On Beauty

in Philosophy2 months ago

Beauty is one of the great topics of today, it is considered by many as a frivolity or a luxury, and even promote the idea that it is a superficial response to life to be guided by beauty; although it is true that we live in a society that perceives beauty as an idealized and consensual standard of what is pleasant and desired, this is not the correct conception of it, this conception is born from not understanding what beauty is.


“The awful thing is that beauty is mysterious as well as terrible. God and the devil are fighting there and the battlefield is the heart of man.”
― Fyodor Dostoevsky

Beauty is a subject that has always been tried to cover within art in its different forms and this happens because beauty is essential for a life full of meaning, and deep if you want; beauty is about something superior, something greater and it is precisely for this reason that great authors have been given the task of describing it. According to Borges "beauty is a physical sensation, something we feel with the whole body. It is not the result of a judgment, we do not reach it by means of rules; we feel beauty or we do not feel it"; Émile Zola postulated it as a state of mind; Philip K. Dick thought that absolute suffering leads to absolute beauty; and for Plato beauty is the salvation of the soul, of the individual. *

Beauty is about seeing reality with a sharpness of perception in its intensity and meaning, it is "the total expression of nature itself" since nature is always expressing itself in a symbolic and aesthetic way, and that is why there is beauty in pleasure but also in pain, in heaven and in turn in hell. And this is beautiful not only because it leads us to contemplate the beauty of a body or form but also to contemplate an idea, a moral or even the truth signified in the world.

There is an intimate relationship between beauty and truth within Platonism, which says that both words are interchangeable. In Spanish the word "bonito" (referring to beauty) has the same root as the word "bueno" (good), and in Greek "bueno" is the connotation of the word kallos, but in turn the Hebrew word tov ― which is used in the book of Genesis when it says "and God saw that it was good" ― can be translated as "beautiful". So there is a relationship between truth and beauty, which implies then that ethics and aesthetics are always linked. But if there is a relationship between truth and beauty, then beauty will also have a close kinship with wisdom, and this is suggested by the English poet John Keats in his poem "Ode on a Grecian Urn", inspired by a Greek urn that represents for him an ecphrasis (the detailed description of an object) that tells through the voice of the poet the story of a people portrayed on a marble surface, and Keats assures that the urn does it better than any human verse.

The poem is particularly about memory and time; all Greek history, its peoples and myths are represented as a scene frozen in time, like a photograph; the urn is a mirror of all this and in turn of the poet's mind, the poet is reflected in the urn and speaks of himself, so what we see in the poem is what the poet saw in the urn, telling it in a way free of old age, so that time does not pass; and is not what art seeks to immortalize? That is what the realization of an ecphrasis is all about, to immortalize, to try to make time stand still, to make the object something permanent, something that will never cease to exist. This is how the art object of an artist and the artist himself transcend; the poet, in front of the object, does not speak of its colors or its form, but transcends them and is able to see what only an artist can see in an object, he is able to see what only a poet can see in an urn: what the object does not show at first sight, and this he does through language. The Greek urn speaks of the finite and the beauty of time, Keats ends the poem with "Beauty is truth, truth beauty, —that is all / Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know" and this follows Plato: "Beauty is the splendor of truth."

Digital Art by Rabemar
"Beauty will save the world."
Fyodor Dostoevsky in The Idiot

Now, there is also a relationship between beauty and suffering. In suffering there can be beauty and it is beauty that drives the desire to save, perceiving beauty in suffering generates compassion. Beauty redeems suffering and it is then understood as beauty, in a manner free of identity; seeing suffering generates an act of "sacrifice" in which suffering is transmuted into a timeless beauty. In one of his notebooks Dostoyevsky once wrote that "suffering is the sole origin of consciousness", referring to a moral and higher consciousness that makes the soul manifest and grow beyond suffering which then manages to transform into the beauty of wisdom; this is the light of consciousness, remember that Rumi once said "the wound is the place where the Light enters you." This interpretation is very much in line with the Christian interpretation, Josep Ratzinger said:

"Beauty, whether that of the natural universe or that expressed in art, precisely because it opens up and broadens the horizons of human awareness, pointing us beyond ourselves, bringing us face to face with the abyss of Infinity, can become a path towards the transcendent, towards the ultimate Mystery, towards God.

(...) Authentic beauty, however, unlocks the yearning of the human heart, the profound desire to know, to love, to go towards the Other, to reach for the Beyond. If we acknowledge that beauty touches us intimately, that it wounds us, that it opens our eyes, then we rediscover the joy of seeing, of being able to grasp the profound meaning of our existence."

