Cropped image of painting called hilosophy by Raphael

"Philosophy should quicken life, not deaden it." - Susan Glaspell

At a Glance

  • Classroom course
  • 2 hours a week
  • Tuesdays 18:30 - 20:30
  • 20 weeks: October to March
  • Tutor: Matthew Rowe
  • Fees from £230 to £420
  • Imperial College attendance certificate (T&Cs apply)
Booking link

In this lecture series Dr Matthew Rowe will introduce us to some of the major developments in the history of philosophy by focusing on how Western philosophers have tried to explain the function, purpose and meaning of the arts. This will take us on a journey stretching back to the sixth century BC and coming forward to the present day.

Together we will focus on four key topics from an historical and philosophical perspective that have been central to the history of ideas:

  • the idea of beauty;
  • the status and purpose of art;
  • the status and role of the artist;
  • the idea and the practise of artistic activity

Matthew will introduce us to key vocabulary and ideas within this history of ideas as well as showing how ideas about politics, psychoanalysis, existentialism, cultural studies, feminism, post-modernism, post-colonialism and the mass media have been used to inform debates around visual art.

In addition the course will look at when some key ideas we tend to associate with art, such as beauty, aesthetics, authorship, self-expression, criticality, creativity, social and political commentary became key concerns of art.

There is no need for any previous experience of philsosophy, history or art for this course, so complete beginners to the subject are welcome. Matthew's emphasis will be to provide an explanation of the ideas themselves and to show their origin, development and evolution over time.

Attendance certificate

Those who attend at least 80% of the course sessions will receive an attendance certificate from Imperial College London upon completion of the course.

Course Information

Course Programme

Indicative Programme - subject to possible modification

  • Week 1: Introduction – topics and themes
  • Week 2: Imitations v reality - Plato
  • Week 3: Technique, mimesis and catharsis in Aristotle
  • Week 4: Art imitates nature – Plotinus, Aquinus and Christendom
  • Week 5: Art surpasses nature – Cellini, Alberti and Leonardo
  • Week 6: The rules of art – the European academies
  • Week 7: How to create a canon - Hume
  • Week 8: The idea of the aesthetic – Kant
  • Week 9: Genius and the sublime – Kant and Goethe

Christmas break

  • Week 10: Art has a history and social relations – Hegel and Marx
  • Week 11: Enter the flâneur: the painter of modern life
  • Week 12: Apollonian and Dionysian tendencies – Nietzsche’s alternative histories
  • Week 13: The uncanny, Freud, and Lacan the challenge from psychoanalysis
  • Week 14: The origin of the work of art, Heidegger against aesthetics
  • Week 15: Reproduction and mechanisation – Walter Benjamin
  • Week 15: The other becomes a subject – Simone de Beauvoir
  • Week 16: The world as text – Barthes and Structuralism
  • Week 17: Mass media and the spectacle – Debord’s premonition
  • Week 18: Other gazes, other places – the feminist and postcolonial challenges
  • Week 19: Style is style, art means nothing – the challenge from postmodernism
  • Week 20: Contemporary horizons – how we got where we are

Additional Reading

There is no compulsory reading required for this course, and there is no set course text.

About Your Tutor

Photograph of Matthew RoweDr Matthew Rowe is an extremely experienced and engaging teacher of philosophy, as well as being a practising philosopher in his own right.

His interests lie in aesthetics, the philosophy of art and relationship between artistic practice and art theory. He is primarily a writer, although he also engages in solo and collaborative visual art practises when appropriate.

His current writing research focusses on site speficity within artisitic production and issues surrounding morality and photography. Current writing projects include an essay on John Waters and a philosophical analysis of irony and sincerity.

As well as teaching at Imperial College London, Matthew also lectures at City and Guilds of London Art School.

Course Delivery: Classroom Taught Courses

Courses delivered in-person in a classroom*

This course takes place at our South Kensington Campus and will be classroom taught.

All courses lasting two hours have a 10-minute break in the middle. For one hour courses there is no break.

Covid-19 and Safe Distancing for Classroom-based Courses

Please be aware of covid-19 safe-distancing requirements and adhere to them. We ask if possible that participants on this course take a home swab test (lateral flow test) before joining each session of the class. Swab tests can be ordered free of charge prior to the start of the course from or obtained free of charge from many pharmacists.

