John Ruskin once wrote: “Seek not the nobleness of the man and hence the nobleness of the delights, seek the nobleness of the delights and hence the nobleness of the man.” Is there a consensus on this? Does moral goodness automatically derive from sound aesthetic judgment, or is it possible to be virtuous person and still like reality television? --Patrick Tucker

I suspect that there is near universal agreement on one thing, namely that 'moral goodness' does not automatically derive from sound aesthetic judgement. As Kant (with uncharacteristic wit) puts it: "virtuosi of taste, who not just often but apparently as a matter of habit, are vain, obstinate, and given to ruinous passions, can perhaps still less than others claim the distinction of being attached to moral principles" (Critique of Judgement, par. 42).

Much more controversial is whether what you call sound aesthetic taste might have some less direct relation to or influence upon moral behaviour. But in order to answer the question, we would first need a good, solid definition of its key terms: 'sound aesthetic judgement' and 'moral goodness', and you could hardly have picked two more debated ideas! Let me suggest just two possible ways of approaching the question in order to illustrate something of the variety:

First, might some forms of art (particularly narratives in novels or plays) be morally edifying; that is, help to educate our 'moral intelligence'? Aristotle seemed to believe so, in the Poetics. More recently, philosophers such as Martha Nussbaum have pursued such ideas.

Second, one might give a social analysis of the origin of moral beliefs and aesthetic attitudes, and suggest that both are closely related to class. That they are correlated does not then mean that one influences the other, except as tokens of class identification, but rather that both stem from underlying social and economic conditions.

A word about the Ruskin quote: are we sure that he would have meant 'nobility' in the specific and rather narrow senses you suggest?

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