Philosophy Art and Knowledge
by
James O. Young
  • LAST REVIEWED: 08 October 2015
  • LAST MODIFIED: 25 June 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396577-0198

Introduction

A long-standing debate in philosophy of art concerns the question of whether art is a source of knowledge. The debate can be traced back to Plato 1941 and Aristotle 1987 (cited under Historical Contributions). Some philosophers have maintained that artworks are valuable solely as a source of pleasure or pleasing emotions. These philosophers include formalists, who believe that audience members value the experience of artistic form as a source of intellectual pleasure or aesthetic emotion. Other philosophers have maintained that works of art have content, and that audience members can acquire knowledge by experiencing (viewing, hearing, or reading) these works. Philosophers who believe that a work of art can be a source of knowledge differ about the ways in which art makes knowledge possible. In this entry, those who defend the view that art is a source of knowledge will be called cognitivists. Those who maintain that art is not a source of knowledge, or not a significant source of knowledge, will be called anticognitivists.

Introductory Surveys

In recent years, debates about whether art is a source of knowledge have been common in aesthetics. Introductory texts and reference works generally contain material on the debate between cognitivists and anticognitivists. Hursthouse 1992 is a good source for the ancient Greek background to cognitivism. Gaut 2003 also provides coverage of Plato and Aristotle. Lamarque and Olsen 1998 provides the best survey of the full history of cognitivism. Novitz 1998 is one of the few sources to address a figure within the tradition of Continental philosophy. Lamarque 2006 and Gaut 2006 are two halves of a debate, with Gaut defending the cognitive value of art and Lamarque expressing skepticism. John 2005 and Gibson 2008 are general introductions.

  • Gaut, Berys. “Art and Knowledge.” In The Oxford Handbook of Aesthetics. Edited by Jerrold Levinson, 436–450. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003.

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    A good overview of the literature on art and knowledge, beginning with a discussion of Plato and Aristotle and continuing on to contemporary debates. The otherwise excellent bibliography is now a few years out of date.

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    • Gaut, Berys. “Art and Cognition.” In Contemporary Debates in Aesthetics and the Philosophy of Art. Edited by Matthew Kieran, 115–126. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2006.

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      Argues that representative arts, and literature in particular, are evaluated for their capacity to contribute to knowledge.

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      • Gibson, John. “Cognitivism and the Arts.” Philosophy Compass 3.4 (2008): 573–589.

        DOI: 10.1111/j.1747-9991.2008.00144.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

        Overlooks some recently published material, but provides a good discussion of literature as a source of knowledge.

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        • Hursthouse, Rosalind. “Truth and Representation.” In Philosophical Aesthetics. Edited by Oswald Hanfling, 239–296. Oxford: Blackwell, 1992.

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          Provides a good discussion of the views of Plato and Aristotle, and a useful discussion of cognitivism as applied to works of literature.

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          • John, Eileen. “Art and Knowledge.” In The Routledge Companion to Aesthetics. 2d ed. Edited by Berys Gaut and Dominic McIver Lopes, 417–429. London: Routledge, 2005.

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            Provides a good overview of the contemporary literature on art and knowledge as well as suggestions for further reading.

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            • Lamarque, Peter. “Cognitive Values in the Arts: Marking the Boundaries.” In Contemporary Debates in Aesthetics and the Philosophy of Art. Edited by Matthew Kieran, 127–142. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2006.

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              Presents the counterpoint to Gaut’s essay from the same volume, arguing that, in evaluating works of literature, we are not concerned with their capacity to contribute to knowledge. The pair of essays is accompanied by a good list of additional readings.

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              • Lamarque, Peter, and Stein Haugom Olsen. “Truth.” In Encyclopedia of Aesthetics. Vol. 4. Edited by Michael Kelly, 406–415. New York: Oxford University Press, 1998.

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                Provides a useful historical overview of writing on art as a source of knowledge. Includes discussions of ancient Greek writing (Plato and Aristotle), medieval thought, early modern, and contemporary writing. Available online.

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                • Novitz, David. “Epistemology and Aesthetics.” In Encyclopedia of Aesthetics. Vol. 2. Edited by Michael Kelly, 120–123. New York: Oxford University Press, 1998.

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                  This rather dated article focuses on literature as a source of knowledge. Useful since it introduces the ideas of Gadamer 1975 (cited under Continental Philosophy on Art and Knowledge), a source neglected in other introductory surveys of art and knowledge. Available online.

