Is it the content or the source of an obligation that determines whether it is moral or aesthetic?

Consider the following statement reflecting a perceived obligation: "I must save the beautiful painting from the burning art gallery". Suppose the reason for this obligation arising is moral, e.g., the joy which spectators experience from observing the painting is intrinsically good, and therefore it should be saved for it to continue as a source of joy and thus good.

Is this obligation to save the painting then a moral obligation (on account of the source of the obligation) or an aesthetic obligation (on account of the contents of the obligation - to save a painting, an aesthetic object)?

  • nice question, thanks. i would call it a moral obligation, but don't have much to add beyond that
    – user62233
    Commented Aug 24, 2022 at 21:20
  • well, we could then ask, what is the source of a moral obligation? Is the source of a moral obligation moral? It gets a bit messy.
    – Natasha
    Commented Aug 24, 2022 at 22:09
  • There's a good deal of ambiguity/ambivalence, here, but you are asking a good question (I'm not accusing you of ambiguity, since you clearly disambiguate the terms of your question). For example, then: sometimes in moral philosophy, we treat any use of terms like "obligation," "should," "norm," etc. as having moral force; other times we speak of instrumental vs. moral, but either way still practical, reasoning. Sometimes we even separate "moral" from "ethical," which is harder to justify even on linguistic grounds. Commented Aug 24, 2022 at 22:20
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    Moral is not subjective. You are not obligated nor is all humans obligated to save the beautiful painting. So of it is not moral we can rule that out.
    – Logikal
    Commented Aug 24, 2022 at 22:41
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    The nature of obligation is determined by its content, but the content here is moral, not aesthetic, to save an item of value to others (or of "intrinsic" value). That the value happens to be aesthetic in this case is incidental. It would make little difference to the nature of the obligation if the item was instead a religious relic or a marvel of engineering. There is an influential view that aesthetic obligations do not exist at all, the obligatory force always derives from morality, see Kubala, Aesthetic obligations.
    – Conifold
    Commented Aug 25, 2022 at 10:28

1 Answer 1


The aesthetic value of an object is the value it possesses in virtue of its capacity to provide aesthetic gratification (Beardsley 1982)


So, in your example, you are being motivated by its aesthetic value, at least in some senses as it is conceived. Does that mean we are not also motivated by utility or duty, etc.? If so, then prima facie, if we are motivated by duty we are only motivated by duty. Which sounds wrong, even if it isn't

Many critics of Kant have thought that Kant is committed to the view that a good will is only motivated by duty

So I would start there.

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