Front Page Titles (by Subject) SECTION VI: Of the Universality of the Sense of Beauty among Men. - An Inquiry into the Original of Our Ideas of Beauty and Virtue
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SECTION VI: Of the Universality of the Sense of Beauty among Men. - Francis Hutcheson, An Inquiry into the Original of Our Ideas of Beauty and Virtue 
An Inquiry into the Original of Our Ideas of Beauty and Virtue in Two Treatises, ed. Wolfgang Leidhold (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2004).
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Of the Universality of the Sense of Beauty among Men.
Internal Sense not an immediate Source of Pain.I. We before* insinuated, “That all Beauty has a relation to some perceiving Power;” and consequently since we know not ∥1 how great a∥ Variety of Senses ∥2 there∥ may be among Animals, there is no Form in Nature concerning which we can pronounce, “That it has no Beauty;” for it may still please some perceiving Power. But our Inquiry is confin’d to Men; and before we examine the Universality of this Sense of Beauty, or their agreement in approving Uniformity, it may be proper to consider, “∥3 whether∥, as the other Senses which give us Pleasure do also give us Pain, so this Sense of Beauty does make some Objects disagreeable to us, and the occasion of Pain.”
4 That many Objects give no pleasure to our Sense is obvious, many are certainly void of Beauty: But then there is no Form which seems necessarily disagreeable of itself, when we dread no other Evil from it, and compare it with nothing better of the Kind. Many Objects are naturally displeasing, and distasteful to our external Senses, as well as others pleasing and agreeable; as Smells, Tastes, and some separate Sounds: ∥5 but as∥ to our Sense of Beauty, no Composition of Objects which give not unpleasant simple Ideas, seems positively unpleasant or painful of it self, had we never observ’d any thing better of the Kind. Deformity is only the absence of Beauty, or deficiency in the Beauty expected in any Species: Thus bad Musick pleases Rusticks who never heard any better, and the finest Ear is not offended with tuning of Instruments if it be not too tedious, where no Harmony is expected; and yet much smaller Dissonancy shall offend amidst the Performance, where Harmony is expected. A rude Heap of Stones is no way offensive to one who shall be displeas’d with Irregularity in Architecture, where Beauty was expected. And had there been a Species of that Form which we ∥6 call now∥ ugly or deform’d, and had we never seen or expected greater Beauty, we should have receiv’d no disgust from it, altho the Pleasure would not have been so great in this Form as in those we now admire. Our Sense of Beauty seems design’d to give us positive Pleasure, but not ∥7 positive∥ Pain or Disgust, any further than what arises from disappointment.
Approbation and Dislike from Association of Ideas.II. There are indeed many Faces which at first View are apt to raise Dislike; but this is generally not from any ∥8 positive∥ Deformity which of it self is positively displeasing, but either from want of expected Beauty, or much more from their carrying some natural indications of morally bad Dispositions, which we all acquire a Faculty of discerning in Countenances, Airs, and Gestures. That this is not occasion’d by any Form positively disgusting, will appear from this, That if upon long acquaintance we are sure of finding sweetness of Temper, Humanity and Cheerfulness, altho the bodily Form continues, it shall give us no Disgust or Displeasure; whereas ∥9 if any thing was∥ naturally disagreeable, or the occasion of Pain, or positive Distaste, ∥10 it∥ would always continue so, even although the Aversion we might have toward it were counterballanc’d by other Considerations. There are Horrors rais’d by some Objects, which are only the Effect of Fear for our selves, or Compassion ∥11 toward∥ others, when either Reason, or some foolish Association of Ideas, makes us apprehend Danger, and not the Effect of any thing in the Form it self: for we find that most of ∥12 those∥ Objects which excite Horror at first, when Experience or Reason has remov’d the Fear, may become the occasions of Pleasure; as ∥13 ravenous∥ Beasts, a tempestuous Sea, a craggy Precipice, a dark shady Valley.
Associations.III. We shall see* ∥14 hereafter∥, “That Associations of Ideas make Objects pleasant, and delightful, which are not naturally apt to give any such Pleasures; and the same way, the casual Conjunctions of Ideas may give a Disgust, where there is nothing disagreeable in the Form it self.” And this is the occasion of many fantastick Aversions to Figures of some Animals, and to some other Forms: Thus ∥15 Swines∥, Serpents of all Kinds, and some Insects really beautiful enough, are beheld with Aversion by many People, who have got some accidental Ideas associated to them. And for Distastes of this Kind, ∥16 no∥ other Account can be given.
