. It draws primarily upon the work of Josef Pieper, a 20th Century German philosopher whose thought is influenced by Plato and Thomas Aquinas. Hughes received a B.A. Medieval Studies and Philosophy at the University of Chicago and holds an M.A. in education from Seton Hall University. She will begin as an Instructor in Philosophy this fall at the College of Mount St. Vincent in Riverdale, New York.


SOLOMON GUHL-MILLER – WAGNER’S RING AS AN EXPLICITLY MORAL ARTWORK: THE CONCEPTION OF THE IDEAL AESTHETIC EXPERIENCE AND ITS BRINGING ABOUT OF MORAL DEVELOPMENT

German Idealistic philosophy has said much on the process of how to develop morally as human beings. From Kant to Schopenhauer, philosophers expound a basic progression of moral development: 1.) selfish desiring, moving from one want to the next with no thought to the future 2.) planning for the future to achieve long term wants 3.) abandoning of selfishness when one realizes one cannot achieve all of one’s goals 4.) embracing the notion of self-sacrifice for the benefit of others. For the Frühromantiks whose fount on this subject is G.F. Lessing, stage three of this progression, i.e., embracing objectivity and abandoning selfishness, comes about through an aesthetic experience, as in the reception of the artwork one abandons one’s own point-of-view and takes up that of the artist or depicted characters. Lessing explained that this change came about through the feeling of pity or sympathy taken up by the audience felt towards the artist/depicted characters. But it is Wagner who, in his Der Ring des Nibelungen and the explanations of the rationale for that work found in his prose writings, explores the question of the ideal subject of an artwork meant to bring about moral development. Clearly not every artwork instills moral change, as there is still immorality. His solution was to combine Lessing with German Idealism. He would create a character in his artwork, Wotan, who would embody the moral progression inherent in German Idealistic philosophy with Lessing’s pity. The audience would then follow this character’s progression through their own apprehension of the artwork, thus morally progressing through a reception of philosophy’s tenets, and through the reception of the artwork itself. This paper will explore how Wagner constructed the Ring as a moral artwork meant to maximize the moral development it would bring about in its reception.

Solomon Guhl-Miller received his Ph.D. in musicology in January 2012 from Rutgers University with is dissertation: “The Path of Wagner’s Wotan: German Idealism, Wagner’s Prose Writings, and the Idea of Moral Progress.” He has been teaching at Rutgers University since 2004 and has lectured on subjects ranging from Wagner’s Ring to 12th Century Gothic Polyphony. He has recently presented a paper at the Music: Parts and Labor Conference at NYU titled “Wagner as Proto-Critical Theorist: The Purpose of the Ring in Relation to the Goal of Social Change Espoused in the Writings of Benjamin and Horkheimer.”


ARTS, ETHICS, AND PHILOSOPHY 1

Room 201

GERAD GENTRY – ART AND PHILOSOPHY THE CO-CONSTITUTIVE SOURCE OF ETHICS

Philosophers usually resist what is commonly termed the “aestheticization of ethics.” Yet, the aestheticization of ethics is only a problem when aesthetics is understood in part and not in its totality. In this paper, I will argue that a Hegelian philosophy of art makes plausible the co-constitution of ethics through art and philosophy. Ethics is not a subcategory of philosophy, but a product of artistic and philosophical wisdom. To defend this claim, I focus on Gabriel Lear’s interpretation of the Aristotelian “highest good.” The highest good is the “life of contemplation” and this good is that which “orders the network” of all other goods. Lear places “artistic wisdom” on a third tier with philosophical wisdom at the top. Any higher role for the arts is seen by most philosophers as mere pseudo-ethics and is labeled “aestheticization of ethics.” What my paper argues is that the reason for this common suppression of the arts lies in a weak account of the arts. In Hegel’s account we find that “artistic wisdom” is thoroughly compatible with even the most exclusive ethical theories such as Lear’s notion of the highest good as a monistic good. If I can show that Hegel’s aesthetics provides an understanding of the arts that would allow even a Learian interpretation of Aristotelian ethics to include the arts in something as vital and exclusive as the “monistic, highest good ” without thereby contradicting Lear’s thought, then this paper will have succeeded in laying the groundwork for a richer understanding of ethical thought as necessarily stemming from both art and philosophy.

Gerad Gentry received his Bachelor of Arts degree from Houghton College in New York where he triple majored in Philosophy, Art, and English Literature. Gerad is a recent graduate from the University of Chicago where he pursued graduate studies in Philosophy. Since graduating in 2011, Gerad has been teaching courses ranging from Ethics and Intro to Philosophy to Art & Theory. In addition to continuing research in aesthetic and ethical theory, Gerad will apply this fall for Ph.D. studies in Philosophy.


