Resources for Further Discussion

The units on this website use works of art to introduce topics for philosophical discussions. A number of educators have requested help in delving deeper into the topics raised by the units. This page provides some resources that will be useful to get your students to go more deeply into their ideas.

The most obvious way to continue is to assign readings on the relevant topics to the students and then to discuss those readings. As you may know, philosophy articles tend to be difficult, so it would also be appropriate to just give a short section from an article. Unfortunately, due to copyright limitations, I can’t post articles for you to share with your students.

So what I have provided are some links to articles and also, when relevant, to the Stanford Online Encyclopedia of Philosophy (SEP), podcasts from Philosophy Talk, and some articles from Philosophy Now.

SEP is an excellent resource for philosophy. Each entry has an excellent bibliography that you might want to make use of. Unlike Wikipedia, this is a refereed source and can be completely trusted. The articles are written at a very high level, so your students may need help understanding them. But they tend to be quite comprehensive.

Another interesting resource for students is the Philosophy Talk podcast. Well-known philosophers discuss issues in an accessible manner on the show. I have included links where there is a discussion of a relevant topic. Philosophy Now is a popular journal that discusses philosophical issues. Not all the contributions are equally good, but you can find some interesting discussions of some topics and they essays are all very readable.

Please get in touch if you would like more help.

Unit 1: Portraits


Three issues were raised by the philosophical questions at the end of this unit: the nature of beauty; how self-knowledge differs from the knowledge we have of others; and whether objectification always enters into our perception of others. These are difficult and interesting questions.



Objectification, Section 2.


Erotic Art and Obscenity


Unit 2: Landscape


Environmental ethics is the topic discussed in this unit.


Unit 3: Expressionism

Vincent Van Gogh, Bedroom in Arles, 1888, Van Gogh Museum      Edvard Munch, The Scream, 1893 National Gallery Oslo Norway      Willem de Kooning, Woman V (1952–53), National Gallery of Australia

This unit focuses on the nature of our emotions, a central topic in the philosophy of mind and cognitive science.


Unit 4: Abstract Art

1. What are the most prominent features of this painting? 2. How does the presence of the intersecting tan and green figures affect your experience of the painting? The large black circle? 3. Are there any elements of the painting that remind you of landscapes? Of anything else? 4. Do you think this painting is beautiful?      1. What features of this painting strike you right away? 2. Does the painting remind you of anything? 3. If it does, do you think the painting is not really abstract? 4. How does the title of the painting affect your viewing of it? Do you know what “victory” and “boogie woogie” refer to?      1. How does this painting differ from the other abstract paintings you have seen? 2. How do the large, rectangular fields of color affect you? 3. What do you think the artist is trying to communicate? 4. Do you think this painting is beautiful?

Here, the topic of the meaning of abstract introduces themes from the philosophy of language, in particular the difference between description and evaluation.

Abstract objects

What is art?

Abstract ideas

There is an interesting controversy between John Locke and George Berkeley on whether there can be abstract ideas. The Introduction to Berkeley’s The Principles of Human Knowledge contains a nice presentation of the theory and Berkeley’s criticisms of it.


Unit 5: Conceptual Art

René Magritte, The Treachery of Images      Joseph Kosuth, One and Three Chairs      Mel Bochner, Language is Not Transparent (1970)

The philosophical questions in this unit have to do with conceptual art itself, and in particular the use of language in a medium that is traditionally conceived of as non-linguistic, imagistic.


Unit 6: Photography

1. What features of this photographic portrait stand out for you? 2. Does this photograph contain an expression of the photographer’s attitude towards its subject? 3. What does the photograph convey about the person portrayed in it? 4. How does learning that the person in the photograph is the photographer’s wife change your understanding of it if at all?      1. What elements of this photograph stand out for you? 2. Do you think this photograph is beautiful? 3. What attitude do you think the photographer has towards nature? 4. How does finding out that the intense colors in this photograph are due to toxic chemicals that have been dumped onto the land?      1. Is this photograph realistic? 2. How do you think it was made? 3. What is the significance of the fact that this photograph is composed of two different images? 4. Is this photograph a trick? 5. Does it convey something specific about the sitter?

Two issues are raised in this unit. The first is the nature of realism and the question of whether photography is an inherently realistic art form. The second focuses on the nature of digital reproduction, the dominant form of contemporary photography.


Kendall Walton, “Transparent Picture: On the Nature of Photographic Realism,” Critical Inquiry, Vol. 11, No. 2 (1984), 246-277.

[This is an important article, but it is also difficult.]

Digital Art

Photography generally

[Philosophy Now is a popular philosophy magazine.]