Universality of this Sense.IV. But as to the universal Agreement of Mankind in their Sense of Beauty from Uniformity amidst Variety, we must consult Experience: and as we allow all Men Reason, since all Men are capable of understanding simple Arguments, tho few are capable of complex Demonstrations; so in this Case it must be sufficient to prove this Sense of Beauty universal, “if all Men are better pleas’d with Uniformity in the simpler Instances than the contrary, even when there is no Advantage observ’d attending it; and likewise if all Men, according as their Capacity enlarges, so as to receive and compare more complex Ideas, ∥17 have a greater∥ Delight in Uniformity, and are pleas’d with its more complex Kinds, both Original and Relative.”
Now let us consider if ever any Person was void of this Sense in ∥18 the∥ simpler Instances. Few Trials have been made in the simplest Instances of Harmony, because as soon as we find an Ear ∥19 incapable∥ of relishing complex Compositions, such as our Tunes are, no further Pains are employ’d about such. But in Figures, did ever any Man make choice of a Trapezium, or any irregular Curve, for the Ichnography ∥20 or Plan∥ of his House, without Necessity, or some great Motive of ∥21 Convenience∥? or to make the opposite Walls not parallel, or unequal in Height? Were ever Trapeziums, irregular Polygons or Curves chosen for the Forms of Doors or Windows, tho these Figures might have answer’d the Uses as well, and would have often sav’d a great part of the ∥22 Time, Labour∥ and Expence to Workmen, which is now employ’d in suiting the Stones and Timber to the regular Forms? Among all the fantastick Modes of Dress, none was ever quite void of Uniformity, if it were only in the resemblance of the two Sides of the same Robe, and in some general Aptitude to the human Form. The Pictish Painting had always relative Beauty by resemblance to other Objects, and often those Objects were originally beautiful: however justly we ∥23 might∥ apply Horace’s Censure of impertinent Descriptions in Poetry.
But never were any so extravagant as to affect such Figures as are made by the casual spilling of liquid Colours. Who was ever pleas’d with an inequality of Heights in Windows of the same Range, or dissimilar Shapes of them? with unequal Legs or Arms, ∥24 Eyes∥ or Cheeks in a Mistress? It must ∥25 however be∥ acknowledg’d, “That Interest ∥26 may often∥ counterballance our Sense of Beauty in this Affair as well as in others, and superior good Qualitys may make us overlook such Imperfections.”
Real Beauty alone pleases.V. Nay further, it may perhaps appear, “That Regularity and Uniformity are so copiously diffus’d thro the Universe, and we are so readily determin’d to pursue this as the Foundation of Beauty in Works of Art, that there is scarcely any thing ever fancy’d as Beautiful, where there is not really something of this Uniformity and Regularity.” We are indeed often mistaken in imagining that there is the greatest possible Beauty, where it is but very imperfect; but still it is some degree of Beauty which pleases, altho there may be higher Degrees which we do not observe; and our Sense acts with full Regularity when we are pleas’d, altho we are kept by a false Prejudice from pursuing Objects which would please us more.
27 A Goth, for instance, is mistaken, when from Education he imagines the Architecture of his country to be the most perfect: and a Conjunction of ∥28 some∥ hostile Ideas, may make him have an Aversion to Roman Buildings, and study to demolish them, as some of our Reformers did the Popish Buildings, not being able to separate the Ideas of the superstitious Worship, from the Forms of the Buildings where it was practised: and yet it is still real Beauty which pleases the Goth, founded upon Uniformity amidst Variety. For the Gothick Pillars are uniform to each other, not only in their Sections, which are Lozenge-form’d; but also in their Heights and Ornaments: Their Arches are not one uniform Curve, but yet they are Segments of similar Curves, and generally equal in the same Ranges. The very Indian Buildings have some kind of Uniformity, and many of the Eastern nations, tho they differ much from us, yet have great ∥29 Regularity∥ in their Manner, as well as the Romans in theirs. Our Indian Screens, which wonderfully supply ∥30 the regular Imaginations of our Ladys∥ with Ideas of Deformity, in which Nature is very churlish and sparing, do want indeed all the Beauty arising from Proportion of Parts, and Conformity to Nature; and yet they cannot divest themselves of all Beauty and Uniformity in the separate Parts: And this diversifying the human Body into various Contortions, may give some wild Pleasure from Variety, since some Uniformity to the human Shape is still retain’d.
