78. Freedom Through Art: Alain Locke

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The aesthetics of Alain Locke and its basis in his theory of value judgments.



Further Reading

• J.A. Carter, African American Contributions to the Americas’ Cultures: a Critical Edition of Lectures by Alain Locke (New York: 2016).

• C. Molesworth (ed.), The Works of Alain Locke (Oxford: 2012).


• C. Eze, The Dilemma of Ethnic Identity: Alain Locke’s Vision of Transcultural Societies (New York: 2005).

• L. Harris (ed.), The Philosophy of Alain Locke: Harlem Renaissance and Beyond (Philadelphia: 1989).

• L. Harris, “Alain Locke and Community,” Journal of Ethics 1 (1997), 239-47.

• L. Harris and C. Molesworth, Alain L. Locke: the Biography of a Philosopher (Chicago: 2008).

• Y. Ochillo, “The Race-Consciousness of Alain Locke,”  Phylon 47 (1986), 173-81.

• J.C. Stewart, The New Negro: The Life of Alain Locke (Oxford: 2018).

• N.W. Williams, “Absolutism, Relativism and Anarchy: Alain Locke and William James on Value Pluralism,” Transactions of the Charles S. Peirce Society 53 (2017), 400-24.

Stanford Encyclopedia: Alain LeRoy Locke


Alexander Johnson on 26 June 2021

We Can, But Should We?

You covered in here that Alain Locke said we could work to cultivate our appreciation to arts we don't already like, and can work to convince others to do so, but I'm not sure in his account why we should or would do so.  Is he just arguing that we should or would do so because it is better to have as wide of a sense of aesthetic appreciation as possible?  or is there some kind of sense that appreciating a wider range of beautiful things means we more closely appreciate beauty?

In reply to by Alexander Johnson

Peter Adamson on 26 June 2021

Imperative towards beauty

I think probably both of those are right. Bear in mind this is part of a wider value theory and for Locke values are intrinsically, well, valuable. So I believe he would say that cultivating one's aesthetic sense is worth doing simply because of the internal value of aesthetic experience - if you can have a wider, deeper, more subtle etc sense of beauty then why would you not want to do that? This does not rule out though that there could also be socio-political benefits, like reaching across group boundaries to achieve unity between peoples for example. But unlike Du Bois he would resist the idea that aesthetic experience is somehow rendered pointless if it lacks that political payoff. To put it another way he does not think that improving one's aesthetic sense has to be justified in terms of some non-aesthetic criterion. And the same would go for other values like morality or religious feeling.

Xaratustrah on 7 January 2022

Locke's Aesthetics and Cosmopolitanism

Hi Chike and Peter,

do you have a good citation for Locke's ideas on cosmopolitanism? also, which one of his texts would you recommend on his aesthetics?


In reply to by Xaratustrah

Peter Adamson on 8 January 2022

Alain Locke

For his academic philosophical work on aesthetics I would go with "Values and Imperatives" which is included in Molesworth, The Works of Alain Locke, at 452-64. For his debate with Du Bois check out L. Harris, “The Great Debate: W.E.B. Du Bois vs. Alain Locke on the Aesthetic,” Philosophia Africana 7 (2004), 15-39.

For cosmopolitanism you could look at the studies of Prof Harris: L. Harris, “Alain Locke’s Atavism,” Transactions of the Charles S. Peirce Society 24 (1988), 65-83; L. Harris, “Alain Locke and Community,” Journal of Ethics 1 (1997), 239-47.


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