Essay #2- Weber, Veblen, and Gilman - Price 1 Jonathan...

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Price 1 Jonathan Price 203547464 GE Cluster History of Modern Thought 21B Dan Crosby Section 1E Paper #1: Effect of beauty on moral and social progress. Beauty in the Breakdown To be able to comment on the role of beauty in industrial society, one must first be able to define the aesthetic; a truly daunting task, especially given that the focus of most writers during the era was necessarily the economic and social workings that composed their society. Like most of the facets of industrial society, beauty is put to a rigorous standard of analysis and is all but quantified by the social scientists of the era. Beauty can be viewed through diverse lenses, as evidenced in the discrepancies existing between its dynamics in the writings of Veblen, Gilman, and Weber. In all three of these author’s texts, beauty is defined in opposition to utility and rationality, rendering imperative unorthodox methods of thought to not only have a clear understanding of beauty, but to understand its implications as well. Veblen, Weber, and Gilman asserted an evolutionary and historical understanding of beauty by articulating its tendency towards heterogeneity, ability to dominate the human competitive drive, and its self regulating properties with respect to utility to provide a commentary on beauty’s moral and social implications in industrial Europe. Veblen equates man’s aspiration toward beauty with heterogeneity, leading him to conclude that beauty fundamentally hinders man’s ability to act in his own best interest. Ever the austere utilitarian, Veblen satirizes man’s proclivity to squander his time and effort on items and activities that have no economic value whatsoever. This is a direct result of the atavism of ancestral memory, which encourages men to seek continuously greater status in society. 1 This 1 1 Thorstein Veblen, The Theory of the Leisure Class (New York: Macmillin Press, 1898), p.34.
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Price 2 leads to a phenomenon which Veblen calls conspicuous leisure, which is essentially viewed as the standard of beauty by society. This universal view of beauty has been, from the days of the Greek philosophers to the present, a life free from the toil necessary for everyday human life. Indeed, the life of leisure is “beautiful and ennobling in all civilized men's eyes.” 2 Anything that distinguishes the individual from his true position and seemingly severs his connection with the everyday is to be viewed as beautiful. This vestige of status as a prerequisite to successful self-
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