Is It Bad to Prefer Attractive Partners?

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Philosophers have rightly condemned lookism—that is, discrimination in favor of attractive people or against unattractive people—in education, the justice system, the workplace and elsewhere. Surprisingly, however, the almost universal preference for attractive romantic and sexual partners has rarely received serious ethical scrutiny. On its face, it’s unclear whether this is a form of discrimination we should reject or tolerate. I consider arguments for both views. On the one hand, a strong case can be made that preferring attractive partners is bad. The idea is that choosing partners based on looks seems essentially similar to other objectionable forms of discrimination. (In particular, the preference for attractive partners is arguably both unfair and harmful to a significant degree.) One can try to resist this conclusion in several ways. I consider three possible replies. The first has to do with the possibility of controlling our partner preferences. The second pertains to attractiveness and “good genes”. The last attempts to link certain aspects of attractiveness to a prospective partner’s personality and values. I argue that the first two replies fail conclusively, while the third only amounts to a limited defense of a particular kind of attractiveness preference. So the idea that we should often avoid preferring attractive partners is compelling.
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Archival date: 2022-01-17
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