The Aesthetic Expression of Moral Character

Moral Beauty in the Eighteenth Century

Can a person be morally beautiful? Can a character trait, such as honesty, be beautiful and sneakiness ugly or disgusting? Or are such expressions merely metaphorical? Talk of moral beauty has been commonplace since antiquity; and especially 18th-century philosophers used the notion. Yet, a literal meaning quickly leads to Moral judgements based on mere physical appearance, as physiognomists such as Lavater have endorsed. This book assesses influential 18th-century theories of moral beauty and proposes two conditions for a safe literal conception of moral beauty that not only helps justify many moral judgements based on aesthetic Quality but also shows how beauty and moral virtue can be based on the same principles. First, we need an account of why moral beauty and non-moral physical beauty are distinct kinds of beauty; and second, we need an account of how moral beauty can be expressive of moral virtue without identifying the one with the other. The reasons why Shaftesbury, Hutcheson, Hume, and Reid only meet the first condition and why Kant and Schiller meet both conditions are extremely illuminating for current debates on the interactions between aesthetics and moral theory.

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