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.
About the author
Joseph Margolis is the Laura H. Carnell Professor of Philosophy at Temple University. His most recent book is Moral Philosophy after 9/11(2004).
"In search of the distinctively human as a key to understanding language, culture, history, agency, creativity and responsibility, Margolis rejects the oppositions that have shaped discourse about these central philosophical topics since the time of the pre-Socratics. Breathtaking in its panoramic sweep of the Western tradition, admirably informed about the ideological dimensions of classical and contemporary aesthetics, Margolis's rethinking of basic issues in the intersection between knowledge, imagination, and art in all its expressive manifestations is certain to spark vitally innovative discussions as it carries forward ongoing disputes in important new directions."
—Dale Jacquette, University of Bern, Switzerland
"Margolis is in the unique position of knowing both contemporary continental and analytical philosophy, and one of the great merits of this book is its creative bridging of the two. The Arts and the Definition of the Human is a signal work of very high accomplishment that crowns the career of a distinguished philosopher justly celebrated for his many substantial contributions to the philosophy of art and to many other philosophical domains."
—Edward S. Casey, Stony Brook University