Some might argue that our attitudes towards nudity are simply cultural trappings. I believe they actually have a deeper biological origin.

But I'm curious to know what philosophers have said on the subject. Are you aware of any philosophers who have either pronounced public nudity good or bad or, even better, who have explained why people should wear clothes?

  • 1
    On your favorite search engine, use search term “philosophers nudity “. A whole array of websites appear, including “Erotic art” from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (no less) and “Gymnosophists” from Wikipedia. Mar 11 '19 at 21:50
  • 1
    Isn't the biological utility a bit obvious, even aside from the reduction in sex-motivated distractions (e.g. hygiene and protection from the elements)? This said, even Wikipedia has an article on philosophy of naturism/nudism.
    – Conifold
    Mar 11 '19 at 21:59
  • 2
    yeah, the topic of the naked human form has been discussed ad nauseam. Why do ancient greek statues depict such small penises? Why did the victorians love fig leaves? and so on.
    – Richard
    Mar 11 '19 at 22:26
  • "Are you aware of any philosophers who have either pronounced public nudity good or bad or, even better, who have explained why people should wear clothes?" This question asks about anything related to a topic, including for contrary positions, which makes it way to broad for the Stack Exchange format. May 12 '19 at 4:12
  • @Conifold To note, that section has been removed from that article in Feb. 2020 because that article were “too long” in the user “SunCrow”’s opinion. The article seems to be mainly authored by a few people. You can find last version with that section still present here: en.wikipedia.org/w/… The section touches on the concepts naturists themselves subscribe to and lists personal involvement of notable writers, but the philosophical depth is rather limited. Feb 21 at 17:57

Scottish philosopher, Thomas Carlyle (1795-1881), authored Sartor Resartus (the tailor re-tailored), published in 1836, which roughly begins with a discussion of the 'naked savage' and subsequently presents a sort of hilarious tongue-in-cheek history or 'philosophy' -- of clothing. What I got from it essentially is that 'the naked truth' holds up the mirror that reflects deception back onto the 'prince of lies'.

Sartor Resartus was intended to be a new kind of book: simultaneously factual and fictional, serious and satirical, speculative and historical. It ironically commented on its own formal structure, while forcing the reader to confront the problem of where "truth" is to be found. In this respect it develops techniques used much earlier in Tristram Shandy, to which it refers. The imaginary "Philosophy of Clothes" holds that meaning is to be derived from phenomena, continually shifting over history, as cultures reconstruct themselves in changing fashions, power-structures, and faith-systems. The book contains a very Fichtean conception of religious conversion: based not on the acceptance of God but on the absolute freedom of the will to reject evil, and to construct meaning. This has led some writers to see Sartor Resartus as an early existentialist text.

The work is, in part, a parody of Hegel, and of German Idealism more generally. However, Teufelsdröckh is also a literary device with which Carlyle can express difficult truths.

Although nudity and the various fashions intended to hide it are mainly symbolic in this book, the author was very philosophical in his use of it as subject matter for creating much deeper meaning. I found it quite thought-provoking, and I hope others might enjoy it as well.

Sartor Resartus, by Thomas Carlyle (1836)


Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.