History pleases in like manner.VI. There is one sort of Beauty which might perhaps have been better mention’d before, but will not be impertinent here, because the Taste or Relish of it is universal in all Nations, and with the Young as well as the Old, and that is the Beauty of History. Every one knows how dull a Study it is to read over a Collection of Gazettes, which shall perhaps relate all the same Events with the Historian: The superior Pleasure then of History must arise, like that of Poetry, from the Manners; ∥31 as∥ when we see a Character well drawn, wherein we find the secret Causes of a great Diversity of seemingly inconsistent Actions; or an Interest of State laid open, or an artful View nicely unfolded, the Execution of which influences very different and opposite Actions, as the Circumstances may alter. Now this reduces the whole to an Unity of Design at least: And this may be observ’d in the very Fables which entertain Children, otherwise we cannot make them relish them.
VII. What has been said will probably be assented to, if we always remember in our Inquirys into the Universality of the Sense of Beauty, “That there may be real Beauty, where there is not the greatest; and that there are an Infinity of different Forms which ∥32 may∥ all have some Unity, and yet differ from each other.” So that Men may have different Fancys of Beauty, and yet Uniformity be the universal Foundation of our Approbation of any Form whatsoever as Beautiful. And we shall find that it is so in the Architecture, Gardening, Dress, Equipage, and Furniture of Houses, even among the most uncultivated Nations; where Uniformity still pleases, without any other Advantage than the Pleasure of the Contemplation of it.
Diversity of Judgments concerning our Senses.VIII. It will deserve our Consideration on this Subject, how, in like Cases, we form very different Judgments concerning the internal and external Senses. Nothing is more ordinary among those, who after Mr. Locke have ∥33 shaken off the groundless Opinions about∥ innate Ideas, than to alledge, “That all our Relish for Beauty, and Order, is either from ∥34 prospect of Advantage,∥ Custom, or Education,” for no other Reason but the Variety of Fancys in the World: and from this they conclude, “That our Fancys do not arise from any natural Power of Perception, or Sense.” And yet all allow our external Senses to be Natural, and that the Pleasures or Pains of their Sensations, however they may be increas’d, or diminish’d, by Custom, or Education, and counterballanc’d by Interest, yet are really antecedent to Custom, Habit, Education, or Prospect of Interest. Now it is certain, “That there is at least as great a variety of Fancys about their Objects, as the Objects of Beauty:” Nay it is much more difficult, and perhaps impossible, to bring the Fancys or Relishes of the external Senses to any general Foundation at all, or to find any Rule for the agreeable or disagreeable: and yet we all allow “that these are natural Powers of Perception.”
The Reason of it.IX. The Reason of this different Judgment can be no other than this, That we have got distinct Names for the external Senses, and none, or very few, for the Internal; and by this are led, as in many other Cases, to look upon the former as some way more fix’d, and real and natural, than the latter. The Sense of Harmony has got its Name, ∥35 viz.∥ a good Ear; and we are generally brought to acknowledge this a natural Power of Perception, or a Sense some way distinct from Hearing: now it is certain, “That there is as necessary a Perception of Beauty upon the presence of regular Objects, as of Harmony upon hearing certain Sounds.”
An internal Sense does not presuppose innate Ideas.X. But let it be observ’d here once for all, “That an internal Sense no more presupposes an innate Idea, or Principle of Knowledge, than the external.” Both are natural Powers of Perception, or Determinations of the Mind to receive necessarily certain Ideas from the presence of Objects. The internal Sense is, a passive Power of receiving Ideas of Beauty from all Objects in which there is Uniformity amidst Variety. Nor does there seem any thing more difficult in this matter, than that the Mind should be always determin’d to receive the Idea of Sweet, when Particles of such a Form enter the Pores of the Tongue; or to have the Idea of Sound upon any quick Undulation of the Air. The one seems to have as little Connection with its Idea, as the other: And the same Power could with equal ease constitute the former the occasion of Ideas as the latter.
Associations Cause of Disagreement.XI. The Association of Ideas* above hinted at, is one great Cause of the apparent Diversity of Fancys in the Sense of Beauty, as well as in the external Senses; and often makes Men have an aversion to Objects of Beauty, and a liking to others void of it, but under different Conceptions than those of Beauty or Deformity. And here it may not be improper to give some Instances of some of these Associations. The Beauty of Trees, their cool Shades, and their Aptness to conceal from Observation, have made Groves and Woods the usual Retreat to those who love Solitude, especially to the Religious, the Pensive, the Melancholy, and the Amorous. And do not we find that we have so join’d the Ideas of these Dispositions of Mind with those external Objects, that they always recur to us along with them? The Cunning of the Heathen Priests might make such obscure Places the Scene of the fictitious Appearances of their Deitys; and hence we join Ideas of something Divine to them. We know the like Effect in the Ideas of our Churches, from the perpetual use of them only in religious Exercises. The faint Light in Gothick Buildings has had the same Association of a very foreign Idea, which our Poet shews in his Epithet,
In like manner it is known, That often all the Circumstances of Actions, or Places, or Dresses of Persons, or Voice, or Song, which have occur’d at any time together, when we were strongly affected by any Passion, will be so connected that any one of these will make all the rest recur. And this is often the occasion both of great Pleasure and Pain, Delight and Aversion to many Objects, which of themselves might have been perfectly indifferent to us: but these Approbations, or Distastes, are remote from the Ideas of Beauty, being plainly different Ideas.
