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The aesthetic expression of moral character. Moral beauty in the eighteenth century

Plato, Levno (2013) The aesthetic expression of moral character. Moral beauty in the eighteenth century. PhD thesis, University of Leeds.

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Moral beauty is the beauty of a person’s character. Generosity, for instance, is morally beautiful. Since antiquity and especially during the eighteenth century the notion of moral beauty was commonplace in aesthetic and moral theory. Today we tend to think that talk of moral beauty is merely metaphorical. A literal meaning of moral beauty involves the danger that the attractiveness of beauty leads us to make moral judgments that are biased by the mere physical appearance of a person that is not necessarily morally relevant. In this thesis I assess the most influential eighteenth century conceptions of moral beauty. I recognize that the unqualified use of the term ‘beauty’ in these theories might support the cautionary dismissal of moral beauty as a mere metaphor. Yet, I argue that by meeting two conditions it is possible to defend a literal conception of moral beauty that can be taken seriously by current research on the interaction between aesthetic and moral values. First, we need an account of why moral beauty and non-moral physical beauty are distinct kinds of beauty. Second, we need an account of how moral beauty can be expressive of moral virtue without identifying one with the other. Meeting these conditions avoids conflating moral beauty with non-moral beauty and/or with moral virtue. The morally relevant kind of beauty is thereby distinguished from the morally irrelevant kind of beauty. This allows for a safe literal conception of moral beauty that helps justify many of our moral judgments based on aesthetic value. I argue that while Shaftesbury, Hutcheson, Hume, and Reid meet the first condition, only Kant and Schiller meet both conditions. I also argue that these philosophers’ literal conception of moral beauty reveals that judgments of beauty and moral judgments are, according to their theories, based on the same normative principles.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
ISBN: 978-0-85731-829-9
Related URLs:
Academic Units: The University of Leeds > Faculty of Arts, Humanities and Cultures (Leeds) > School of Philosophy, Religion and the History of Science
Depositing User: Repository Administrator
Date Deposited: 11 Sep 2014 14:47
Last Modified: 25 Feb 2020 13:23
URI: http://etheses.whiterose.ac.uk/id/eprint/6872

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