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The value of art as an imaginative practice: Dewey, MacIntyre and overcoming the intrinsic/instrumental divide

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Philipp Dorstewitz
Maastricht University

Katinka Waelbers
Maastricht University

The arts are facing a severe legitimization crisis. Austerity measures in full swing, the segment many call “high culture” is threatened by drastic budget cuts. Efforts to communicate the intrinsic value of art to a wider society seem strained and often fruitless. At the same time, many artists feel uncomfortable to justify their contribution in terms of extrinsic social benefits. This paper seeks to overcome the dualism between extrinsic (instrumental) and intrinsic (formal/conceptual/aesthetic) accounts of the value of the arts. It discusses John Dewey’s and Alasdair MacIntyre’s two classical American agency theories. Both developed complementary concepts which seek value within human practices. Whereas MacIntyre emphasized the importance of internal standards of excellence, Dewey incorporated a keen sense of imagining consequences in giving meaning to human action. This paper claims that both views imply that the intrinsic and extrinsic values are intertwined and hard sever from one another.


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