Physical Attractiveness and Unfair Discrimination

International Journal of Applied Philosophy 1:1 (Spring 1982), pp. 37-64

28 Pages Posted: 22 Nov 2013

See all articles by Alan Soble

Alan Soble

University of New Orleans

Date Written: May 1, 1981


In the explosion of literature, political activity, and social and ethical consciousness that occurred in the 20th Century, emphasis was placed on the segregation, distribution of benefits and burdens, and social status of minority racial, ethnic, political, national, and religious groups. Gender or sex, even if women were technically not a minority, was also emphasized as an important basis for discrimination. More recently, discrimination on the basis of age, and discrimination on the basis of various physical or mental disabilities have been studied. Our treatment of subhuman, mammalian animals has also been pointed to as another possible realm of unfair and damaging discrimination. This essay discusses a set of properties of humans that cuts through race, gender, age, and other bases for discrimination, a set that can be conveniently summarized as "beauty." Plato and Aristotle had no qualms about discrimination on the basis of beauty, asserting (what was taken to be common sense) that a person cannot love or desire another unless the latter is beautiful and/or good. This essay argues that discrimination against those who are physically unattractive is in many scenarios unfair, causing the same types of damage as racial and sexual discrimination. Further, the reasons that can be offered for the wrongness of racial and sexual discrimination apply equally to discriminatory actions and policies based on attractiveness. The conclusion reached is that discrimination on the basis of attractiveness even in personal relations (love, friendship, marriage, sexual expression) is as wrong as discrimination in the public domain (education, business, housing, and so forth).

Keywords: Discrimination, Race, Gender, Beauty, Attractiveness, Douglas Willard, Friedrich Engels

Suggested Citation

Soble, Alan, Physical Attractiveness and Unfair Discrimination (May 1, 1981). International Journal of Applied Philosophy 1:1 (Spring 1982), pp. 37-64. Available at SSRN:

Alan Soble (Contact Author)

University of New Orleans ( email )

2000 Lakeshore Drive
New Orleans, LA 70148
United States

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