Beauty and Human Evolution
February 13, 2011
Adam Smith wrote extensively about the role of the instincts in human survival and success. A focus on instincts, I believe, is needed to comprehend Smith’s conception of the invisible hand (Wight 2007).
Although Smith did not understand evolution, he did lay out a model of how humans seek order as an instinctual act; a love of order becomes the foundation for what we think is beautiful. Beauty is portrayed in the arts, and serves as a foundation for moral learning (Wight 2006).
I just discovered that the philosopher Denis Dutton has come to very nearly the same conclusions in The Art Instinct: Beauty, Pleasure, and Human Evolution (2010). Human evolution created an innate desire for beauty that transcends cultural norms. A lovely TED talk is available here.
References (sorry, don’t have hard links):
Wight, Jonathan. B. 2006. “Adam Smith’s Ethics and the ‘Noble’ Arts,” Review of Social Economy, Vol. 64(2): 155-180.
Wight, Jonathan. B. 2007. “The Treatment of Smith’s Invisible Hand,” The Journal of Economic Education 39(3): 341-358.
Wight, Jonathan B. 2009. “Adam Smith on Instincts, Ethics, and Informal Learning: Proximate Mechanisms in Multilevel Selection,” Review of Social Economy 67(1): 95-113. Reprinted in Mark D. White and Irene van Staveren, eds., Ethics and Economics: New Perspectives (Routledge): pp. 166-184.
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