Access to the full content is only available to members of institutions that have purchased access. If you belong to such an institution, please log in or find out more about how to order.


Art and knowledge

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-M066-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 2021
Retrieved June 16, 2024, from

Article Summary

Article Summary

The debate about whether art is a source of knowledge or, in other words, has cognitive value, can be traced to antiquity. The view that art can be a source of knowledge is often referred to as aesthetic cognitivism. Plato believed that works of art are likely to interfere with the pursuit of knowledge but Aristotle is an early example of an aesthetic cognitivist. Aesthetic cognitivism was widely held in the eighteenth century and, in recent years, many philosophers have investigated the question of how artworks could contribute to knowledge. During the nineteenth century and for much of the twentieth century, formalism about art was widespread. Formalism is the view that art is appreciated as contentless form and it is antithetical to aesthetic cognitivism. In the middle and late twentieth century some philosophers proposed that artworks can state propositions and, in this way, convey propositional knowledge. Other philosophers regarded exemplification as the key to understanding how art can contribute to knowledge. More recently, philosophers have suggested that works of art can influence how audience members perceive the world. Artworks are often said to be the source of knowledge of how to do or recognise something rather than held to be sources of propositional knowledge. Several authors have defended the view that literature is a source of non-propositional moral knowledge. Literary fiction is the art most commonly held to be a source of knowledge, but since antiquity the view that music is a source of moral knowledge, or that it can make people more virtuous, has often been defended. Aesthetic cognitivists are not committed to the view that all works of art are sources of knowledge, only to the view that some of them are. Recently, psychologists have found empirical evidence that supports the view that art is a source of knowledge, but some philosophers remain sceptical about art’s cognitive value.

Citing this article:
Young, James O.. Art and knowledge, 2021, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-M066-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2024 Routledge.