Jump to content
Objectivism Online Forum
youngman

Physical Attraction To The Opposite Sex

Rate this topic

Recommended Posts

What does Objectivism say is the basis for physical attraction to members of the opposite sex? From Atlas Shrugged I got that you are attracted to those who hold your values, but this leaves out a huge part of attraction, and to ignore the physical aspect would be ridiculous. Now I am not saying that Atlas didn't implicitly give messages of the physical being important (Dagny is described as very attractive and so are the men), but there were no explicit references that I am aware of about theories of physical attraction. I personally believe that physical attraction to members of the opposite sex is intrinsic. What does Objectivism say? What are your thoughts?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I don't know that Objectivism says anything in regard to the specific part that physical attraction plays in the concept of love. This shouldn't be taken as a sign that Objectivists disregard physical attraction. It is my own conclusion that an importance placed on good looks follows logically from the Objectivist description of love- "...it is his response to his own highest values in the person of another." "Good looks" can be objectively categorized as being the biological signs of excellent health. To the Objectivist, whose ultimate value is the preservation and enhancement of his own life, excellent health is a virtue. Therefore, seeing the biological signs of excellent health ("good looks") in another person is evidence that the person also holds the enhancement and preservation of his life as his ultimate value.

I'm confused about your description of attraction as being "intrinsic." I would argue that attraction necessarily involves two people, and therefore cannot exist as an intrinsic attribute of an individual.

[Edit: Removed unnecessary quotation]

Edited by Cole

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Is someone elses good looks something to value in relation to one's life? Is the projection of my values on to someone's upkeep of their body the only way to attribute value to the looks of another? I don't think this is the case, but I am not certain of the context one is able to put the observation of a beautiful person. This is an interesting topic to me.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

This is largely a psychological question, and what one person considers attractive may not be what someone else considers attractive.

Quite a lot of philosophical meandering has gone into trying to define what "beauty" is. I think it's like "blue": you know it when you see it, and an ostensive definition seems to suffice.

I can't think of a single thing that I consider to be a factor of "good looks" that isn't a matter of how you take care of and present yourself, btw. I mean, who cares if a guy has thinning hair or a square jaw or what? Now, a comb-over, that's a different story.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

While sexuality is indeed a psychological science, there's some biology as well. At the root is the sex drive, and physical attraction can be the most effective catalyst to inspire that drive. It's what you do with that drive - your choices, your standards, your desires ... morality - that elevate a basic drive into a proper and healthy sexuality.

Sure, you can be attracted to someone's physical attributes, but how long does that alone last? Is it the foundation of a loving, inspirational, and challenging relationship? Is it real love, or just a momentary reaction?

Atlas does portray sexuality in its proper context, but Eddie Willers , d'Anconia, Rearden, and Galt don't fall in love with Dagny because she's just beautiful. Her beauty is only a part of who she is, more a consequence of her confidence, pride, ability, and intellect than a pursuit of aesthetic excellence.

(Heterosexuality is "intrinsic"? Danger, Will Robinson. This is where you tread into some deep, psychologically complex territory. Watch your step ... lots of logical potholes in there.)

Physical attraction just sparks the sexual drive. It is important, but only a component of sexuality. The best physical attraction is that where "classic beauty" or traditional standards are bypassed in favor of a person whose poise, character, wit, and charm are manifest in a wry smile, a gleam of the eye, and an interesting choice of words. (I've often been made fun of - largely by female friends - because my list of 'Hollywood hotties' is way outside the A-list covergirls ...)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Are you asking whether or not the value we find in beauty consists of more than just a consequence of a person's value-judgements?

No. I was thinking there was a differentiation between the observation of beauty and the projection of values. But those are two identical concepts, which now allows me to see my error. Thanks.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
(I've often been made fun of - largely by female friends - because my list of 'Hollywood hotties' is way outside the A-list covergirls ...)

Oh, the looks I get when I say I don't think Paris Hilton is hot.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Paris Hilton ... blech.

Give me Mary McDonnel, Natascha McElhone (rowr), Anne Archer, Emily Watson, Claire Forlani, Julia Ormond, Janel Moloney, Allison Janney ... the list goes on.

