Centre for Continuing Education

Philosophy Course: Art and Civilisation

Philosophy. Study the fundamental nature of knowledge, reality and existence.

COVID-19 update: arrangement of our courses

We are now delivering courses both online and in-person. Please check the delivery format for each class before you enrol.

Please note that course materials for all classes (excluding prescribed textbooks) are shared electronically within 48 hours of a course starting. Printing is not available.

In this course, we will consider what constitutes a ‘civilisation’ and the kinds of art produced by civilisations. We will also look at topics including urban development and social stratification, and ask whether art produced by civilisations has shared features.

In our discussions on art we will look at: theories of beauty, grandeur and obedience, Utopias and Arcadias, the Hero in art and the artist as hero. Lastly, we will look at contemporary civilisation and the kinds of art which it has produced.


This course aims to provide an overview of the origins and complexities of the many theories of ‘Civilisation’. We will also make the connection between the history of art and the development of civilisations, from the ancient world to now.


By the end of this course, you should be able to:

  • identify the main features which constitute a civilisation
  • discuss ideas about:
    • the nature of beauty
    • the Hero in art
    • Utopias and Arcadias
  • identify various aesthetic theories and their historical development
  • discuss the implications of the connection between art and society for our own time
  • identify the contribution made by art to the stability and instability of past civilisations
  • demonstrate the role of art in the internal workings of a broad range of past and present societies
  • discuss philosophical aesthetics and how theories of art have developed historically.


What is civilisation?

We will discuss:

  • complexity
  • urban development
  • social stratification imposed by a cultural elite
  • symbolic system of communication
  • the perceived separation and domination over the natural environment.

The rise of civilisations

Why do civilisations develop and why do they last? There is much new writing on this intriguing question, and we will consider a range of theorists.

Civilisation and art

We will look at the art developed by different civilisations and whether this art has shared features.

Who paints the fall of civilisations?

What kind of art is produced when a civilisation starts to crumble? Who produces this art?

Changing theories of art

There have been many different theories of art through history. We will run through an overview of the predominant aesthetic and philosophical theories from the ancients to now.

Beauty and civilisation

Is ‘beauty’ a concept which belongs to all art theories throughout history? What is meant when an artwork is described as beautiful, and who has the authority to give the power of truth to that description?

Grandeur and obedience

Art of course has always had a political function; some believe it is the primary function of past art. We will critique this idea and see how it is played out in different civilisations.

Utopias and arcadias

The visionary role of art has a long history; it has produced many imaginary future societies and played a significant part in utopian political thinking. We will look at the difference between utopianism and arcadianism and how it manifests in art.

The hero in art and the artist as hero

It is telling what a society chooses to celebrate. We will look at the periods in history where the artist has been chosen as the hero and look at what this says about that society.

The contemporary world

Some contemporary philosophers have proposed that the idea of ‘civilisation’ is at its end and that globalisation has killed many of the features of past civilisations. We will examine this idea and see if there is a connection to contemporary forms of art.

Intended audience

Anyone with a general interest in philosophy and the topic of art and civilisation.

Delivery style



Handouts are provided in class.


  • Expert trainers
  • Central locations
  • Course materials – yours to keep
  • CCE Statement of Completion

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