Why do humans express a love for beautiful things? Why do we insert design and beaty into everyday functional devices. Are we, as Dr. Dutton suggests, hard wired to seek and appreciate beauty? As you watch, think about the evolutionary advantage beauty gives (if indeed it does).

Who is he:

Prior to his death in 2010, Denis Dutton taught philosophy at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand, and was the editor of Arts & Letters Daily, a three-column compendium of culture news from all over the web. (His own homepage is another storehouse of tidbits from his wide-ranging explorations in philosophy and culture.) He was on the advisory board of Cybereditions, a publisher specializing in ebooks and print-on-demand editions of nonfiction works. And he was an editor of Climate Debate Daily, a lively blog that takes a skeptical view of some climate-change arguments.

Why should you listen:

Why do humans take pleasure in making art? In his 2009 book The Art Instinct, philosopher Denis Dutton suggested that art is a need built into our systems, a complex and subtle evolutionary adaptation comparable to our facility for language. We humans evolved to love art because it helps us survive; for example, a well-expressed appreciation of art can — even in modern times — help us to find a mate. It’s a bold argument to make, bolstered by examples from the breadth of art history that Dutton kept at his fingertips.

Discussion questions:

  1. Each month on You Tube thousands of teens and pre-teens ask the question, “Am I beautiful or am I ugly?” knowing that the usual response to the question is nasty, hostile and demeaning. What motivates people, based upon your understanding of Dutton and Darwin, to seek this physical comparison – especially from total strangers?
  2. Dutton said, “.Taste for both natural beauty and for the artstravel across cultureswith great ease.Beethoven is adored in Japan.Peruvians love Japanese woodblock prints.Inca sculptures are regarded as treasuresin British museums,while Shakespeare is translatedinto every major language of the Earth.” Why might this be so?
  3. Do a bit of research. Find some examples of very old art, moderately old art and relatively new art on the Internet and present them to a group of people of various ages. Is there agreement as to what is beautiful and what is not? Write up your results and share them with another person or a group.
  4. What is the survival value of physical beauty for your baby or your lover.
  5. Denis Dutton says that we find beauty in something well done; do as he suggests and check out jewelry store window. Does his remark have any validity? Why? Why not?
  6. Find some examples of beautiful tools that are around today. Determine what qualities they have in common that makes them beautiful, as opposed to merely functional.

A darwinian theory of beauty with Denis Dutton


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