It is the desire to know what beauty awakens, and it also awakens the desire to enjoy with the ecstasy of the senses, with the body. Even so, beauty does not remain only in the knowledge within the contemplation or the material when it acts in all its expression within the individual, but it attracts towards what is behind the symbol that the body represents, and it is here where beauty becomes love, one that leads us to wisdom: love as wisdom in action.

There is a philosophical passage in which the priestess of Eros, Diotima, reveals "the ladder of beauty" to Socrates, in which we see the process of transformation that goes from the superficial to the profound:

"A lover who goes about this matter correctly must begin in his youth to devote himself to beautiful bodies. First, if the leader leads alright, he should love one body and beget beautiful ideas there; then he should realize that the beauty of any one body is brother to the beauty of any other and that if he is to pursue beauty of form he’d be very foolish not think that the beauty of all bodies is one and the same. When he grasps this, he must become a lover of all beautiful bodies, and he must think that this wild gaping after just one body is a small thing and despise it. After this he must think that the beauty of people’s souls is more valuable than the beauty of their bodies, so that if someone is decent in his soul, even though he is scarcely blooming in his body, our lover must be content to love and care for him ...

You see, the man who has been thus far guided in matters of Love, who has beheld beautiful things in the right order and correctly, is coming now to the goal of Loving: all of a sudden he will catch sight of something wonderfully beautiful in its nature; that, Socrates, is the reason for all his earlier labors ..."


There is also a relationship between beauty and virtue that is considered in the essay "On Beauty" by the philosopher Francis Bacon, according to him the perfect combination between the two rarely occurs, but he says that if virtue is sufficiently luminous then there will be beauty:

"Virtue is like a rich stone, best plain set; and surely virtue is best, in a body that is comely, though not of delicate features; and that hath rather dignity of presence, than beauty of aspect. Neither is it almost seen, that very beautiful persons are otherwise of great virtue; as if nature were rather busy, not to err, than in labor to produce excellency. And therefore they prove accomplished, but not of great spirit; and study rather behavior, than virtue. But this holds not always: for Augustus Caesar, Titus Vespasianus, Philip le Belle of France, Edward the Fourth of England, Alcibiades of Athens, Ismael the Sophy of Persia, were all high and great spirits; and yet the most beautiful men of their times. In beauty, that of favor, is more than that of color; and that of decent and gracious motion, more than that of favor. That is the best part of beauty, which a picture cannot express; no, nor the first sight of the life. There is no excellent beauty, that hath not some strangeness in the proportion. A man cannot tell whether Apelles, or Albert Durer, were the more trifler; whereof the one, would make a personage by geometrical proportions; the other, by taking the best parts out of divers faces, to make one excellent. Such personages, I think, would please nobody, but the painter that made them. Not but I think a painter may make a better face than ever was; but he must do it by a kind of felicity (as a musician that maketh an excellent air in music), and not by rule. A man shall see faces, that if you examine them part by part, you shall find never a good; and yet altogether do well. If it be true that the principal part of beauty is in decent motion, certainly it is no marvel, though persons in years seem many times more amiable; pulchrorum autumnus pulcher; for no youth can be comely but by pardon, and considering the youth, as to make up the comeliness. Beauty is as summer fruits,) which are easy to corrupt, and cannot last; and for the most part it makes a dissolute youth, and an age a little out of countenance; but yet certainly again, if it light well, it maketh virtue shine, and vices blush."

So, we could say that the identity of beauty is formed between truth, suffering, love and virtue; a relationship of mutual creation. Beauty seeks to tell us that there is something we must do, something to discover and that perhaps it is nothing more than the very meaning of existence, something to which we must return. Thus, beauty becomes the axis of a human axiom, a reason to act, is it not the beauty of the world that makes us want to preserve it and always change our methods of creation? And art is nothing more than beauty seeking to transcend. Beauty gives dynamism to life and rejects the paralysis of evolution. It is nothing more than the nature of the soul itself, a springboard to the true and truly meaningful, and the attraction is only a magnet that seeks to transcend beauty to immortality: the intelligence of the soul.

“You fell in love with my flowers but not my roots, so when autumn came you didn't know what to do.”

This content is the english version of an article of mine that was originally in spanish and posted almost 3 years ago on my blog. I wanted to share it with the english-speaking community in this opportunity. This "translation" was made by myself @ailindigo, the original author, and you can read the post in spanish here.

