Freedom, Harmony & Moral Beauty

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Why are moral actions beautiful, when indeed they are? This paper assesses the view, found most notably in Schiller, that moral actions are beautiful just when they present the appearance of freedom by appearing to be the result of internal harmony (the Schillerian Internal Harmony Thesis). I argue that while this thesis can accommodate some of the beauty involved in contrasts of the ‘continent’ and the ‘fully’ virtuous, it cannot account for all of the beauty in such contrasts, and so needs to be weakened considerably (to the Internal Harmony Thesis). To account for the remaining beauty that cannot be fully accommodated even by this revised thesis, as well as the beauty contained in contrasts that involve agents who experience internal conflict as a result of being sensitive to different sources of moral value to an appropriate extent, a number of further theses need to be posited: namely, that the beauty of some moral actions is to be accommodated in terms of internal disharmony (the Internal Disharmony Thesis), and in terms of a felt harmony between the appreciator of the action and the executor of the action (the Affective Harmony Thesis). As such, in contrast to Schiller, I suggest that we need to take a pluralist and context-sensitive approach to accommodating the beauty of moral actions.

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Ryan P. Doran
Universitat de Barcelona


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