instruere...inlustrare...delectare Disputations

Wednesday, August 04, 2004

The beauty of it

TSO observes:
The paradox is that we are driven to thirst for beauty and yet we must see beauty in our fellow wounded human beings who often are not beautiful in any way we can see.
Not beautiful in any way we can see. That's certainly a problem when beauty is thought of as what is pleasing to behold.

But what exactly is it that's being pleased by beholding something beautiful? No one thinks beauty is literally in the eye of the beholder. When we say something is pleasing to the eye, we mean its beauty is perceived through the eye, not experienced within the eye. No one thinks a beautiful poem's beauty is wholly experienced by the ear canal.*

No, the pleasure by which we recognize the beautiful exists in the mind. It's primarily an intellectual pleasure, not a sensual one (though there may be some sensual pleasure along with the intellectual pleasure).

Once you realize that beauty is perceived by the mind of the beholder, the idea that there is beauty in other people becomes easier to at least entertain (even if, for certain people, the idea remains more entertaining than self-evident). We apprehend other people, not just as shapes and sounds, but as human beings, and human beings have by nature both a specific beauty (specific, that is, to the human species) and an individual beauty (each possessing different levels of different perfections).

I suggested some time back that a lot of people are better at acknowledging beauty than truth. There are cases, though, that it's only by admitting the truth of another's humanity that we can perceive anything beautiful about him -- a fact that would be less dire if our society weren't so blithe in denying the truth of others' humanity.

* I shouldn't say "no one," I suppose. "Beauty is experienced only in the sense organs" is no more cracked than a lot of philosophies that have made their expositors famous.