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Aesthetics as an anthropological fact: evolution, cognition, society


Monday, 9 March 2020 to Tuesday, 26 May 2020
Total hours: 40
Hours of lectures: 40

Examination procedure

  • Report or seminar


The increasing number of experimental studies dedicated to the perception of works of art, to the neurobiological foundations of aesthetic experiences and to the mechanisms of aesthetic selection in animal evolution, combined with an important tradition of ethnographic studies on the cross-cultural crucial role of aesthetic conducts in magical, religious or political contexts, has recently led to a profound revision of the classical notion of "aesthetics" as a theoretical entity of the Western philosophical tradition. The result is a new formulation of the category of aesthetic as an anthropological fact rooted in cognitive and behavioural characteristics of our species, functional to the survival of individuals and in connection with the most important human dispositions to culture such as mimetic behaviours, fiction and play.

The course will present an overview of the theoretical models that have contributed to the revision of the paradigm of philosophical aesthetics and to the definition of the evolutionary, cognitive and social components of human aesthetic behavior.The course will focus on the highly conflictual nature of the debate, at the origin of the current lack of a real integrated model of anthropological aesthetics. In particular, it will be analyzed the opposition between two theoretical perspectives that reproduce, in the aesthetic field, some classic dichotomies of philosophy tout court as nature/culture, comprehension/interpretation, fact/value. On the one hand, a cultural perspective, which defines the aesthetic as the result of a comparative investigation between cultures that places the emphasis on the diversity of local manifestations. On the other hand, a naturalistic perspective based on the results of experimental investigations, which reduces the aesthetic to a series of innate dispositions of our species (cognitive modules, adaptations, neuronal correlates).

 Educational goals:

The course aims to introduce the student to a transdisciplinary research model, focusing on the different theoretical and methodological steps that compose it: the historical reconstruction of the main aesthetic conceptions in the philosophical tradition (emotivism; cognitivism; expressivism), the conceptual analysis of the main categories involved (aesthetic cognition; a. experience; a. behaviour; a. conduct) and the integration between the different methodologies, descriptive languages and analytical levels. In addition to presenting the contemporary debate on aesthetics, the course aims to train students to use the tools of conceptual analysis and historical-philosophical investigation in the construction of a multi-disciplinary approach (ethnography; cognitive psychology; neurobiology; evolutionary anthropology).

Bibliographical references

Bibliographic references will be indicated during the course