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                  Anthologies

                  Only three anthologies are devoted to the topic of art and knowledge. All contain good work. Davies 1997 is particularly recommended. Not all of the essays in Kieran and Lopes 2006 directly address cognitivism, but the ones that do are useful. The coverage of Levinson 1998 is restricted to Art and Moral Knowledge.

                  • Davies, Stephen, ed. Art and Its Messages: Meaning, Morality, and Society. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1997.

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                    The papers in this volume originated as a special issue of the Australasian Journal of Philosophy. Several of the papers are very good.

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                    • Kieran, Matthew, and Dominic McIver Lopes, eds. Knowing Art: Essays in Aesthetics and Epistemology. Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Springer, 2006.

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                      Not all of the essays in this volume are directly on the debate between cognitivists and anticognitivists, but some useful essays on the debate are included.

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                      • Levinson, Jerrold, ed. Art and Ethics: Essays at the Intersection. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1998.

                        DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511663888Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                        Several of the essays in this collection are devoted to investigating whether and how art is a source of moral knowledge. The contributors to the collection are very distinguished, and the papers are of a high quality.

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                        Historical Contributions

                        Debates about whether art is a source of knowledge can be traced back to ancient times. Plato 1941 expressed the view that art is unable to provide genuine knowledge. Plato’s view was tied to his theory of forms. Genuine knowledge is knowledge of the forms, and knowledge of the forms is available only by means of philosophical investigation. Works of art, such as paintings, can only represent (and provide knowledge about) visible material objects. Material objects are imperfect representations of the forms. Consequently, a painting is a representation of a representation. A painting is even further removed from reality (the forms) than the objects that it represents and, Plato believes, unable to provide knowledge of the forms, the only genuine knowledge. Aristotle 1987 had very different views on art’s capacity to contribute to knowledge. He maintained that all art is representational and that artistic representations are a source of knowledge. Among early modern philosophers, Collingwood 1938 makes one of the most important contributions to the defense of cognitivism. Hospers 1946 was the fullest discussion of cognitivism and anticognitivism at the time of its publication.

                        • Aristotle. The Poetics of Aristotle. Translated by Stephen Halliwell. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1987.

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                          This work focuses on tragedy, but Aristotle makes clear that other forms of literature, and other arts, are also mimetic (representational) and are, potentially, the source of knowledge. In a crucial passage in chapter 9, Aristotle suggests that poets (and other artists) represent universals (or types) rather than particulars.

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                          • Collingwood, R. G. The Principles of Art. Oxford: Clarendon, 1938.

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                            Collingwood argues that creating a work of art is a process of an artist becoming clear about his emotions. In this way, the artist is able to provide insight into emotion.

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                            • Hospers, John. Meaning and Truth in the Arts. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1946.

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                              A dated treatment of art as a source of knowledge, but still useful as a guide to the older literature.

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                              • Plato. The Republic of Plato. Translated by Francis MacDonald Cornford. Oxford: Clarendon, 1941.

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                                The passages on art and knowledge are found at the beginning of Book 10.

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                                The Propositional Thesis

                                Several distinct varieties of cognitivism can be found. The earliest variety of cognitivism to emerge, one that still has advocates (e.g., Kivy 1997), is the view that works of art can convey propositional knowledge. Usually works of literature are the artworks held to express propositions and to be a source of propositional knowledge. Weitz 1942–1943, Weitz 1955, Kivy 1997 and Mikkonen 2012 are proponents of the propositional thesis. Sesonske 1956 defends a related position. The other authors cited in this section (Hospers 1960–1961, Sirridge 1975 and Wilson 1983) criticize the propositional thesis on one ground or another.

                                The Exemplification Thesis

                                A second defense of cognitivism holds that works of art function as exemplars. By exemplifying properties, artworks provide insight into objects with these properties. This view is developed in chapter 2 (pp. 45–95) of Goodman 1976. (Goodman, a strict nominalist, speaks of the exemplification of terms, not properties.) Goodman’s view has been adopted, with modifications, by other authors, notably Catherine Z. Elgin—see Elgin 1991 and Goodman and Elgin 1988. Nussbaum 2007 applies the exemplification thesis to works of music. Young 1999 is skeptical about the exemplification thesis.