Musick, how it pleases differently.XII. There is also another Charm in Musick to various Persons, which is distinct from the Harmony, and is occasion’d by its raising agreeable Passions. The human Voice is obviously vary’d by all the stronger Passions; now when our Ear discerns any resemblance between the Air of a Tune, whether sung or play’d upon an Instrument, either in its Time, or ∥36 Modulation,∥ or any other Circumstance, to the sound of the human Voice in any Passion, we shall be touch’d by it in a very sensible manner, and have Melancholy, Joy, Gravity, Thoughtfulness excited in us by a sort of Sympathy or Contagion. The same Connexion is observable between the very Air of a Tune, and the Words expressing any Passion which we have heard it fitted to, so that they shall both recur to us together, tho but one of them affects our Senses.
37 Now in such a diversity of pleasing or displeasing Ideas which may be ∥38 join’d∥ with Forms of Bodys, or Tunes, when Men are of such different Dispositions, and prone to such a variety of Passions, it is no wonder “that they should often disagree in their Fancys of Objects, even altho their Sense of Beauty and Harmony were perfectly uniform;” because many other Ideas may either please or displease, according to Persons Tempers, and past Circumstances. We know how agreeable a very wild Country may be to any Person who has spent the chearful Days of his Youth in it, and how disagreeable very beautiful Places may be, if they were the Scenes of his Misery. And this may help us in many Cases to account for the Diversitys of Fancy, without denying the Uniformity of our internal Sense of Beauty.
XIII. Grandeur and Novelty are two Ideas different from Beauty, which often recommend Objects to us. The Reason of this is foreign to the present Subject. See Spectator No. 412.
[* ]See above Sect. i. Art. 17. Sect. iv. Art. 1.
[* ]See below Art. 11, 12. of this Section.
[* ]Hor. de Arte Poet. v. 19.
[i ]Translation: “But for such things there was no place.” Horace, Satires, Epistles, and Ars Poetica, trans. H. Rushton Fairclough, Loeb Classical Library (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1970), 450.
[* ]See above Art. 3. of this Section.
[* ]Milt. Il Penseroso.
[ii ]John Milton (1608–74), English poet and author. His major poems are On the Morning of Christ’s Nativity, L’Allegro, and Il Penseroso (early works), Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained (later works). He wrote extensively on theological and political issues as well (for example, The Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce, 1643; The Tenure of Kings and Magistrates, 1649; The Ready and Easy Way to Establish a Free Commonwealth, 1660).
[1.]A (p. 65): the
[2.]A (p. 65): which
[3.]A (p. 65): if
[4.]No new paragraph in A (p. 65).
[5.]A (p. 66): for
[6.]C (p. 71), D (p. 71): now call
[7.]D (p. 71): a positive
[8.]Omitted in C (p. 72), D (p. 72).
[9.]A (p. 67): what were
[10.]Not in A (p. 67).
[11.]A (p. 67): towards
[12.]A (p. 67): these
[13.]A (p. 67): in ravenous
[14.]A (p. 68): afterwards
[15.]A (p. 68), C (p. 73), D (p. 73): Swine
[16.]A (p. 68): there is no
[17.]A (p. 69): do further extend their
[18.]Not in A (p. 69).
[19.]A (p. 69): not capable
[20.]Not in A (p. 69).
[21.]A (p. 69): Conveniency
[22.]A (p. 69): Time and Labour
[23.]C (p. 75), D (p. 75): might here
[24.]A (p. 70): or Eyes
[25.]A (p. 70): be however
[26.]A (p. 70): often may
[27.]No new paragraph in A (p. 71).
[28.]A (p. 71): some of the
[29.]A (p. 71): Regularity and Beauty
[30.]C (p. 76), D (p. 76): our Imaginations
[31.]Omitted in C (p. 77), D (p. 77).
[32.]A (p. 73): shall
[33.]C (p. 78), D (p. 78): rejected
[34.]A (p. 74): Advantage, or
[35.]Not in A (p. 75).
[36.]A (p. 77): Key,
[37.]No new paragraph in A (p. 78).
[38.]A (p. 78): conjoin’d