The Complement of Beauty On Ugliness by Umberto Eco - review by A C Grayling

A C Grayling

Simply Hideous

The Complement of Beauty On Ugliness


Harvill Secker 455pp £30

Philosophers distinguish two non-exclusive ways of defining a concept. One is ‘by intension’, which is specification of the essential features something must possess in order to fall under the concept. The other is ‘by extension’, which involves giving examples of the range of things that fall under the concept. This latter is Umberto Eco’s method in considering ugliness, a concept rarely discussed in its own right but left to shift for itself as the complement of beauty. What this remarkable book shows is that ugliness is not only no less interesting than beauty, but also no less diverse or culturally significant.

For Eco, the extension of the concept of ugliness includes not only what is visually disagreeable or repulsive, but also horror, monstrosity, moral hideousness and evil, aspects of old age, disease, deformity, obscenity, decadence and such forms of tastelessness as kitsch and camp. The idea of metaphysical or moral ugliness

Sign Up to our newsletter

Receive free articles, highlights from the archive, news, details of prizes, and much more.

RLF - March