Beauty vs Morality

Is art bound by ethical constraints?

It is tempting to think of beauty as being morally neutral. From an awe-inspiring sunset to a striking portrait, thinkers have often sought to categorise beauty as existing in its own unique space, offering artists the freedom to create without constraints. However, this is not always the case, as the beauty of an artwork is often contingent on its moral features, argues Noël Carroll.


With respect to evaluating art, are questions of morality categorically irrelevant when it comes to beauty?  A thing of beauty, it might be said, is beyond good and evil.  For most of the Western tradition, this idea would have been an outlier.  In the Classical and Christian epochs, beauty was treated primarily as a means of teaching virtue.  And even puritanical dissenters connected beauty to morality, albeit negatively.

But in the eighteenth century, seeds were sown that flourished in the nineteenth century, heralded by slogans like “art for art’s sake

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