The Origins of Art: Nature or Culture?

7.5 credits

Syllabus, Bachelor's level, 5ES078

Education cycle
First cycle
Main field(s) of study and in-depth level
Aesthetics G2F
Grading system
Fail (U), Pass (G), Pass with distinction (VG)
Finalised by
The Department Board, 8 March 2021
Responsible department
Department of Philosophy

General provisions

The course is offered to C level students and students at advanced level. For students at advanced level, the examination requirements are higher than for students at C level.

Entry requirements

60 credits in the humanities or the social sciences

Learning outcomes

After completing the course students are expected to have acquired an in-depth understanding of the main questions relating to the origins of art, and be able to:

  • use the concepts and distinctions that are necessary for a critical examination of, and positioning in relation to, the theories and arguments studied
  • show a broader understanding of the origins of art and its evolution
  • account for and give a systematic analysis of central questions within empirical aesthetics
  • show good knowledge of philosophical aesthetics
  • analyze the strengths and weaknesses of the theories studied
  • use methods and tools to argue for and against central theories about aesthetic value, art, and artistic experience.


The main aim of this course is to examine the extent to which art can be said to be a socio-cultural product, and the extent to which it is the instinctive expression of our human nature. We approach the central questions from an inter-disciplinary perspective, that is to say not only from the point of view of philosophy, but also with the help of anthropology, evolutionary theory, psychology and neurology. How, if at all, can empirical data add to our understanding of why art exists and plays an important part in our life? Does art have a distinct cognitive function or is it a so-called by-product? What can cave art teach us about the development of our ability to think symbolically?


Instruction is provided through lectures and seminars. The language of instruction is English.


The course is assessed through written and oral assignments.

If there are special reasons for doing so, an examiner may make an exception from the method of assessment indicated and allow a student to be assessed by another method. An example of special reasons might be a certificate regarding special pedagogical support from the University's disability coordinator.