Classy, interesting women all, and not just the characters they've played.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
DPW    4
Paris Hilton ... blech.

A perfect example of how we can't easily separate our value estimates of people from our appraisal of their physical attractiveness: my girlfriend is the splitting image of Paris Hilton (don't tell her I said that!), but while I find my girlfriend stunning, I have the same reaction to Hilton as you do.

Edited by DPW

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Goes to show you that physical attributes aren't a great catalyst for determining anything but what you're attracted to on a surface level. Beyond that ...

It's a momentary thing ... physical beauty captures my attention, yes, but it takes a lot to keep that attention. That's when a woman becomes really attractive to me, and not just pretty. Big difference.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

If you find physical beauty where you do not find beauty of character, then you have a poorly integrated subconscious summation of the components of physical beauty. This is extremely common because in the course of one's life, this particular subconscious integration is made before explicit philosophic premise selection, and because our current culture bombards the pubescent with misinformation on the subject which one can't help but add in to one's subconsciousness.

If you think that physical appearance has nothing to do with one's philosophic premises, then you are sadly mistaken. Obesity and slovenliness are far greater evils than many that people get all fired up about.

Edited by TomL

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
DPW    4
If you find physical beauty where you do not find beauty of character, then you have a poorly integrated subconscious summation of the components of physical beauty. 

Not quite. If you find physical beauty where you know there to be spiritual ugliness, then yes, that's a problem. But you can quite obviously find physical beauty where the character of the person is unknown. In that case, you do project a certain kind of consciousness onto that person, but that's no error so long as you keep in mind the fact that you have insufficient evidence to real a final conclusion.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I agree with DPW. Many times I have seen a handsome man, tried to initiate conversation and immediately regretted doing so. They suddenly seem much less handsome than they did in the beginning.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
If you think that physical appearance has nothing to do with one's philosophic premises, then you are sadly mistaken.  Obesity and slovenliness are far greater evils than many that people get all fired up about.

The difference is that obesity is something you can control, so it gives clues to one's character. Many things are, however, out of the power of the person's control and therefore give nothing away about his or her character.

And even with obesity, I am yet to meet anyone who finds that attractive, regardless of what their philosophy is, so I don't see how that proves your point.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
But you can quite obviously find physical beauty where the character of the person is unknown.

I can't disagree more. This is explicitly a manifestation of mind/body dichotomy, giving primacy to the body. In a properly integrated subconscious, there should be no estimate of "physical beauty" prior to the discovery of the person's character.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Um, I guess you disagree with Ayn Rand:

Beuaty is a sense of harmony.  Whether it's an image, a human face, a body, or a sunset, take the object which you call beatiful, as a unit [and ask youself]: what parts is it made up of, what are its constitutent elements, and are they all harmonious?  If they are, the result is beautiful.
"Art and Cognition," RM, pb 68.

I don't see any mention of "must be based on character" in there.

I think what you are offering us is a false alternative: either we base all our beauty-judgements of humans on character, or we engage in a mind-body dichotomy. Clearly it is neither.

On your account those of us who find beauty in things that are not related to character, such as sunsets on the beach, colorful fish and reef in the clear waters of the Bahamas, a dense, lightly misted forest in the fall with a fresh morning breeze flowing through a canopy of trees formed over a walking trail, the chirping of birds at sunrise, a clear open nightsky full of stars, symmetric, harmonious faces, the long sexy legs of a tall woman, etc., are being mindless.

Well, don't mind me, but I'm going to go ahead and continue enjoying my mind-body dichotomy. :nuke:

Please note, before anyone jumps off into the deep end, that nowhere have I implied that all forms of beauty are a proper basis for sexual attraction.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
I can't disagree more.  This is explicitly a manifestation of mind/body dichotomy, giving primacy to the body.  In a properly integrated subconscious, there should be no estimate of "physical beauty" prior to the discovery of the person's character.

Your seriously trying to say you've never seen a woman and thought she was attractive before meeting her? If this is true, I think that is very unhealthy suppression.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Hal    0

I dont think this lies within the realm of philosophy - the places to look if you want ideas about what influences physical attraction would be psychology, evolutionary theory, and anthropology.