* In the event of the government or Public Health England requiring further lockdown measures the class will transfer online and any remaining sessions will be taught entirely online.

Course Fees and Rate Categories

HoursWeeksStandard RateInternal RateAssociate Rate
 40  20  £420    (Early Bird Rate: £380*)
£250    (Early Bird Rate: £230*) £330    (Early Bird Rate: £300*) 
* The Early Bird rate is available for enrolments made before the end of 30 September for courses starting in October only  |   All fee rates quoted are for the whole 2-term course.

Rate Categories and Discounts

Standard Rate

  • Applicable to all except those who fall under the Internal Rate or Associate Rate category, respectively.

Internal Rate

  • Current Imperial College students and staff (incl. Imperial NHS Trust, Imperial Innovations, ancillary & service staff employed on long-term contracts at Imperial College by third-party contractors)
  • Individuals enrolling under our Friends & Family scheme
  • Staff of the English Chamber Orchestra
  • Current Centre for Languages, Culture and Communication (CLCC) staff, current CLCC PhD students, Science Communication (Sci Comm) postgraduate students, and students enrolled on an Imperial College 'Language for Science' degree programme should contact before completing the online enrolment form

Associate Rate

  • Alumni of Imperial College and predecessor colleges and institutes
  • Austrian Cultural Forum staff
  • City & Guilds College Association members
  • Francis Crick Institute staff, researchers and students
  • Friends and Patrons of the English Chamber Orchestra
  • Harrods staff
  • Historic Royal Palaces staff
  • Lycee Charles de Gaulle staff
  • Members of the Friends of Imperial College
  • Members of the Kennel Club
  • Members of the London Zoological Society
  • Members of the South London Botanical Institute (SLBI)
  • Members of the UK Council for Psychotherapy (UKCP)
  • Natural History Museum staff
  • National Health Service (NHS) employees
  • Residents of postcodes SW3, SW5, SW7, SW10 and W8
  • Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea Council staff
  • Royal College of Art and Royal College of Music tutors and other staff
  • Royal Geographical Society staff
  • Science Museum staff
  • Staff of Exhibition Road Cultural Group (Discover South Kensington) organisations
  • Students (non-Imperial College)
  • Teachers and other staff of UK schools
  • Tutors and other staff of institution members of the Association of Colleges
  • Tutors and other staff of other universities and higher education institutions
  • Victoria and Albert Museum staff

Late enrolment

It is possible to enrol on many CLCC Evening Class and Lunchtime Learning programmes after the course has started. For non-language courses this is subject entirely to agreement by the tutor. For language courses it is subject to agreement by the language Coordinator conducting level assessment. If you want to join a course late do bear in mind there might be work you will need to catch up on, particularly in language courses.

Applicable terms & conditions

Please read the Terms and Conditions [pdf] before enrolling on any course.

Term Dates

HoursWeeksAutumn termSpring termSummer termSummer School
 40  20 18 Oct - 18 Dec 2021 (9 weeks)*  PLUS 10 Jan - 26 Mar 2022 (11 weeks) n/a n/a
* Followed by the Christmas break

Enrolment Process

Web enrolment starts 2nd August 2021

Enrolment and payment run through the Imperial College eStore. Please click on the blue booking link on the relevant course page noting below instructions:

  • Our rate categories are explained on the course page and your applicable rate category must be selected on the eStore
  • First-time eStore users please create an account by entering an email address and password. These credentials should also be used for future bookings. Imperial College users please note the eStore is not a single-signon College system
  • The booking process involves entering payment details after your course choice and applicant details are collected via an in-built questionnnaire
  • The following email notifications are sent:
What is sentWhen is it sentWhat does it contain
1. Payment confirmation Is sent instantaneously following submission of your online application
  • This is a receipt for your payment and includes payment date, order number and course title
  • Confirmation of your place on your chosen course will follow later
2. Enrolment confirmation Is sent within 10 working daysPlease treat your payment confirmation as confirmation that your applicant details and payment have been received
  • Re-confirms your course choice
  • Shows your course's term dates
  • Confirms the day and time of your course
3. Programme information Is usually sent on Friday late afternoon the week before term starts
  • Contains joining instructions for your course, incl. tutor contact details
If you need further help with the above information please ring 020 7594 8756

Any Questions?

Questions regarding the content and teaching of this course should be sent to the tutor for this class, Dr Matthew Rowe,