US philosopher Mark Johnson to deliver Wendy Michener Lecture


Philosopher Mark Johnson, Knight Professor of Liberal Arts & Sciences at the University of Oregon, will give the annual Wendy Michener Lecture at York University on Feb. 3.

His address, titled “The Aesthetic Roots of Human Meaning”, will look at the concept of embodied knowledge and the critical role of the arts in shaping and expressing how we experience and understand the world around us.

Right: Mark Johnson

“Our remarkable human capacity to create and experience meaning is grounded in our bodily engagement with our environment,” says Johnson. “Aesthetics is not just about art, but more broadly about the role of patterns, qualities, images, feelings and emotions in how we make meaning.”

Johnson’s groundbreaking research has led him to embrace the view of American philosopher, psychologist, educator and social critic John Dewey (1859-1952) that “aesthetics concerns every dimension of our experience and understanding that gives form, significance and value to our lives.”

“As Dewey argued, the arts are our exemplary forms of meaning-making,” Johnson says. “They can help us experience the possibilities for meaning that are present in our world.”

In his talk, Johnson will draw on ideas central to his latest book, The Meaning of the Body: Aesthetics of Human Understanding (University of Chicago Press, 2007), which develops connections between cognitive neuroscience and Dewey’s work to explore the bodily basis of meaning. Johnson’s long-time collaborator, George Lakoff, a professor of cognitive linguistics at the University of California, Berkeley, noted, “Mark Johnson demonstrates that the aesthetic and emotional aspects of meaning are fundamental – central to conceptual meaning and reason. If you were raised with the idea that art and emotion were external to ideas and reason, you must read this book.”

Johnson is an internationally renowned theorist in the areas of embodied meaning and knowledge, cognitive science and cognitive linguistics, ethics and the aesthetic dimensions of experience, meaning and action. His numerous, influential publications include The Moral Imagination (University of Chicago Press, 1993), Metaphors We Live By (University of Chicago Press, 1990) and Philosophy in the Flesh: The Embodied Mind and Its Challenge to Western Thought (Perseus, 1999), co-authored with Lakoff.

Johnson’s presentation takes place Thursday, Feb. 3 at 7pm. in the Sandra Faire & Ivan Fecan Theatre, Accolade East Building on York’s Keele campus. The talk will be followed by an audience Q & A and a reception. The event is open to the public, and admission is free. This year’s Wendy Michener Lecture is co-sponsored by the Faculty of Fine Arts and the Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies.

The Wendy Michener Lecture, named in honour of a Canadian arts critic and journalist, was established in the Faculty of Fine Arts at York University in 1986 to provide a forum for discussion of crucial issues and developments in culture and the arts.