                                Other Cognitivist Theses

                                In recent years, most defenses of cognitivism have adhered neither to the propositional thesis nor to the exemplification thesis. These defenses of cognitivism generally argue that the experience of works of art affects experience of the world in a variety of revelatory ways and, in this manner, can be a source of knowledge. Several authors (including Graham 1997, Jobes 1974, Murdoch 1997, and Young 2001) hold that artworks draw attention to features of the world that might otherwise have been overlooked. Matheson and Kirchhoff 2003 are critical of Young 2001. Some writers (among them Robinson 2005) hold that artworks influence our perception of the world by means of their effects on our emotions. The writers included in this section typically do not believe that the knowledge available from art is restricted to propositional knowledge (or “knowledge that”). Instead, art is often held to be a source of knowledge how to do something. In particular, art is often held to provide knowledge of how to discern features of the world (including moral characteristics). Bender 1993 stresses the various ways in which art can contribute to knowledge.

                                • Bender, John W. “Art as a Source of Knowledge: Linking Analytic Aesthetics and Epistemology.” In Contemporary Philosophy of Art: Readings in Analytic Aesthetics. Edited by John W. Bender and H. Gene Blocker, 593–607. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1993.

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                                  Bender gives a pluralistic account of art as a source of knowledge: art contributes to knowledge in a variety of ways, by exemplifying properties, arousing emotions, working out problems, stimulating the imagination, and in a variety of other ways.

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                                  • Graham, Gordon. Philosophy of the Arts: An Introduction to Aesthetics. London and New York: Routledge, 1997.

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                                    This introduction to aesthetics stresses the role art plays in contributing to knowledge. The book incorporates material from Graham’s several articles on the subject of art and knowledge, which are cited in this bibliography.

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                                    • Jobes, James. “A Revelatory Function of Art.” British Journal of Aesthetics 14 (1974): 124–133.

                                      DOI: 10.1093/bjaesthetics/14.2.124Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                      Argues that works of art are able to shape how we perceive objects in the world. We are thus able to gain insight into those objects.

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                                      • Matheson, Carl, and Evan Kirchhoff. “Critical Notice of James O. Young, Art and Knowledge.” Canadian Journal of Philosophy 33 (2003): 575–598.

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                                        An extended criticism of Young 2001.

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                                        • Murdoch, Iris. Existentialists and Mystics: Writings on Philosophy and Literature. London: Chatto & Windus, 1997.

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                                          Murdoch, a distinguished novelist as well as an accomplished philosopher, holds that literature is “discrimination, organized vision.”

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                                          • Robinson, Jenefer. Deeper than Reason. Oxford: Clarendon, 2005.

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                                            Argues that the process of reading literature is not primarily a process of acquiring beliefs. Rather, reading literature is “emotionally educational.” That is, readers have emotional responses that are a source of insight. Robinson’s book also investigates music as a source of insight.

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                                            • Young, James O. Art and Knowledge. London: Routledge, 2001.

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                                              Argues that artworks can represent in ways that provide insight into the objects represented. Identifies a particular sort of representation, “illustrative representation,” that is characteristic of the representation found in works of art.

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                                              Continental Philosophy on Art and Knowledge

                                              A good deal of recent contemporary Continental philosophy of art has been inimical to the view that art can be a source of knowledge. Postmodernist and deconstructionist schools are opposed to the view that works of art have a determinate content. Derrida 1988 is a representative example of a postmodernist writer. Without a determinate content, it is hard to see how works of art can contribute to knowledge, except perhaps accidentally. Nevertheless, some philosophers who associate themselves with Continental philosophy have advocated the view that art is a source of knowledge. These philosophers, including Gadamer 1975, McCormick 1988, and Zuidervaart 2004, can usually be characterized as belonging to the hermeneutical tradition with Continental philosophy. Grondin 1998 introduces the thought of Gadamer on art and knowledge. Dorter 1990 draws on other streams within the Continental tradition, including Heidegger and Nietzsche.

                                              • Derrida, Jacques. “Signature Event Context.” In Limited Inc. Edited by Derrida Jacques. Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 1988.

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                                                Derrida is the most prominent of the postmodernists and the best-known advocate of the view that texts do not have a determinate meaning.

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                                                • Dorter, Kenneth. “Conceptual Truth and Aesthetic Truth.” Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 48 (1990): 37–51.

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                                                  Provides a version of the Exemplification Thesis as seen through the prism of Continental philosophy.

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                                                  • Gadamer, Hans-Georg. Truth and Method. New York: Seabury, 1975.

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                                                    Gadamer is one of the major figures of 20th-century Continental philosophy. He opposes the view (associated with Kant) that aesthetic experience is “autonomous,” that is, removed from everyday life.

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                                                    • Grondin, Jean. “Gadamer and the Truth of Art.” In Encyclopedia of Aesthetics. Vol. 2. Edited by Michael Kelly, 267–271. New York: Oxford University Press, 1998

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                                                      Provides a good introduction to views on art and truth in Gadamer 1975, topics neglected in most introductions to the topic of art and knowledge. Available online.