From my (limited) knowledge of the above fields, I would say that there are some things that are likely to be genetic predispositions (as a trivial example, preferring 'nice skin' would make sense from an evolutionary perspective since bad skin is often a sign of disease. Women preferring strong, tall men makes sense because these are the ones most likely to protect her offspring, and so on). Other things will be influenced by general cultural factors - being fat is considered attractive in some poorer countries because it is a sign of wealth, and pale skin was considered attractive in the West a few hundred years ago for similar reasons (now being tanned has taken over). Then there will then be personal factors, including (eg) the people around you during stages of your development - was there a blonde haired girl who took care of you when you were weak and vulnerable as a child, and so on. Maybe some people will be attracted to people who remind them of their first girlfriend. I've got a theory that people who were relatively unpopular at school are far less likely to be attracted to 'cheerleader' looks, but I dont have a large enough sample size to justify it. Finally, there will probably be a lot of 'random' variation caused by the sheer number of different variables involved.

But in any case, theres probably a countless number of different factors involved that would rule out the possibility of any one unified 'theory' of attraction. It's science though, not philosophy.

Having said all this, I do agree with TomL's position in this thread, although perhaps not to quite as strong an extent. For me anyway, a large part of physical attraction is based on personality - I will almost always end up sexually attracted to females I respect, no matter what my first impressions of them were. Similarly, I will generally be turned off a girl I initially found attractive, if I later discover she is a repulsive person. I think the distinction between attractiveness and sexuality is a far narrower one than a lot of people suppose, although I do agree with DPW's "but you can quite obviously find physical beauty where the character of the person is unknown". Tom, do you really think you'd be unable to say "Jennifer Aniston is more attractive than Judge Judy" if you knew nothing about the personalities involved?

Edited by Hal

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

But I was disputing the given account on beauty, not about being sexually attracted. While certainly sexual attraction should be based on, among other things, beauty as described by Tom (and not some other kind of beauty), beauty in general doesn't necessarily lead to sexual attraction. I mean, I might find someone's face beautiful, heck even a guy's face, but that doesn't mean I'll be sexually attracted to the owner of the face. What I'm disputing is the false alternative that we either assess beauty only to things cognitive in nature, or we are mindless. The scope of beauty isn't limited to sexual attraction.

The proper basis for sexual attraction is one thing, and the proper criteria for judging something as beautiful is another.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
DPW    4
The proper basis for sexual attraction is one thing, and the proper criteria for judging something as beautiful is another.

Right. I agree with everything you've said. The only thing I will note is that when we are speaking of the physical beauty of a human being, it is not purely esthetic. It includes an automatic projection of a consciousness that matches the body.

As for Tom's claim, I can't even take it seriously since it implies that if you were to walk into a room full of strangers, you would not be able to judge their physical attractiveness.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
... when we are speaking of the physical beauty of a human being, it is not purely esthetic.  It includes an automatic projection of a consciousness that matches the body.

While that might often be the case, I'm not so sure it is always the case. For example, some makeup ads have images of a closeup of a single eye with their makeup. They present an isolated human characteristic, and I can point to the constituent elements of this isolated eye and say "that eye is beautiful" if indeed they are harmoneous; this assessement of beauty to a human feature did not inolve a projection. Similarly other human features can be isolated and thought to be harmonious. I agree, though, that isolating aspects like face, body features, etc., involves an automatic projection of a consciousness that matches what these aspects represent, I'm just not so sure it is always the case, as with the isolated eye.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Your seriously trying to say you've never seen a woman and thought she was attractive before meeting her?  If this is true, I think that is very unhealthy suppression.

I didn't say that it never happened. Certainly it has happened, but I have been (and am still) retraining my subconscious towards the ideal -- a fully integrated sense of character and beauty.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
DPW    4
I didn't say that it never happened.  Certainly it has happened, but I have been (and am still) retraining my subconscious towards the ideal -- a fully integrated sense of character and beauty.

Ayn Rand must have had a severe case of the mind/body dichotomy since, according to her, she fell in love with Frank O'Conner at first sight.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now


  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    No registered users viewing this page.

×