Why We Talk About Inner Beauty

The way people often talk about “inner beauty” when they wish to praise an unattractive person gives the whole game away. For they could perfectly well have said “inner goodness“, “goodness” without a topological qualifier, “ethical character”, “kindness and sincerity”, or a great number of other things. And these things they do say as well. But when people really want to lay the greatest possible emphasis on the human worth of the person who is not very attractive physically, they seem to think that they are doing her an even greater honour by attributing to her “inner beauty“. This tells us that beauty is in fact their supreme value all along, but that they are willing to concede that ugly people can partake of it too, in this special metaphorical sense.

The topological inversion does not, however, work the other way round: we do not describe an attractive but wicked person as possessing “outer goodness”. Once again, this suggests that Nietzsche was right, in that our moral language is ultimately derived from physical characteristics. Neurologically, we respond to the animal health we call beauty, but the invention of language permits us to make honorary attributions, or insincere verbal extensions of our hardwired responses. Saying that you have “inner beauty” thus means that you’re ugly, but can be flattered into handing over whatever it is I want from you.

Posted on May 20, 2009 at 10:26 by Hugo Grinebiter · Permalink
In: BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, The Myth Of "Inner Beauty"

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