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date: 08 December 2023

Curriculum and the Intersection of Ethics and Aestheticslocked

Curriculum and the Intersection of Ethics and Aestheticslocked

  • Donald Blumenfeld-JonesDonald Blumenfeld-JonesArizona State University


Curriculum Studies has an abiding concern for creating curriculum that leads toward the good society. Typically, this concern has taken either a technical approach to citizenship education or political projects, redressing society’s ills and wrongs. The citizenship approach attempts to establish correct citizenship behavior. The political approach attempts to reorganize the structure of society. Neither approach attends to the inner ethical life of the person. A third approach also exists in the Curriculum Studies literature: how ethics and aesthetics are grounds for educating for a good society through cultivating the inner ethical life. Asserting the intersection of ethics and aesthetics has an old history throughout the world. In the European tradition, it begins with the Greeks, who theorized that one of the major areas of inquiry, axiology, actually was two areas of concern, asking two conjoined questions, “What is ‘the good’?” and “What is ‘the beautiful’?” They recognized that these two questions had intersecting concerns but went no further than a cursory mention. This insight has continued, in various forms, to this day. The Chinese tradition, which began before Confucius, theorizes a similar connection.

Contemporary Curriculum Studies literature takes two approaches to the ethics–aesthetics intersection. The first approach favors studying how people encountering already made art may be aided in developing an ethical life through those encounters. This literature uses three ethics systems: pragmatism, affective education (akin to naturalism), and utilitarianism. In this approach, the relationship of aesthetics to ethics is basically instrumental: encountering aesthetic objects is an instrument that can lead to an ethical life. The second approach makes art-making central to cultivating or enlivening ethical consciousness. To varying degrees, this approach treats the experience of making art (cultivating an aesthetic consciousness) as a “door” to ethical consciousness such that one cannot necessarily pass through the door without it. Art-making only means making art, which all people are capable of doing (rather than a focus on training professional artists).

Both approaches offer a significant opportunity to rethink the contribution aesthetics and the arts can make to fostering the good society. They also offer an opportunity to rethink what it means to do Curriculum Studies by considering the place of body and aesthetics in all of Curriculum Studies.


  • Curriculum and Pedagogy

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