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Did any philosopher argue that beauty is a basic human need?

By "beauty" (pulchritudo) I mean, as St. Thomas Aquinas defines it ([II-II q. 145 a. 2][4] co.), that which

results from the concurrence of clarity and due proportion.
concurrit et claritas et debita proportio

[Maslow’s hierarchy of human needs][5] doesn't include truth and beauty.


Something beautiful is ordered ("due proportion" in St. Thomas definition).

Order is a basic human need, because (Return to Order ch. 15):

Order: The First Need of the Soul

     Order is that state of things where everything functions according to its nature and end. When everything is doing what it is supposed to be doing, there is order “because nature is a cause of order” and “whatever does not possess order is not according to nature” (Saint Thomas Aquinas, In Physic., lib. 8, lect. 3, n. 3).
     Order stems from the principles of natural law by which we orient ourselves. Everyone needs some semblance of order to function properly. It is a primary need from which we get our bearings, as with a compass.
     As Russell Kirk states, “Order is the first need of the soul” (Kirk, Roots of American Order, 6). This same necessity of order can be affirmed about society: it is also the first need of the nation lest society decay into chaos. Freedom, justice, law, or virtue are all very important, but order is the first and most basic need. A return to order is thus a return to the principles of natural law.

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    Not per se. What is necessary for survival tends to be attractive. Beauty is not necessary, but it is a natural mean to promote attraction.
    – RodolfoAP
    Commented Feb 8, 2022 at 11:15
  • why did two people bother to down vote a deleted answer on such a poor question?
    – user57755
    Commented Feb 8, 2022 at 22:35
  • @vqlk What's wrong with the question?
    – Geremia
    Commented Feb 8, 2022 at 22:41
  • as I explained in my answer, you would need to say what you think beauty is, surely @Geremia
    – user57755
    Commented Feb 8, 2022 at 22:44
  • @vqlk I added a definition of beauty.
    – Geremia
    Commented Feb 8, 2022 at 22:58

1 Answer 1

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Aesthetics is the branch of philosophy that deals with the nature of beauty and taste, as well as the philosophy of art. It examines aesthetic values, often expressed through judgments of taste. And so the area that considers beauty.

Aristotle's major work in the area is his Poetics. He framed arts as 'mimesis', the making of representations, and related gaining artistic skills and ability to appreciate things. So, you can say he links understanding of beauty to skillfulness. Is skillfulness a basic human need? Evolutionarily, it is. When times are tough, selection pressures are applied, being able to do things necessary to life and raising the next generation in ways that don't waste energy and resources but get us to our objectives, will be decisive. But what is skillful is dynamic, contextual, and knowing it relates to experience and education.

"Beauty, which is what is meant by art, using the word in its widest sense, is, I contend, no mere accident to human life, which people can take or leave as they choose, but a positive necessity of life."

"Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful."

-both quotes from The Beauty of Life (1880), by William Morris.

William Morris was not considered a philosopher, and The Arts & Crafts Movement is not considered a philosophy. But:

Etiquette & aesthetics are largely out of fashion, but they are major shapers of society, that can reach far more people than philosophy, if there is a way for them to permeate a society. Rites, festivals celebrations, even spectacle, have been underecognised backbones of religions, which Durkheim drew attention to. Personally I think we need to rediscover this aspect of philosophy, and the conscious shaping of cultural life.

From my answer here: Why is Confucuanism considered a brilliant school of thought?

The Arts And Crafts Movement was all about resisting the impacts mass-production were having, while making beautiful things accessible and affordable to ordinary people.

I look to the aesthetic perspectives of Sen-no-rikyu for my inspiration, who helped define wabi-sabi, and to create the distinctively Japanese take on tea ceremonies. He looked not to beauty, but to manifesting the Buddhist 'Three Marks of Existence', impermanence (aniccā), non-self (anattā) and unsatisfactoriness or suffering (duḥkha), through accepting that the impermanent imperfect and incomplete, are present in all things.

We don't want things because they are good, what we want we call good. Our understanding of it expresses who we are. So with beauty, it can express our whole appreciation of life, and that is why aesthetics should still be understood as properly part of philosophy.

"There is no excellent beauty that hath not some strangeness in the proportion." -Francis Bacon, in "Of Beauty" in Essays (1625).

What we find good, and beautiful, and skillful, can be used to reach beyond ourselves, and our time, as evolution works through our desires to select how we will evolve. Through deeper and more subtle appreciation of beauty, we can become deeper and more subtle beings.

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  • Aristotle "links understanding of beauty to skillfulness. Is skillfulness a basic human need? Evolutionarily, it is." What philosopher made this conclusion?
    – Geremia
    Commented Feb 9, 2022 at 17:53
  • @Geremia: It is in the definitions of the words. At a population level, on average, more skillfulness will lead to greater reproductive success
    – CriglCragl
    Commented Nov 4, 2022 at 20:35

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