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Are moral people beautiful?

  1. Aug 14, 2006 #1
    This is a very deep question for me and I have trouble confronting it, so I apologize if I make it sound difficult or confusing.

    I don't see beauty as something static and I never really have. Beautiful people, places, and things are always in some kind of motion, whether explicit or implicit. By implicit motion, I mean that static media, like paintings, will suggest something beautiful if they provoke me into imagining some motion or force as part of the aesthetic experience (e.g. someone snuggling up into a chair next to a fire with snow falling outside has plenty of motions in it).

    I don't find still photographs or portraits of people very attractive, even if the person is a supermodel, unless there is some kind of movement, however subtle. Perhaps they are about to smile, or they are in the middle of moving their muscles to smile, or they are thinking of something and just moved their eyes and changed their facial expression, etc. Think Mona Lisa without the ambiguity.

    I'm impressed by martial arts choreography, dance, and even the way some people run or walk. There was this one girl on the track team who ran hurdles like a gazelle. I just couldn't keep my eyes... well, nevermind. :redface:

    Anyway, there's something about a beautiful person to me that communicates action. Beauty is a verb. Like morality, it seems to me like something a person does. Are good actions beautiful? Are beautiful actions good? I have trouble telling the difference. After all, what is the indicator of a moral person? It's the age old question.

    Could morality be dynamic beauty? As opposed to static?

    I only feel capable of perceiving the former kind of beauty. Since I am forced to create some dynamism in my imagination, the best static media can do for me is suggest something beautiful and not actually be it. On one hand, I feel like my ability to answer the question above objectively has been compromised. I am left with the possibility of situations where I would see the morality of a person in my imagination, such as when looking at a photograph of someone helping an injured person, instead of through a logical or conceptual argument. But on the other hand, perhaps I am not compromised, and I am viewing things correctly?

    If someone's face is beautiful, it appears to me that they have "done something" to make it beautiful. Instead of appearing to me like it's beautiful by nature, it appears beautiful by choice. There's something about the way they create facial expressions, the way muscles contract around their eyes, and the incredibly subtle movements of their mouth when they speak (or don't speak), the quick physical process of looking at something, all seems deeply revealing to me. It seems revealing of some emotions or behavior that are moral.

    Do I find nature beautiful? Sure, at times. However, when it comes to humans, I can't seem to distinguish between morality and beauty. This would be extremely bad, I'd think, if I had the same standards of beauty as popular culture, but I don't. Beauty seems inextricably linked to essentially human action through gracefulness.

    The Christian tradition also calls "grace" the gift that God gives us when we choose to follow Him, or something or other. I wonder if this idea of morality as beautiful action has been popular before.

    What do you think?
    Last edited: Aug 14, 2006
  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 14, 2006 #2
    If morality is absolute, and beauty the idealized absolute form of perfection, then yes, perfect morality is beauty.
  4. Aug 14, 2006 #3
    I may have missed your point with this reply, but here goes..

    There have been done studies about a persons appearance and how people react to them, apparently we find beautiful people more trustworthy and all around "better."

    Also, it seems to me that yes, there is an inherent beauty in gracefulness, such as a sister sharing her candy with her brother.
    And if a persons face is beautiful, then maybe that reflects her inner state? Maybe it's natures way of telling us that this person can be trusted, can be attracted to etc.

    I am however a little bit confused about the whole morality issue.

    I agree with large sections of your post, but I am a bit fuzzy about the whole issue as I've never thought this through.
  5. Aug 14, 2006 #4
    Yeah, I know of a study where people looked at the faces of innocent people in a mock criminal lineup to determine which were more trustworthy, and they picked people with more "baby face" features. But I can't understand how people can participate in that experiment in the first place. I can't fathom looking at a standing expressionless snapshot of a person and making any kind of value judgment, be it on beauty or morality.
    This is what I am thinking too. It's the changeable features that I feel affected by. For example, I don't necessarily consider high cheekbones attractive. They never move, so their position on the face relative to other features of the face that don't move is inconsequential. I've always liked to look beyond that sort of thing.

