In spring 2013, the philosophy department's junior-senior seminar will address questions like these: What is cultural heritage? What sorts of meanings and values are harbored by iconic pieces of material culture? And what makes significant pieces of material culture-artworks, historic buildings, historic sites-important and worthy and valuable?
While these sorts of questions are deeply, even crazily (and unapologetically), interdisciplinary-and lots of fun for that reason!-they definitely have challenging and properly philosophical issues and questions at their ground floor. Witness the following, e.g.: Presumably meanings and values are housed in or supervene over stuff. And so we'll be thinking about materiality and (if you'll excuse the handy non-word) "artifactuality"-about (as a first pass) the properties and qualities that make some humanly-created material thing the particular thing that it is, and about the relation between its properties and qualities on the one hand and its meanings and values on the other. (Obviously there are metaphysical and epistemological questions at work here. Indeed, what are properties and qualities and meanings and values? And how do we know or access or recognize or understand each of these things?)
We'll also address questions like the following: Can an artifact's meanings and values, once compromised, be rehabilitated? Can the meanings and values in degraded pieces of material cultural heritage be recharged and resuscitated? If the properties and qualities and meanings and values go away (and might it matter how or why they go away?), can they be reconstructed or restored? In short, can meanings and values, once extinguished, be brought back into existence? Can they re-emerge? (Can such things exist, one and entire and intact and whole and unchanged, intermittently?) Or not? To put the point on the other side: Are reconstructed or restored artifacts metaphysically- and axiologically-deficient? Are they inauthentic? Are they fakes or copies or mere simulacra?
Thus, simply put, our readings and discussions will have us thinking about the nature of material cultural heritage. They will also have us thinking about the prospects, or lack thereof, for resuscitating that heritage. Forcing the content of the seminar into a serious nutshell, we'll be working toward a considered and thoughtful answer to this question: Can lost value be restored?
Students will choose a particular case study-an iconic artwork or building or site that has been compromised (that is now, for some reason, other than how it was intended)-as the focus of their research essay. And they will be charged with thinking about whether the meanings and values that had characterized that particular artifact might be resuscitated.Join us if you want to think about these fun and challenging issues and questions-as well as about the many other things (the raw data points, as it were, for our issues and questions) to which our discussions will likely turn: paintings, castles, sculptures, stones, mortar, bombs, the residue from burned tires, firestorms, earthquakes, acid rain, ruins, and shards.