Institut Jean Nicod

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Professeure de Philosophie à la City University of New York

contemporary intersections of aesthetics and ethics


Parrain au sein de l’Institut

Jérôme Dokic

Équipe d’accueil





Professeure invitée de l’EHESS à l’Institut Jean Nicod du 25 mai 2023 au 26 juin 2023 


Sandra Shapshay is a Professor of Philosophy at the City University of New York (with appointments at Hunter College and the CUNY Graduate Center). Starting in 2023, she will be the co-editor (with Jonathan Gilmore) of the Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism. She obtained her PhD from Columbia University and taught at Indiana University Bloomington before coming to CUNY in 2019. Her research focuses on contemporary intersections of aesthetics and ethics—especially with respect to public commemorative artworks such as monuments and memorials as well as the aesthetic appreciation of nature—and is informed by 19th century philosophy (with focus on Schopenhauer and Kant). Recent publications include : “What is the Monumental ?” Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism (2021), “A Two-Tiered Theory of the Sublime” British Journal of Aesthetics (2021), “Kantian Approaches to Ethical Judgment of Art” in the Oxford Handbook of Art and Ethics, ed. James Harold (forthcoming). Shapshay has also published widely in 19th c. German philosophy, for example, a recent monograph Reconstructing Schopenhauer’s Ethics : Hope, Compassion, and Animal Welfare (Oxford University Press, 2019). 


Seminaires à l’École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales


“Aesthetic Appreciation, Wonder, and the Intrinsic Value of Nature”

One-day workshop on the sublime and other aesthetic experiences

Thursday 1st June, 9.50AM

EHESS, room AS1_08, 54 bd Raspail

Many environmental philosophers have sought to make a case for the preservation of and respectful attitudes toward nature based on the notion of the objective, intrinsic value of at least some non-sentient nature. In fact, making a case for the intrinsic value of nature emerged into the 1990s as “the central theoretical quest of environmental philosophy” (Callicott 1992, 129). This quest, however, like many quests, has proven elusive, to the point of seeming Quixotic. Thus, many environmental philosophers have looked instead to aesthetic value to ground environmental preservation efforts. In this paper, I shall argue that the deepest contribution to environmental ethics made by aesthetics is not directly via the aesthetic value of nature, but is rather epistemic. That is to say, it is through the emotion of wonder, aroused oftentimes by cognitively-rich, deep appreciation of at the natural world, that the intrinsic value of nature shows up to us. This explains why it has been so difficult for environmental philosophers to justify the intrinsic value of nature : A person has to be brought to feel it, and one of the best ways to feel it is through wonder-inducing aesthetic experiences. 

"The Importance of Aesthetics in Controversies over ‘Tainted Monuments’"

SublimAE seminar

Monday 5th June, 3pm-5pm

IJN, salle de réunion

Contemporary debates between "removalists" and "preservationists" of monuments (Joanna Burch-Brown 2017 ; Helen Frowe 2019 ; Travis Timmerman 2020 ; T. H. Lai 2020 ; Benjamin Cohen Rossi 2020, among many others) tend to focus entirely on the moral and political-philosophical dimensions of these structures. And aestheticians who have turned their attention to these debates have largely treated monuments as akin to speech acts (Nguyen 2019, Liao and Friedell 2022). Thus, these discussions have tended to ignore their status as material works of public commemorative art. As seen through the lens of art, however, some crucial but neglected dimensions of value emerge : aesthetic, artistic, historical, age and sense of place value. In this paper I offer a values-balancing framework for adjudicating monumental controversies and suggest that in some cases these considerations about the works qua artworks are powerful enough to tip the balance toward preservation or removal. 