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                                                      • McCormick, Peter J. Fictions, Philosophies, and the Problems of Poetics. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1988.

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                                                        A frequently but unjustly neglected book that provides a detailed discussion of both analytic and Continental (particularly hermeneutical) treatments of art as a source of knowledge, including moral knowledge.

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                                                        • Zuidervaart, Lambert. Artistic Truth: Aesthetics, Discourse, and Imaginative Disclosure. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2004.

                                                          DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511498398Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                          Draws upon both analytic and Continental philosophy (particularly hermeneutics) to defend the existence of artistic truth. This book is opposed to postmodernist thinkers who are skeptical about the capacity of art to have content.

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                                                          Anticognitivist Perspectives

                                                          In recent years, a majority of philosophers who have written on art and knowledge favor some variety of cognitivism, but some writers continue to defend anticognitivism. Sometimes these writers defend anticognitivism with regard to all arts. Others defend anticognitivism only as it applies to certain arts (e.g., Lamarque and Olsen 1994 is concerned only with literature, and Kivy 2009 is anticognitivist with regard to music, but cognitivist with regard to literature). Stolnitz 1992 is skeptical about the cognitive value of all art, and Diffey 1995 endorses his conclusions. Beardsley 1981 is the inspiration of much contemporary anticognitivism.

                                                          • Beardsley, Monroe C. Aesthetics: Problems in the Philosophy of Criticism. 2d ed. Indianapolis, IN: Hackett, 1981.

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                                                            A classic statement of formalism, the view that art is appreciated as pure, contentless form. Anticognitivism is a corollary of formalism.

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                                                            • Diffey, T. J. “What Can We Learn from Art?” Australasian Journal of Philosophy 73 (1995): 204–211.

                                                              DOI: 10.1080/00048409512346541Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                              Diffey endorses Stolnitz’s conclusion that “there is nothing significant to be learned from art about history, society, or life, if ‘learned’ is understood in a narrow sense as the acquisition of previously unknown truths or facts.” Diffey characterizes his position as “moderate anti-cognitivism.” Reprinted in Davies 1997 (cited under Anthologies), pp. 26–33.

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                                                              • Kivy, Peter. Antithetical Arts: On the Ancient Quarrel between Literature and Music. Oxford: Clarendon, 2009.

                                                                DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199562800.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                Kivy has argued many times over the years that music is essentially pure form, that it does not represent and that it has no cognitive content. Chapter 8 of this book is a mature and representative statement of his views on this matter.

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                                                                • Lamarque, Peter, and Stein Haugom Olsen. Truth, Fiction, and Literature: A Philosophical Perspective. Oxford: Clarendon, 1994.

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                                                                  This is, perhaps, the most sustained expression of skepticism about cognitivism as it applies to works of literature.

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                                                                  • Stolnitz, Jerome. “On the Cognitive Triviality of Art.” British Journal of Aesthetics 32 (1992): 191–200.

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                                                                    Argues that works of art are only able to state banalities. Stolnitz concludes that cognitivism is, at best, a trivial thesis.

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                                                                    Literature and Knowledge

                                                                    One can be a cognitivist with regard to certain arts and a noncognitivist with regard to others. Of all the arts, literature is the one that most often receives a cognitivist treatment. See also Art and Moral Knowledge. Many of the sources in that section deal explicitly with literature as a source of moral knowledge. Walsh 1969, Burri 2007, and Stroud 2008 draw attention to how literature provides audiences with knowledge of what it is like to have a certain sort of experience. Nussbaum 1990 relies on close readings of individual works of literature. Young 2008 adopts a position similar to those cited in Other Cognitivist Theses. Beardsmore 1973 is concerned with the kind of knowledge available from literature. According to John 1998, this knowledge includes philosophical knowledge. Novitz 1987 emphasizes the role of literature in stimulating the imagination. His position is related to that of Sharpe 1992 and Kieran 1996, cited in the section on Art and Moral Knowledge.

                                                                    • Beardsmore, R. W. “Learning from a Novel.” In Philosophy and the Arts. Vol. 6. Edited by Royal Institute of Philosophy, 23–46. London: Macmillan, 1973.

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                                                                      Distinguishes between knowledge that and knowledge how (in Gilbert Ryle’s senses of these phrases) and argues that the knowledge that readers received from literature falls into neither of these categories.

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                                                                      • Burri, Alex. “Art and the View from Somewhere.” In A Sense of the World: Essays on Literature, Narrative, and Knowledge. Edited by John Gibson, Wolfgang Huemer, and Luca Pocci, 308–317. London: Routledge, 2007.

