This course has concessions available

Beauty At Mary Ward

When we describe something as beautiful, are talking about a quality that belongs to the thing we are describing or are we really thinking about a feeling that arises in ourselves? Are there any universal standards for the understanding of beauty, or are judgements about this always a matter of individual or cultural taste? What is the relationship between the beauty we find in the natural world and the beautiful as this occurs in artistic work? What happens in the brain when we perceive things we consider to be beautiful? This course will aim to explore this topic from a number of different angles and in the process will provide an ideal introduction to three different subjects in the humanities and social sciences. With three different specialist tutors, you will be able to explore the different ways that anthropologists, psychologists and philosophers investigate this question. You will be introduced to the kinds of questions they raise, the different methods that they use and the way that they assess evidence and argument in doing so. At the same time, you will learn more about this perennially fascinating topic and hopefully have fun doing so.

Who is this course for

The course would make an ideal introduction for anyone considering taking courses in anthropology, psychology, philosophy or other humanities and social sciences. Equally, it would suit someone who already has familiarity with one or more of these subjects and finds the idea of cross disciplinary debate and discussion interesting. Or you may simply have an interest in the topic of beauty and the beautiful and want to find out more.

What does this course cover

We will explore the theme of fear from the perspective of anthropology, psychology and philosophy to give you an idea of the way these different subjects operate. So an anthropologist may be interested in the question of whether or not the category of 'beauty' is something that exists in all cultures, or whether it is more culturally specific. Even if beauty is a basic or universal human behaviour, anthropologists are still interested to learn the different ways in which it features in different societies and cultures. What are things that different cultures find beautiful and what can the comparison with the way that beauty is thought about and enacted in other cultures tell us about our own culture?

A Psychologist may ask the following sorts of questions in exploring the subject of beauty. What are the kinds of processes occurring in our brain and nervous system when we are in proximity to beautiful people, places and things? Are there important differences between how we relate to beauty in these different contexts? How does our appreciation of beauty relate to our sense of ourselves when we comparisons between us and what we find beautiful? Are there features of what we find to be beautiful that are 'hard-wired' into us by our evolutionary history? Or are our judgments about this mostly examples of learned behaviour?

By contrast with both of the above approaches, philosophy may wish to explore the question of whether or not there any objective standards for the value judgement that something is beautiful at all, and if not what might the wider implications of this be for our other values? When we analyse our use of language when discussing the beautiful, it often looks as if we are describing a property that belongs to the thing we are describing, but could this be misleading? What would it mean if it turned out that these statements were not descriptions of the object but of what we experience in ourselves when we encounter beauty in the world. If beauty is subjective in this sense could the same be true of our other value judgments, such as our moral judgments?

We cannot guarantee that there will be time and space to explore each of the above kinds of topics in depth, but by the end of the course, you should be able to:

' Identify examples of the kinds of questions and approaches to investigation taken by anthropologists, psychologists and philosophers respectively
' Compare and contrast these different approaches to the topic of beauty and questions in the human and social sciences more generally

What will it be like

There will be three different teachers on the course (one from each of the subject disciplines). They will not be preparing a lecture for you but instead presenting you with material that you can explore through debate and discussion to develop and understanding of the topics covered. Each session of the course will be held on a different consecutive day and these sessions will all take place online via Zoom and the resources for the session will be available to you via the Moodle page for the course. You will be sent the link to the Zoom invitation for the class sessions just before the sessions begin.

What else do you need to buy or do

You will need to have access to an internet enabled device such as a computer, laptop, tablet or similar. You are welcome to join the sessions through a smartphone but you should be aware that you may find it difficult to benefit from all aspects of the session if this is your means of access.

You will need to have downloaded the free version of Zoom in order to participate in the sessions.

You do not need to purchase any other materials and the resources for the sessions will be available to you through the Moodle page for the course.

The course will be run on Zoom, please make sure you have installed it in advance of your first class on your computer or mobile device. You can sign up for free here:

You will need a microphone (it's fine to use whatever is built into your device) and camera, so we can see you via video. You may also want to use headphones during the session.
Make sure you have a small space to work in during the session.
By signing up to the course you are consenting to being on camera. The content of the lesson may be recorded by the tutor for internal education and training purposes

What this course could lead to

The course is being run as part of the Mary Ward summer school programme and we would hope it may encourage people to enrol for the September courses in Anthropology, Psychology or Philosophy (or even all three!). But the course may lead you to want to explore other subject areas in the humanities and social sciences.

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I've been to many Centres to study in London and the Mary Ward Centre is one of the nicest I've studied in.

MWC student


This course has concessions available for people who meet certain criteria

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Why choose Mary Ward?

Mary Ward Centre is the adult education centre with a difference. We provide a wide range of subjects for people at all levels and run courses during the day, evening and weekends to suit your timetable. You can learn face to face at one of our centres (Bloomsbury or Waterloo) or take an online course

Get inspired and enjoy excellent teaching in an environment where each individual’s learning experience is valued. That’s what makes Mary Ward Centre ‘the friendly place to learn.’