Volume 1, 2008
Aesthetics and Philosophy of Arts
Towards an Aesthetico-Ethical Theory
Mapping the Connections between Ethics and Aesthetics
In this paper I will explore the philosophical modes of connectivity between ethics and aesthetics. I argue first, that the traditional ethical theories of deontology, consequentialism and virtue ethics can be mapped onto the aesthetic theories of formalism, functionalism and taste. Second, I argue that we can see three
similar themes running through the literature that explicitly addresses the interdependence of ethics and aesthetics. Finally, I will outline this body of literature, which I shall call ‘aestheticoethical’ theory, using the three categories of essential, instrumental and existential connection. The philosophical landscape I am
outlined in this paper represents the groundwork for a larger pedagogical project. I argue that the traditional ethical theory is limited when it comes to teaching ethics to students going into creative industries like advertising. I propose that these three modes of aesthetico-ethical theory can be used to construct an alternative theoretical framework for teaching ethics at the intersection of creativity and commercial practice. Is philosophy relevant to everyday life? Is it not too abstract and general? The knowledge of priests, psychologists or physicians is as abstract and general, yet its relevance is not contested. Is not its relevance limited to the case of the rare sage which is both able to discuss complex philosophical matters and ready to adopt “the philosophical attitude” to life? Such
popular notions ignore controversies with regard to the existence of such sages, the content of their alleged wisdom, or the nature or impact of their “philosophical attitude”. Modern philosophy is generally much more skeptical, realistic, pluralistic and therefore “democratic” than the elitist classics. It does not trust myths about the “good life” of the wise, nor ignore their preoccupation with death.