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                                                                        Argues that literature provides readers with knowledge of what it is like to occupy a particular subjective standpoint.

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                                                                        • John, Eileen. “Reading Fiction and Conceptual Knowledge: Philosophical Thought in Literary Context.” Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 56 (1998): 331–348.

                                                                          DOI: 10.2307/432124Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                          Argues for the view that literature can contribute philosophical knowledge. One of John’s targets is Lamarque and Olsen 1994 (cited under Anticognitivist Perspectives).

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                                                                          • Novitz, David. Knowledge, Fiction, and Imagination. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1987.

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                                                                            In arguing for cognitivism, Novitz emphasizes the role that the imagination plays in the acquisition of knowledge.

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                                                                            • Nussbaum, Martha C. Love’s Knowledge. New York: Oxford University Press, 1990.

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                                                                              By means of a close reading of works by Henry James and others, Nussbaum indicates that literature can contribute to knowledge of moral psychology.

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                                                                              • Stroud, Scott. “Stimulation, Subjective Knowledge, and the Cognitive Value of Literary Narrative.” Journal of Aesthetic Education 42 (2008): 19–41.

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                                                                                Defends a version of what the author calls “subjective knowledge theory,” the view that literature can provide readers with knowledge of what it is like to be in a particular situation.

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                                                                                • Walsh, Dorothy. Literature and Knowledge. Middletown: University of Connecticut Press, 1969.

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                                                                                  Argues that literature provides knowledge of what it is like to undergo a certain sort of experience (as opposed to propositional knowledge).

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                                                                                  • Young, James O. “Literature, Representation, and Knowledge.” In Contemporary Readings in the Philosophy of Literature: An Analytic Approach. Edited by David Davies and Carl Matheson, 359–376. Peterborough, ON: Broadview, 2008.

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                                                                                    Develops some ideas introduced in Young 2001 (cited under Other Cognitivist Theses) and applies them specifically to the case of literature. Corrects some errors in Young 2001 (cited under Conceptual Art and Knowledge).

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                                                                                    Cognitive Value and Aesthetic Value of Art

                                                                                    Closely related to debates about the cognitive value of art is a debate about whether cognitive value is aesthetic value. On the one hand, some authors maintain that the cognitive value of a work of art contributes to its aesthetic value. Other writers take the view that the cognitive value (if any) of a work of art is incidental to its aesthetic value. Isenberg 1954–1955, Lamarque and Olsen 1994, Lamarque 1997, and Friend 2006 deny that works of art have cognitive value that contributes to aesthetic value. Miller 1979, Rowe 1997, and Gaut 2007 defend the contrary view.

                                                                                    • Friend, Stacie. “Narrating the Truth (More or Less).” In Knowing Art: Essays in Aesthetics and Epistemology. Edited by Matthew Kieran and Dominic McIver Lopes, 35–49. Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Springer, 2006.

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                                                                                      Grants that we can learn from fiction (e.g., we can learn about 19th-century whaling from Moby Dick), but holds that works of literature do not owe their aesthetic value to any capacity to contribute to knowledge.

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                                                                                      • Gaut, Berys. Art, Emotion, and Ethics. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007

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                                                                                        Chapter 7 (pp. 133–164) and chapter 8 (pp. 165–202) argue that art can provide moral knowledge and that this is an aesthetic value.

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                                                                                        • Isenberg, Arnold. “The Problem of Belief.” Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 13 (1954–1955): 395–407.

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                                                                                          Defends “the extreme view that belief and aesthetic experience are mutually irrelevant.”

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                                                                                          • Lamarque, Peter. “Learning from Literature.” Dalhousie Review 77 (1997): 7–21.

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                                                                                            Reinforces some of the themes of Lamarque and Olsen 1994 and argues, in a manner reminiscent of Stolnitz 1992 (cited under Anticognitivist Perspectives), that any knowledge offered by a work of literature would be too banal to contribute to the work’s aesthetic value.

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                                                                                            • Lamarque, Peter, and Stein Haugom Olsen. Truth, Fiction, and Literature: A Philosophical Perspective. Oxford: Clarendon, 1994.

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                                                                                              This work is skeptical about the view that works of literature state truths. Lamarque and Olsen believe that the aesthetic value of works of literature has little to do with any cognitive value they may have.

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                                                                                              • Miller, Richard W. “Truth in Beauty.” American Philosophical Quarterly 16 (1979): 317–326.

