Sculpting the moral man: Josef Pieper on the perception of beautiful art in moral formation

Margaret Irene Hughes, Fordham University


This dissertation draws upon the work of Josef Pieper in order to investigate the role that the perception of beautiful art plays in moral formation. Pieper's work is well-suited for developing a Thomistic aesthetics conversant with contemporary thought. His engagement with phenomenology and existentialism inspires a description of experience that draws on and corresponds to his grounding in Thomistic metaphysics. Pieper's description of the experience of the good of being and the corresponding metaphysical foundation for that claim entails a definition of beauty as the good apprehended as good. ^ The assertion that being is good and consequently beautiful leads to the conclusion that man's final end and happiness lies in contemplation, a loving gaze on all that is. Moral formation is formation for contemplation, and so at the heart of moral formation is a cultivation of a love of being. In the "workaday" world, filled only with practical concerns, it is easy to forget the goodness of being and so to fail to develop a love of being. Beautiful art reminds the well-disposed man that the world is meaningful and, in doing so, brings him out of his view of the everyday. It reminds him to look at the world contemplatively. Beautiful art moves the leisurely man to festivity, to rejoicing in being, because it reminds the leisurely man that it is good to exist.^ The discussion of beautiful art until this point refers to the "well-disposed" perceiver. That disposition must be inculcated, however. Sharing beautiful art aids that inculcation. The experience of beauty in art, when it is shared, provides a profound communication of love to another. When art is shared because it is beautiful, it is shared not for any ulterior motive but because both it and the person with whom it is shared are good. Thus the person with whom it is shared experiences the good of his own being. This experience sparks the love of all being that underlies a moral life and that moves him towards his final end of contemplation.^

Subject Area

Philosophy|Aesthetics|Education, Philosophy of

Recommended Citation

Hughes, Margaret Irene, "Sculpting the moral man: Josef Pieper on the perception of beautiful art in moral formation" (2013). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI3588383.