Volume 36, Issue 1, January 2020
Is Art a Virtue?
In several articles, Peter Goldie argues that artistic production and appreciation should enjoy the status of full-fledged virtues. In this paper, I draw on the Summa Theologiae of Thomas Aquinas to provide a more nuanced account of artistic or aesthetic virtue. First, I raise some objections to Goldie’s account. Next, I show that, unlike Goldie, Aquinas distinguishes between virtue “properly so called” and virtue in a more restricted sense, and he calls art a virtue only in the restricted sense. In other words, art is a true human excellence, but is not (as Goldie claims) intimately connected to human flourishing in the way that the moral virtues are. Next, I show that there is room in Aquinas’s account for Goldie’s claims that art is done not as a means to another end but rather “under the guise of the good.” Finally, I consider some other ways to understand Goldie’s intuition and affirm that there might be an intimate connection between artistic practice and some kinds of moral virtue.