Volume 10, Issue 2, Fall 2021
Adam Smith on Beauty, Utility, and the Problem of Disinterested Pleasure
The large extent to which aesthetic terms pervade Adam Smith’s discussion of ethics would seem to suggest, in the least, that the spheres of aesthetics and ethics are interwoven in a way hardly possible to conceive in the wake of Kant. Despite this recognized closeness between the two areas, one account in the literature has claimed that Smith’s understanding of beauty anticipates Kant’s modern notion of disinterested pleasure. It is claimed that according to Smith, disinterested pleasure is aroused by the harmony of our moral sentiments as well as by the beauty of “productions of art.” By analyzing the relation of beauty to utility in Smith’s aesthetics and ethics, I will be arguing against the attribution to Smith of a specifically disinterested pleasure in our judgments of the beauty of the productions of art, as well as in the beauty of moral objects, such as virtuous character and conduct.