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Beautiful. :)

Plato did believe that love and beauty, and the love of beauty, were a path to enlightenment. The Greeks greatly associated beauty with moral good, which is perpetuated in their famous expression "kalos kagathos" (beautiful and good). And Plato considered the good as the highest, sometimes he speaks of beauty in the same way, and it is possible that in his thought the two are intimately linked. For him beauty was a way of reaching good. I understand that his followers continued this tradition, and later Plotinus came to affirm that through music liberation can also be achieved, because the musician is able to perceive beauty through his ears.

Beauty is indeed a beautiful thing, and a very good thing. I share that conception with the Greeks, but I don't think that for someone having a beautiful body has a good soul, nor vice versa. What I do believe is that if someone has a beautiful body, it is because their body is good (good for what we use the body for), not his soul. And if someone has a virtuous soul, that soul is beautiful. So, in this way everything good is beautiful in some way.

A very complete post, therefore I don't have much more to add. Good work.


hahah that insight is better than mine :) I'm glad you liked the post!
Thanks for pasing by! :D



And.... beauty is when you share something like this for us to read 🥰

I'm glad you like it! Thankyou very much! :D

I thought you were just going to put Ailin. (Great post though)

hahah thanku clay! I'm glad you appreciate it (:

On a more serious note, I think that one thing I've learned over time is that beauty is obviously subjective, but beyond that, I think there's a significant level of reflectiveness in it. Call it the mirror or what have you, but especially between people it seems that the more "beautiful" or "attractive" etc that you find them, it's often times in some way a reflection of how you "perceive" them "seeing" you or even how your thoughts about them make you feel.

It's kind of a trip getting into the whole "we are all mirrors" philosophy, but it's true on a lot of levels. I don't mean that to say that people or things can't be physically "beautiful" and also completely repulsive in other ways, just that the more powerfully anyone or anything else makes us feel (good or bad), it seems to be some sort of reflection of self with other.

I think many people, including myself at times, have that tendency to make the base level visual assessment without understanding anything about the underlying individual or thing they are assessing (much like your closing quote). On a physical level of human existence, I doubt anyone can ever really "see" all that there is to "see" or completely know anyone else in full as we start getting into the allegory of the cave, even if the other person is an open book and trying their best to be completely honest and transparent. People seem to have enough trouble knowing themselves fully and seeing the beauty of their own existence.

Part of the beauty of people is that they're constantly evolving and changing. I feel like to truly "know" someone on a meaningful level requires at least a bit of faith. Being able to appreciate something or someone for what was, what is, and what will be and appreciating how interconnected it all is and that every aspect exists in relation to the rest, I suppose that's a form of beauty in itself.

Anyway, that was a long philosophical ramble for a comment, but thanks for the thought-fuel. Off to jump down another wormhole I suppose. :)

Yeah, I think about the "we are all mirrors" thing often, and also think that most of people who autoanalyze themself/dive into themselves take this very into account, to the point it might get tricky sometimes, bc as you said it's present in many levels/life aspects/fields... I think we all could be projecting all (or at least most of) the time and it's hard to catch when we're not.

I think we never get to know anybody completely, no matter how many years you've been with him/her, sometimes we spend a lifetime trying to get know ourselves, so yeah I agree it requires a bit of faith and accepting we're always changing.

Now, there's this thing about "love at first sight" that still intrigues me, because it's weird and it only happened to me once, I was very young tho, and it's weird bc it feels so crazy, like the mere aspect and presence of that person just repercuting on your mental state but also physical state! lmao and yeah I know it's just your brain and chemical reactions but it's weird that you can feel not only attraction but even love to someone you don't know at all just bc their appereance, and most impressive is that sometimes those cases end up being a life-lasting relantionship. I think there's something there, very related to the "truth" and "intelligence of the soul" I was referring here, this attempt of delucidating beauty "objectively." Now I find it rare that I will get to ever feel "love at first sight" again, bc of all the experiences/knowledge I got so far, I may find strangers attractive but it's very unlikely that I get those physical sympthoms or feel that desire/urge to get to be with them, it's necessary for me to get to the roots! But dunno, maybe I'm just not aware of my feelings and reactions enough. Anyways, I'd like to meet people who have experienced this more than just once and ask them how it all went in the different cases, I think it's very interseting lol

Thanks to you for the thought-fuel! :D

I had that experience as well. I've finally got to the point where I really don't look for that feeling any more and my thoughts as to why are this... What if that feeling was just the first time you every really saw someone? The thing I most vividly recall is the overwhelming feeling that "I've known this person forever."

I definitely think whatever that feeling is comes from an energetic frequency... like we're recognizing someone that resonates very deeply with where we're at in that moment and it just sucks us straight into the present where you can really and truly see someone as they are and not just how you assume them to be (could even be a mirror moment if you really think about it).