LUCY LIU – NARRATIVITY AND THE POSSIBILITY OF ETHICAL KNOWLEDGE IN SCHOPENHAUER’S PHILOSOPHY OF ABSOLUTE MUSIC

At the broadest level, my paper addresses the question “Are some artistic forms ‘more ethical’ than others?” Most philosophers interested in relationships between aesthetics and ethics focus on literature, theatre, and film, but I shall focus on a philosopher who gave pride of place to music in both its cognitive and ethical roles – Arthur Schopenhauer. I shall reconstruct then substantiate Schopenhauer’s claim that “absolute” music—music without text or programme—can inform one’s ethical life in non-trivial ways. Although music occupies the highest place in Schopenhauer’s hierarchy of the arts as a direct, intuitive copy of will (the noumenal thing-in-itself)—bypassing what he calls the will’s objectivation as Ideas—he also admits that he cannot give a full account of this “intimate” relationship. This concession not only opens up an epistemic problem but an ethical one as well, for he simply does not connect music to the production of ethical knowledge. Through a close reading of (1) his poetic, anthropomorphized discussion of melody and, (2) his theoretically informed analysis of listeners’ affective responses to variations in music’s multiple parameters (e.g., tempo, mode, harmonic pacing), I argue that his own linguistic conceits and descriptive analogies complicate his earlier, absolute separation of music from all other arts. Specifically, I shall demonstrate that music, within Schopenhauer’s system, can possess degrees of narrativity. This move of bringing music closer to the rest of the arts allows one to hypothesize about a listener’s listening experience vis-à-vis the two sides of aesthetic experience as defined by Schopenhauer, that is, the objective recognition of Ideas and the subjective state of will-lessness. To put theory into practice, I then offer three musical examples (by Beethoven, Schubert, and Mahler) which embody, in varying degrees, one narrative trajectory – that of tragedy. Aside from music, tragedy is the highest art form for Schopenhauer for it reveals the Idea of humanity. If absolute music can, in its own musical way, enact tragic narratives, then we have a case for the possibility of deriving both cognitive and ethical knowledge from music.

Lucy Liu is a doctoral student in music theory at Indiana University. She has a B.A. (summa cum laude) from the University of Western Ontario, where she was a recipient of the Queen Elizabeth II Aiming for the Top Scholarship from 2006–2009. Lucy is part of the editorial support team for Indiana Theory Review.


JAMES MOLLISON – INTERPRETING BACON AND BATAILLE: TOWARD AN ETHIC OF SELF SACRIFICE

The work of Francis Bacon is often characterized as a nightmare of horror in which the human form, reduced to a pile of flesh, is mutilated and degraded beyond resemblance to its traditional representation. Bataille is frequently depicted as a madman advocating transgression for transgression’s sake in conjunction with unrestricted expenditure, thus making him an obvious proponent of fascism and genocide. The present work corrects such readings by instead suggesting Bacon and Bataille afford a moment of critical reflection which has significant and positive ethical implications. Using the themes of base materialism and the vulnerability of the human form, temporality and the inevitability of death, and the inherently violent nature of representation and experience, Bacon and Bataille are shown to disrupt ideologies of wholeness and completion which undergird relationships of domination and traditional depictions of subjectivity. The dynamic picture of selfhood which results from the work of Bacon and Bataille not only precludes the reduction of one’s self to a mere thing among other objects, it also precludes the possibility of establishing qualitative differences between self and other that are used to sustain oppressive politics. While anything mentioning ‘the inherently violent nature of representation and experience’ is likely to be associated with ethical relativism or an endorsement of violence, this is far from the case for Bataille and Bacon. Rather, the dissolution of static depictions of subjectivity suggests an affective openness toward the unknown and an ethical paradigm of self-sacrifice which is necessary for virtues such as friendship and compassion. Gesturing toward the possibility of communication without essentialism, of dialogue where one risks their very identity, Bacon and Bataille take an obvious degree of risk, which is perhaps why they are so frequently misconstrued, but this risk is required of any artistic or ethical act.

James Mollison is a M.A. candidate in Loyola Marymount University’s philosophy program. His interests include the history of philosophy, Nietzsche’s criticism of truth as an ideal to be overcome, and the resulting implications this epistemic skepticism has for the Western philosophical cannon. In particular, he is interested in the role aesthetics comes to play in constituting epistemology, metaphysics and ethics. He recently co-authored a chapter in Celtic Connections concerning a Foucauldian analysis of a performance of MacBeth in Northern Irish prisons using Discipline and Punish, and has been published in the International Journal of Zizek Studies’ special issue on Iran.


11:10–12:15 KEYNOTE 1

Room 210

LAMBERT ZUIDERVAART – CREATING A DISTURBANCE: ART, ETHICS, AND RELATIONAL AUTONOMY

Current discussions about art and ethics disturb modern notions of artistic autonomy: Are the arts a unique source of value that we should not contaminate with ethical burdens? Do we misunderstand their place in society when we assign them ethical roles? In response, I propose a new concept of relational autonomy that opens space for ethical considerations, but not at the expense of aesthetic concerns. The proposal makes three claims: (1) autonomous art making and art interpretation require critical and creative dialogue; (2) the arts as a social institution have legitimacy and worth because of how their aesthetic dimension relates to ethical, religious, and other dimensions; and (3) art’s contributions to society depends both on its differentiation from other social institutions and on its connection with them, especially with political and economic systems. In other words, artistic autonomy is relational, and we can neither reduce the arts to ethics nor isolate them from ethical considerations.

Lambert Zuidervaart is a recognized expert in critical theory, especially the work of Theodor Adorno. His research and teaching range across continental philosophy, hermeneutics, social philosophy, and philosophy of art, with an emphasis on Kant, Hegel, Marx, Heidegger, Gadamer, and Habermas. He is currently developing a comprehensive and transformative conception of truth, in debate with prominent philosophers in both analytic and continental traditions. His most recent books include Art in Public: Politics, Economics, and a Democratic Culture (Cambridge UP, 2011), Social Philosophy after Adorno (Cambridge UP, 2007), and Artistic Truth: Aesthetics, Discourse, and Imaginative Disclosure (Cambridge UP, 2004). Lambert is an Associate Member of the Graduate Faculty in Philosophy at the University of Toronto and a Faculty Associate of the University’s Centre for Ethics.

Back to Bios + Abstracts