    If someone exercises, though, their cheekbones may be less obscured by fat and have a "natural definition," a changeable feature. Their definition by the motions of the skin stand out much more than their location.

    Some facial muscles are known to only activate if neural signal travels through the hippocampus. The classic example is the fake smile vs. the genuine smile. A fake smile will only move the mouth muscles, but a genuine smile that shows an emotion also moves some of the eye muscles. So there are empirically more honest expressions. I think there are many more facial movements like that, that betray authentic vs. fake emotions. But I can't analyze it while it's happening.

    It's so fast and subconscious, and I have no means to reflect on it rationally. Not matter how much I think I can discard unchangeable features in an aesthetic value judgment, making a moral value judgment on a person's beauty without a hint of logic seems so... risky!
    Last edited: Aug 14, 2006
  6. Aug 21, 2006 #5
    You take a picture of a man jumping to his death off a bridge--is the picture a thing of beauty ? IMO, beauty and motion are independent. The shape of the circle is beautiful.
  7. Aug 22, 2006 #6
    What? No! That is both immoral and ugly. That's what I'm talking about, actually.

    Aside from the fact that a circle is a shape, it also inspires motion. Without the circle, there would be no clear observation of circular motion, and therefore no wheels, practically no technology, and little beauty of the modern world. If the circle was mutually exclusive from motion, it would have no beauty whatsoever to me. In fact, I would scarcely think that I could observe it.

    Would you find any beauty in a static universe where the only observable is a shape?
  8. Aug 22, 2006 #7


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    Staff: Mentor

    Reading the OP, I was wondering about the statement - "I can't seem to distinguish between morality and beauty".

    How does one define beauty? Is it a physical attribute meaning that one's appearance is beautiful such that it brings pleasure to the beholder, or does beauty refer to a spiritual attribute, i.e. one's act or behavior causes a sense of appreciate or gratitude from the beholder?

    I am also wondering about the term 'grace', which according to Merriam-Webster has the following etymology: Middle English, from Anglo-French, from Latin gratia favor, charm, thanks, from gratus pleasing, grateful; akin to Sanskrit grnAti he praises.
  9. Aug 22, 2006 #8
    I'm still sort of exploring the definition, as one does in philosophy, but beauty here is a timed phenomenon. It is action or motion that is worthwhile or positive regarding some sense of general value. But that also seems like what morality is. In terms of value, moral actions should be worth doing, but so should beautiful actions. Does that make sense?
  10. Aug 22, 2006 #9


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    Yes that does make sense. Actions have a defined time, although some actions are fleeting/transitory (doing a good deed), while others are of longer duration (e.g. a quest). So one could hypothetically behave in a moral way in one action but not another, but that would also be somewhat contradictory, or at least inconsistent.

    Morality is not so much an action as it is behavior or attitude, which perhaps guides or coincides with an action or actions.

    Interestingly, I just started reading a book on morality, and I was thinking of starting a thread about it, since it explores the meaning of morality at the beginning.
  11. Aug 25, 2006 #10
    Rade's comment reminded of Gustave Dore's illustration of Dante's description of the 9th sphere of heaven in The Divine Comedy.

    At first it is almost entirely boring and plain to me. I do not see much substance until I recognize that the angels are flying. They are clearly not meant to be seen as stationary and immobile.

    The center of the circle, however, is meant to be seen as fixed. But even here, with a little intellectual help from Dante, I recognize it is meant to be seen as the unmoved mover. So even the abstract center of a circle can be seen as the source of all motion.

    Not coincidentally, I think, it is meant to play both the source of morality and beauty.

    Attached Files:

  12. Aug 26, 2006 #11
    Yes, I would agree--the abstract circle, an abstract perfection of mathematics, could serve as source of perceived perfection of morality and beauty, an "ideal" limit as a goal never attained--but it seems to me only if your philosophy allows for absolute morality and beauty.
  13. Sep 20, 2006 #12
    This is a really good thread. I did enjoy reading this. Thanks to everyone who contributed to this, and the thread starter.
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