“The Generative Monument”

SublimAE seminar

Monday 12th June, 3pm-5pm

IJN, salle de réunion

In this seminar I trace a narrative of development in the aesthetics of monuments from 18th and 19th c. monuments (typically equestrian or portrait statues) ; to largely abstract “alter-monuments” (Bru, 2021) of the classical avant-gardes (in the early 20th c.) ; through “counter-monuments” (Young, 1992) of the post WW II era, to what I see as the contemporary vanguard of monumental forms, what I call “the generative monument.” I will focus on the most exemplary case of which I am aware, The National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Alabama.

Inaugurated in 2018, The National Memorial for Peace and Justice aims to document and commemorate the more than 4,400 African-American victims of racial terror lynchings from the end of Reconstruction in 1877 through the beginning of the Civil Rights Movement in 1950. Designed by the MASS Design Group in partnership with a private non-profit group called the “Equal Justice Initiative” (EJI), the memorial utilizes innovative formal means and sublime codes in order not just to document, to overwhelm visitors, and to commemorate, but also to generate concrete action aimed to address unjust racial inequalities in U.S. society today. 

My thesis is that the generative monument constitutes a novel synthesis of (1) the traditional past-looking aims and aesthetic codes of monuments, and (2) the future-looking, utopian aims of “alter monuments” of the classic avant-garde of the early 20th c. In this way, the generative monument is unlike the counter-monuments of the 1980s-90s—e.g. the 1986 Monument Against Fascism by Esther Shalev-Gerz and Jochem Gerz—which strove to commemorate while systematically eschewing monumentality. The monumental and generative nature of the National Memorial for Peace and Justice represents a culmination of a narrative of monument development that deserves attention both aesthetically and politically, as a subtle but powerful transformation of extant forms of public, commemorative art. 

Why we need more monuments : A case for the ‘reuse strategy’"

SublimAE seminar

Monday 19th June, 3pm-5pm

DEC, Salle Ribot

The discussion surrounding what to do with especially ‘tainted’ monuments—to figures such as Confederate generals, colonialist figures like Cecil Rhodes, or even more generally esteemed figures who nonetheless have checkered human rights histories such as the slave-owning George Washington, the U.S.-expansionist Abraham Lincoln, and the white-paternalizing Theodore Roosevelt—tends to be framed as a choice between removal or preservation. That said, other options in between these stark positions are sometimes floated. There was a proposal in Charlottesville, VA to take the equestrian sculpture of Robert E. Lee off of its pedestal, and to encase it in Lucite bearing testimonials from the enslaved people he owned. This strategy was termed “transfigure in place.” It was not ultimately adopted and the statue has now been removed. 

Other strategies such as “retain and explain” or the use of “counter-monuments” have also been suggested and tried. And some have suggested the creation of an alternative statue to a figure, e.g. to replace the one by James Earle Fraser to Teddy Roosevelt outside of the American Museum of Natural History in NYC (Walker 2018).

In this paper I argue that the removal of many tainted monuments simply ‘white washes’ the public space and constitutes a pyrrhic victory for activists who seek removal. Instead, I seek to defend a strategy I term the “reuse strategy” for at least some of these tainted monuments. The idea is to try to preserve the some crucial but neglected dimensions of value of even some tainted monuments—aesthetic, artistic, historical, age and ‘sense of place’ value—by reusing them to foster a monumental dialogue in the public space. 

An example of how this has been done implicitly and I believe successfully is the Emancipation Monument to Abraham Lincoln (1876) in Lincoln Park, Washington D.C. In 1974, this was turned 180 degrees to face a new monument erected on the other end of a grassy strip to one of the most important Black educators and civil & women’s rights leaders, Mary McLeod Bethune. With the addition of the Bethune monument, the Emancipation Monument is reused and repurposed to create a rich, monumental conversation. I shall argue, utilizing the case of the Theodore Roosevelt monument that was recently removed from the American Museum of Natural History steps, that this architectural reuse strategy is one that we have good reason to embrace in such cases in order to preserve especially historical and sense of place values, while fostering a monumental dialogue that keeps up with contemporary moral sensibilities and concerns.