Joseph Margolis


On his book The Arts and the Definition of the Human: Toward a Philosophical Anthropology

Cover Interview of January 10, 2010

In a nutshell

I show how looking at paintings and reading literature depend on how sensory perception and understanding are formed and transformed by the way in which we ourselves are first formed, culturally, as selves, and how an adequate account of our ability to engage with the arts (and other selves) requires a quite distinctive theory of what it is to be a self or person—what I call a philosophical anthropology.

The theory I sketch characterizes the human self as a culturally emergent, hybrid transformation of the native biological powers of Homo sapiens effected by the human infant’s ability to internalize and master the language of an environing society and whatever other abilities that makes that transformation possible. The underlying idea, that the human self is (in this sense) a “natural artifact,” has quite radical possibilities; however I apply the idea to familiar but quite ordinary puzzles regarding our interest in the fine arts.