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                                                                                                Concludes that “truth, although not itself an aesthetic merit, is relevant to aesthetic merit.”

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                                                                                                • Rowe, M. W. “Lamarque and Olsen on Literature and Truth.” Philosophical Quarterly 47 (1997): 322–341.

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                                                                                                  Argues that, contrary to what Lamarque and Olsen believe, the question of whether the “outlook” of a work of literature is true is relevant to the aesthetic assessment of the work.

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                                                                                                  Visual Art and Knowledge

                                                                                                  While a great deal has been written on cognitivism and literature, comparatively little attention has been devoted to cognitivism and the visual arts. One theme running through the literature starts from a remark made in Gombrich 1972, holding that pictures could not be true or false and hence could not be used to make statements or be vehicles of propositional knowledge. Eaton 1980–1981, Kjørup 1974, and Korsmeyer 1985 all address this issue. The other papers listed in this section are on diverse topics. Graham 1994 is representative of writers who believe that experience of art shapes experience of the world. Lehrer 2012 develops the Exemplification Thesis in a novel direction. Lopes 2005 presents an original argument for the conclusion that the cognitive value of pictures is a form of aesthetic value. Feagin 1997 expresses doubts about the cognitive value of works of visual art.

                                                                                                  • Eaton, Marcia. “Truth in Pictures.” Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 39 (1980–1981): 15–26.

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                                                                                                    Opposes the view of Gombrich 1972, that pictures cannot be used to make true utterances.

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                                                                                                    • Feagin, Susan. “Paintings and Their Places.” In Art and Its Messages: Meaning, Morality, and Society. Edited by Stephen Davies, 17–25. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1997.

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                                                                                                      Contrasts visual art (paintings and sculptures) with works of literature. While works of literature might plausibly be said to provide insight, works of visual art are the wrong sort of thing to provide similar insight.

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                                                                                                      • Gombrich, E. H. Art and Illusion: A Study in the Psychology of Pictorial Representation. London: Phaidon, 1972.

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                                                                                                        A source of the debate about whether visual art can be a vehicle of propositional knowledge.

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                                                                                                        • Graham, Gordon. “Value and the Visual Arts.” Journal of Aesthetic Education 26.4 (1994): 1–14.

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                                                                                                          Argues that representation in “the best visual art enhances our understanding of experience.” Representations that enhance understanding need not be “lifelike.”

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                                                                                                          • Kjørup, Søren. “George Inness and the Battle at Hastings, or Doing Things with Pictures.” The Monist 58 (1974): 216–235.

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                                                                                                            Holds that pictures do not make statements, but they can be used to make statements. Consequently, a picture may be “a bearer of knowledge.”

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                                                                                                            • Korsmeyer, Carolyn. “Pictorial Assertion.” Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 43 (1985): 257–265.

                                                                                                              DOI: 10.2307/430639Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                              Argues that pictures can be used to make assertions and that they can, consequently, have cognitive significance.

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                                                                                                              • Lehrer, Keith. Art, Self, and Knowledge. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012.

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                                                                                                                Lehrer, a leading epistemologist, develops Goodman’s notion of exemplification and holds that experiences of visual artworks become exemplified in a way that casts light on other objects of experience. This book is extremely arcane and not recommended for beginners.

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                                                                                                                • Lopes, Dominic McIver. Sight and Sensibility: Evaluating Pictures. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005.

                                                                                                                  DOI: 10.1093/0199277346.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                  Argues that part of the aesthetic value of pictures is attributable to their capacity to contribute to knowledge, including moral knowledge.

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                                                                                                                  Music and Knowledge

                                                                                                                  Music presents the greatest challenge for the cognitivist. Music is not obviously a representational art, and it is not immediately apparent how works of music could convey knowledge. Generally sympathetic to cognitivism, Graham 1995 is skeptical about the suggestion that music is a source of knowledge. Similarly, Kivy 2009 is sympathetic to cognitivism when the author considers literature but adamantly opposed to it in the case of music. Addis 1999, Madel 1996, Nussbaum 2007, Young 1999, and several of the essays in Robinson 1997 defend cognitivism with respect to music. Davies 1994 provides the most thorough available overview of the relevant literature, though it is now a little out of date.

                                                                                                                  • Addis, Larry. Of Mind and Music. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1999.

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                                                                                                                    Contains an argument for the conclusion that music can be representational and, consequently, a potential medium of knowledge.

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                                                                                                                    • Davies, Stephen. Musical Meaning and Expression. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1994.

