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Level 7, Napier Building
North Terrace Campus
The University of Adelaide
SA 5005 Australia

Email: School of Humanities
Phone: +61 8 8313 4249
Facsimile: +61 8 8303 4341

Aesthetics at Adelaide

Associate Professor Jenny McMahon employs examples of art in an explanatory role in philosophical argument.  Artists interviewed and whose working methods are drawn upon include: Olafur Eliasson (Berlin), Daniel von Sturmer (Melbourne), Claire Healy and Sean Cordeiro (Sydney/Berlin), Mischa Kuball (Dusseldorf) and Doris Salcedo (Bogota).  McMahon welcomes research students who are interested in adopting this novel approach to philosophical argumentation.  McMahon’s interview with Eliasson is here.

McMahon publishes at the interface of aesthetics and meta-ethical theory. She argues that Kant’s Critique of Judgment is widely misunderstood by analytical philosophers of art. The misinterpretation is based on a false dilemma between relativism and empirical objective standards. A number of pragmatist-oriented ethical theories provide models of a third alternative derived from Kant’s aesthetic theory. McMahon explores this alternative in Art and Ethics in a MaterialWorld: Kant’s Pragmatist Legacy (New York and London: Routledge), 2013.

McMahon’s entry on “beauty” in Oxford Bibliographies online runs over 17,000 words and presents critical summaries on 21 topics, which each include 8 annotated references, totalling approximately 166 annotated references. The login page and her introduction to the entry are here.

Olafur Eliasson, The weather project, 2003. 
Monofrequency lights, projection foil, haze machines, mirror foil, aluminium,
and scaffolding. 26.7 m x 22.3 m x 155.4 m.
Installation in Turbine Hall, Tate Modern, London
Photo: Jens Ziehe
Courtesy the artist: neugerriemschneider, Berlin; and Tanya Bonakdar
Gallery, New York
© Olafur Eliasson 2003

McMahon gives various invited talks including most recently to the Victorian College of the Arts, The Adelaide Festival of Arts and the Art Gallery of South Australia.  McMahon was interviewed on Books and Arts Daily, ABC Radio on 6th March 2012 on the nature of art and beauty, available here. For other recent publications see her home page:

McMahon runs reading groups in Aesthetics and Pragmatism; and supervises post-graduate and honours students on a range of topics, including at present:

  • The evaluative component of art historical classification
  • The ideal norms of communication as a basis for ethical standards: finding a precursor in Dewey’s concept of community
  • Attitudes and representations: the meaning of music and landscape architecture
  • Philosophical Pessimism
  • Freedom and normative constraint in art


Philosophy is hosting a symposium, Art History & Philosophy, at the 2010 conference of the Art Association of Australia & New Zealand (Adelaide, December 1-4). Our symposium is on Friday December 3rd. We have been inspired by the round tables organised by James Elkins in Cork, Ireland and Chicago which aimed to create a dialogue between art historians and philosophers.

Speakers include: John McDonald (Art Critic, Sydney Morning Herald), Craig Taylor (Flinders, Philosophy), Christopher Allen (Art Critic, The Australian), John Armstrong (Melbourne, Philosophy), Jolanta Nowak (Melbourne, Art History) and Jenny McMahon (Adelaide, Philosophy).

For conference details see