Moral and other educational significance of the arts in philosophy and recent Scottish educational policy
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The immense value of the arts has long been recognized by diverse cultures and such recognition has mostly guaranteed their inclusion in educational and school curricula the world over. The arts are considered valuable for numerous reasons, but their inclusion depends on particular interpretations of their merits that may sometimes have failed to realise their full or real potential. Although some ways of valuing the arts date back to antiquity, debates about the value of arts certainly deserve no less consideration in the modern context. Plato was sceptical about the moral value of the arts and regarded them as of dubious educational significance. He thought the arts were more a matter of rhetoric than reason. However, taking a more positive view of the moral power of the arts, Aristotle defended both the arts and rhetoric as potentially contributory to personal formation and the development of moral virtue. At all events, if the arts are to remain educationally defensible, it is arguable that educational theorists and policy makers need to demonstrate their capacity for: (i) objective aesthetic judgement; and (ii) the communication of knowledge and/or truth. Both of these are contentious, as artistic and aesthetic value judgements have often been said to be subjective or personal. In this context, the distinction between judging something as good (which requires reasons) or simply liking it (which does not) is crucial. Here, establishing the objective rational character of the arts seems to be a precondition of demonstrating their potential for knowledge or truth. Arguably, however, there are different respects in which arts may be said to contribute to the development of understanding and appreciation in human agents of themselves, of their relationships with others and of the world, e.g.: (i) aesthetic (sensory) appreciation; (ii) development of imagination; (iii) understanding of aspects of human psychology; (iv) education of the emotions; (v) and moral understanding. In this essay, various philosophical defences of the ‘intrinsic’ (personally formative) educational value of the arts will be drawn from the literature of philosophy and education. Following discussions of ancient arguments for and against the arts, the thesis will discuss at some length defences of the educational value of the arts offered by the American great books tradition, British literary and cultural critics and more recent educational philosophers and theorists. In the final ‘conceptual’ chapter of the thesis, two contemporary works of cinema are discussed to reinforce the key arguments of the thesis. However, having explored the nature and potential of the arts and arts education from a philosophical perspective, this study then seeks to enquire into recent Scottish educational policy developments with reference to the role of arts in arts education and in education more generally through: (i) the exploration of policy documents and official guidelines; and (ii) the voices of interviewees and other research participants involved in Scottish policy making. The thesis will conclude from this enquiry that the educational value and significance of the arts is not adequately appreciated in contemporary Scottish (and perhaps other) educational policy and practice. The study concludes by advocating a return to Aristotle’s conception of the arts as contributory to phronesis (the practical wisdom of virtue), rather than techne (the technical knowledge of skill). Narrow specialisation in forms of training are liable to leave people uninitiated into the wisdom and moral power of the arts –benefits that should ideally be available to all. From the perspective of this thesis, only a broad educational approach that encompasses thorough arts education will result in well-rounded, emotionally intelligent and truly educated human beings.
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