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                                                                                                                      Contains a magisterial survey of the arguments for thinking that music could have cognitive content (and so could potentially contribute to knowledge). Davies convincingly argues that music does not have content in the way that natural languages do and is generally skeptical about the view that music is representational.

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                                                                                                                      • Graham, Gordon. “The Value of Music.” British Journal of Aesthetics 53 (1995): 139–153.

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                                                                                                                        Holds that music is valuable primarily as an “exploration of the dimensions of aural experience.” It is not valuable because it is about anything extramusical.

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                                                                                                                        • Kivy, Peter. Antithetical Arts: On the Ancient Quarrel between Literature and Music. Oxford: Clarendon, 2009.

                                                                                                                          DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199562800.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                          Kivy provides a classical statement of formalism, the view that music is valued as pure, contentless form.

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                                                                                                                          • Madel, Geoffrey. “What Music Teaches about Emotion.” Philosophy 71 (1996): 63–82.

                                                                                                                            DOI: 10.1017/S0031819100053262Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                            Argues that music teaches listeners about emotions by evoking emotions in listeners.

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                                                                                                                            • Nussbaum, Charles O. The Musical Representation: Meaning, Ontology, and Emotion. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2007.

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                                                                                                                              Drawing upon cognitive science and naturalized philosophy, Nussbaum argues that music is a “pushmi-pullyu” representation of “an emotionally charged virtual musical environment” and thus can be a source of knowledge. Also incorporates elements of Goodman’s Exemplification Thesis. Many interesting suggestions, but not an easy read.

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                                                                                                                              • Robinson, Jenefer, ed. Music and Meaning. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1997.

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                                                                                                                                Most of the essays collected here are opposed to the formalist view that music is valued as pure, contentless musical form. Essays by philosophers and musicologists suggest ways in which music could be a source of insight into the interior lives of humans.

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                                                                                                                                • Young, James O. “The Cognitive Value of Music.” Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 57 (1999): 41–54.

                                                                                                                                  DOI: 10.2307/432063Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                  Argues that music can represent emotions and can, consequently, provide information about emotions.

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                                                                                                                                  Film and Knowledge

                                                                                                                                  The literature on film as a source of knowledge has focused on how movies can contribute to philosophical knowledge. Livingston 2009, Wartenberg 2007, and the essays in Smith and Wartenberg 2006 all defend the view that movies have philosophical content.

                                                                                                                                  • Livingston, Paisley. Cinema, Philosophy, Bergman: On Film as Philosophy. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009.

                                                                                                                                    DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199570171.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                    Drawing on the oeuvre of the great Swedish director Igmar Bergman, Livingston argues that films can convey philosophical (including moral and epistemic) points.

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                                                                                                                                    • Smith, Murray, and Thomas E. Wartenberg, eds. Thinking Through Cinema: Film as Philosophy. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2006.

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                                                                                                                                      A collection of essays that explore the question of how films can contribute to philosophical knowledge.

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                                                                                                                                      • Wartenberg, Thomas E. Thinking on Screen: Film as Philosophy. London: Routledge, 2007.

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                                                                                                                                        Argues that movies, in particular The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, Modern Times, The Matrix, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, The Third Man, The Flicker, and Empire, express philosophical views.

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                                                                                                                                        Conceptual Art and Knowledge

                                                                                                                                        Comparatively little has been written on conceptual art as a source of knowledge, but a good deal of conceptual art is explicitly intended to have cognitive content. At this point, most of the literature on conceptual art and knowledge is found in a single volume that contains Davies 2007, Goldie 2007, and Wilde 2007. Goldie 2007 is a response to Young 2001, one of the few earlier discussions of the cognitive value of conceptual art.

                                                                                                                                        • Davies, David. “Telling Pictures: The Place of Narrative in Late Modern ‘Visual Art.’” In Philosophy and Conceptual Art. Edited by Peter Goldie and Elisabeth Schellekens, 138–156. Oxford: Clarendon, 2007.

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                                                                                                                                          Responds to the charge that the content of conceptual art is reliant on an accompanying narrative by arguing that all art is similarly dependent on an associated narrative.

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                                                                                                                                          • Goldie, Peter. “Conceptual Art and Knowledge.” In Philosophy and Conceptual Art. Edited by Peter Goldie and Elisabeth Schellekens, 157–170. Oxford: Clarendon, 2007.

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                                                                                                                                            Argues against the position adopted in chapter 5 of Young 2001, that conceptual art is not a source of nontrivial knowledge.

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                                                                                                                                            • Wilde, Carolyn. “Matter and Meaning in the Work of Art: Joseph Kosuth’s One and Three Chairs.” In Philosophy and Conceptual Art. Edited by Peter Goldie and Elisabeth Schellekens, 119–137. Oxford: Clarendon, 2007.

