The Arts and the Definition of the Human: Toward a Philosophical Anthropology

The Arts and the Definition of the Human: Toward a Philosophical Anthropology

The Arts and the Definition of the Human: Toward a Philosophical Anthropology

The Arts and the Definition of the Human: Toward a Philosophical Anthropology

Synopsis

The Arts and the Definition of the Human introduces a novel theory that our selves- our thoughts, perceptions, creativity, and other qualities that make us human- are determined by our place in history, and more particularly by our culture and language. Margolis rejects the idea that any concepts or truths remain fixed and objective through the flow of history and reveals that this theory of the human being (or "philosophical anthropology") as culturally determined and changing is necessary to make sense of art. He shows that a painting, sculpture, or poem cannot have a single correct interpretation because our creation and perception of art will always be mitigated by our historical and cultural contexts. Calling upon philosophers ranging from Parmenides and Plato to Kant, Hegel, and Wittgenstein, art historians from Damisch to Elkins, artists from Van Eyck to Michelangelo to Wordsworth to Duchamp, Margolis creates a philosophy of art interwoven with his philosophical anthropology which pointedly challenges prevailing views of the fine arts and the nature of personhood.

Excerpt

A young friend of mine who lives and works in Madrid and who knows my published views very thoroughly recently sent me the draft of a longish paper of his in which, rather generously, he reviews some themes of mine, featuring in particular my having said that although Homo sapiens is a “natural-kind” kind, human beings—human selves—really have no nature, are no more than artifacts, histories, hybrids of biology and culture, the sites of certain transformed powers peculiar to human possibility That single idea is as close to the pivot of my best intuition as anything I can think of It was indeed the unmarked focus of a book my young friend had reviewed, as well as the somewhat more explicit but still decentered focus of the book before you now, a notion translated into the puzzles of the art world, very far removed in an academic sense—but not really—from the moral/political topics of the earlier book.

I can't say that I've chosen this conception of the self for my own; it's nearer the truth to confess that it's captured me, as I imagine will be clear enough when you read on. It's been shaping my thought over the span of an entire career, deployed I realize in every philosophical niche that has caught my interest. So that now it's a broadly unified conception, still somewhat elusive, which, though hardly orthodox, I've tried to demonstrate is a most resourceful replacement for many a canonical philosophy able to command a sizable fiefdom.

I've been at these inquiries too long to be unaware of my direction. I've been retracing my steps back from the distinctive compartmentalizations of philosophical topics that hold sway in our time and that have put . . .

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