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Beauty and Morality

by Ishita Shukla
(Hyderabad, India)


No, I am not talking about ‘inner beauty’ that should flourish in our society but rather the ‘superficial beauty’ that does flourish in our society. St. Thomas Aquinas, in his Magnus opus, the Summa Theologica, Aquinas describes beauty as “that which gives pleasure when seen.” Therefore, according to his thinking, beauty serves as a function to determine what provides pleasure and what does not. So you might think that these notions are a part of Greek mythology and should not hold true in today’s contemporary world.

Turns out that’s not the case. This mental picture is imbibed so well in our minds that we have stopped taking a look at them.

The issue of the relationship between goodness and beauty has not been limited to philosophical discussions in ancient times; people can have their own experiences of this in daily life. Imagine the following scenario: An elderly man falls over the curb of a street, and a young girl passing by immediately runs to him and attempts to help. If you witnessed this, you would probably be impressed by the kindness of the girl’s deed, and it may also occur to you that this girl has a beautiful heart.

During this time, you experience two different processes: You make a moral judgment regarding the goodness of the girl’s behavior; you make an aesthetic judgment regarding the moral beauty of the girl’s heart. These two judgments are based on the same scene, and both produce positive feelings. This concept is becoming more and more common in the modern world because beauty has attained thousands of meanings for thousand of different eyes. So we see that morality and beauty have been going hand-in-hand since ancient Greek times. As a result, association so deeply entrenched in our philosophy that it continues to be revisited at every period of our philosophical development.


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