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                                                                                                                                              Uses Kosuth’s work to illustrate how “Conceptual Art wants to elevate the motivating idea or intellectual content of the work over any other value which its material presence may offer.”

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                                                                                                                                              • Young, James O. Art and Knowledge. London: Routledge, 2001.

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                                                                                                                                                Chapter 5 (pp. 135–167) of this book argues that conceptual art is the source of only trivial knowledge.

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                                                                                                                                                Art and Moral Knowledge

                                                                                                                                                Cognitivists hold that works of art can contribute to knowledge of various sorts, but they are frequently concerned to show that art is a source of moral knowledge. Some writers (e.g., Nussbaum 1990) hold that works of art (particularly works of literature) are essentially continuous with moral philosophy and contribute to moral knowledge in much the same way that philosophy does. Most other cognitivists maintain that philosophy and art contribute to moral knowledge in very different ways. Depaul 1988 explicitly contrasts the ways in which philosophy and art contribute to moral knowledge. Carroll 2002 compares works of literature to thought experiments. Putnam 1976 makes comparisons between art and science as sources of knowledge. Sharpe 1992 and Kieran 1996 emphasize the role of literature in stimulating the moral imagination. Freeland 1997 adopts a similar position. Brudney 1998 is concerned with the meta-question of how we know whether art (and literature in particular) is a reliable source of moral knowledge.

                                                                                                                                                • Brudney, Daniel. “Lord Jim and Moral Judgment: Literature and Moral Philosophy.” Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 56 (1998): 265–281.

                                                                                                                                                  DOI: 10.2307/432366Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                                  This essay is concerned in large part with the epistemological question of what makes literature a reliable source of moral knowledge.

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                                                                                                                                                  • Carroll, Noël. “The Wheel of Virtue: Art, Literature, and Moral Knowledge.” Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 60 (2002): 3–26.

                                                                                                                                                    DOI: 10.1111/1540-6245.00048Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                                    Carroll identifies three arguments against the claim that literature is a source of moral knowledge, calling them the banality argument, the no-evidence argument, and the no-argument argument. He argues that all three arguments fail. Argues that works of literature are akin to thought experiments.

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                                                                                                                                                    • Depaul, Michael R. “Argument and Perception: The Role of Literature in Moral Inquiry.” Journal of Philosophy 85 (1988): 552–565.

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                                                                                                                                                      Argues that the “intellectualist” account of how we acquire moral knowledge (that of moral philosophy) is not the only route to moral knowledge. Literature, theatre, film, music, and visual art are also sources of moral knowledge.

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                                                                                                                                                      • Freeland, Cynthia. “Art and Moral Knowledge.” Philosophical Topics 25 (1997): 11–36.

                                                                                                                                                        DOI: 10.5840/philtopics19972518Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                                        Argues that works of art stimulate cognitive activity that leads to the acquisition of fresh knowledge, refined beliefs, and deepened understanding, particularly in the sphere of moral knowledge.

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                                                                                                                                                        • Kieran, Matthew. “Art, Imagination, and the Cultivation of Morals.” Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 54 (1996): 337–351.

                                                                                                                                                          DOI: 10.2307/431916Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                                          Argues for “ethicism” against “aestheticism.” Art cultivates “imaginative understanding,” and this enables it to contribute to moral knowledge.

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                                                                                                                                                          • Nussbaum, Martha C. Love’s Knowledge. New York: Oxford University Press, 1990.

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                                                                                                                                                            By means of a close reading of works by Henry James and others, Nussbaum indicates that literature can contribute to knowledge of moral psychology.

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                                                                                                                                                            • Putnam, Hilary. “Literature, Science, and Reflection.” New Literary History 7 (1976): 483–491.

                                                                                                                                                              DOI: 10.2307/468557Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                                              Contrasts science and literature as sources of knowledge. Literature contributes to knowledge of how to live by providing knowledge of possibilities. This is not a particularly well-informed or rigorous treatment of the topic of art and moral knowledge, but it is noteworthy as a contribution to the debate by a prominent philosopher. Reprinted in Putnam’s Meaning and the Moral Sciences (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1978, pp. 83–96).

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                                                                                                                                                              • Sharpe, R. A. “Moral Tales.” Philosophy 67 (1992): 155–168.

                                                                                                                                                                DOI: 10.1017/S0031819100039577Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                                                Beginning with the story of David and Bathsheba, Sharpe argues that works of literature can engage the imagination and contribute to moral development.

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