Opposition and Mutuality between Utility andBeauty in Han Fei





Published date: 

June, 2010


Kang Chan


Contrary relations between utility and beauty are conceived by Han
Fei: one is that the two are incompatible and utility should take the place of
beauty, while the other has to do with redefining beauty in light of utility,
and thus not only making the two compatible, but also having the former
provide support to the latter. How these contrasting relations between
utility and beauty constitute a major portion of his political philosophy is
the concern of this study.
Han Fei’s political philosophy rests on, among other things, what
Tocqueville called individualism, or the pursuit of utility in a small or
intimate group. Since he did not believe that common folk could envision
the abstract entity of a society or nation, laws were necessary to extend
human economic rationality so that people would always regard common
welfare as being in their best private interests.
The greater utility or common welfare will, however, be hindered if
people are diverted toward beautiful things, hence Han Fei’s condemnation
of the beautiful. As far as moral things are beautiful, he condemns what can
be properly be referred to as social aesthetics. Yet, despite the hostility, he
still accommodates aesthetics when he sees the possibility of bringing it to
the service of the state. That would be state aesthetics, i.e., the doctrine that
all values and instruments installed by the state are beautiful.