A Moral Problem for Difficult Art

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Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, ISSN: 1540-6245, Vol: 74, Issue: 4, Page: 383-396

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Aumann, Antony
Arts and Humanities; art; ethics; Kierkegaard; truth; Esthetics; Ethics and Political Philosophy
article description
Works of art can be difficult in several ways. One important way is by making us face up to unsettling truths. Such works typically receive praise. I maintain, however, that sometimes they deserve moral censure. The crux of my argument is that, just as we have a right to know the truth in certain contexts, so too we have a right not to know it. Provided our ignorance does not harm or seriously endanger others, the decision about whether to know the truth ought to be left to us. Within this limit, therefore, difficult art is morally problematic if it intentionally targets those who have chosen not to know. To illustrate the problem, I discuss the literary writings of Søren Kierkegaard, which aim to deceive readers into seeing unpleasant truths about themselves that they seek to ignore.