What if you can't ever have that feeling again because you can't go back to being that person anymore? Like that moment was a catalyst that fundamentally shifted the way you view other people and altered who you are, so there's no way to really go back to the "blind" state you were operating in before?

There's so many "first experiences" that you can draw parallels to and it doesn't mean you can't have better experiences later, but it'll never be that "first experience" again. Perhaps it never has to be and the only purpose it served was to make us aware that there's more to existence than self or maybe it's just a catalyst to remind you that love exists.

Obviously some people nail it on the first try, perhaps that's just the path they're on in this life. I don't pretend to have all the answers, but I won't spend my life chasing ghosts and maybe it's just more of the whole "faith" thing, but I figure whatever is meant to happen will happen and I'll go with the flow as always. Que sera sera.

very interesting conversation. I would like to be part of it :)

Love at first sight ... Maybe I used to believe in that as a young person as the prerequisite for a long relationship. I fell in love at first sight all the time and it could have been anyone, so to speak, as long as they seemed friendly and beautiful (whatever you understood by that) - I guess it's the innocence and inexperience of young people that they can fall in love quickly and this ability tends to decrease with age or is replaced by other qualities. But what "love at first sight" could also simply mean is that a person is still open, knows few prejudices and it is therefore easy to fall in love. Progressive life experience and age by no means exclude the possibility of retaining this source of spontaneous affection. For this, it is probably necessary to unlearn to make immediate (internally felt and externally expressed) assessments according to sensory impressions. Thus, an old man may fall in love with a flower and a sixteen-year-old boy may have already lost all sense of beauty. Depending.

I see it the same way as you do, one does not need to strive for something like the first infatuation, the more one tries to reach that " from back then", the less it will be found - and only when we forget, make ourselves easy, open ourselves to undreamt-of possibilities, may this forgetting of oneself lead precisely to falling in love.

:) whatever will be, will be.

It seems shockingly naive to "fall in love" at any point, especially and even more so to believe in "love at first sight".

It's fun to imagine what a person might be when you know almost nothing about them.

It's like falling in love with a movie star.

Or falling in love with a deity.

It's certainly fun, and sometimes it's fun for quite a bit longer than one might expect.

But I find it almost equally enjoyable to savor the journey of getting to know someone bit by bit, without jumping to too many conclusions all at one time.

It seems shockingly naïve to "fall in love" at some point, especially and even more so to believe in "love at first sight".

Oh, it doesn't just seem naive, it is naive. Naivety is not a bad thing. Naïve feelings and thoughts can be refreshing when they ease, defuse, pacify a situation.

Naivety is often equated with being young, but it can happen at any age and at different moments. It's actually not such a bad quality and carries - I think - an unjustly negative image.

It's fun to imagine what a person might be like when you know almost nothing about them.

We used to play career guessing games :)

But I find it almost as nice to enjoy the journey, to get to know someone bit by bit without drawing too many conclusions at once.

If you survive the initial infatuation, there comes the phase of negotiation and conflict. If you survive that too, the phase of co-creation, and if you're past that too, the phase of co-evolution (don't understand this as linear, the phases are not necessarrily in order)

The journey is not always a pleasure, but just as often shocking, upsetting, interesting or even boring. As an old-established couple, however, it is very pleasant to have a certain routine with each other, alternating with creative phases. Always being good for a surprise enlivens the relationship.

I like this point of view, I agree there's something about innocence and inexperience in it, but also that about still openess, something that if you think of it makes the person even more beautiful! hahah

It's the moments not telling the other one what loveable one discovered in him or her :) But kissing or hugging or gently stroking the hand and being delighted by the surprise given in that way. Unexpected.

Otherwise I find being in a relationship is an art of handling the ambiguity of another human being (and self) and instead of hating it, being able to enjoy it or at least find it interesting.

May I ask if you are together with someone?

I like the catalyst perspective tho, and it really feels good not looking for that feeling anymore! :)

I like your text. There is shown very clearly the relationship between beauty and truth. I like to cite something I read many years ago in a book I think of the german philosopher Carl Friedrich von Weizsäcker: »Schönheit ist der Leib einer Wahrheit« (beauty is the body of truth). Thank you very much.

I couldn't agree more with Carl, so true! :)
Thank you for passing by! :D

Beautifully expressed!

thanku! :D

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This publication is a beauty, because what it produced in my heart is touching.... Beauty goes beyond the senses, it can only be perceived from the heart, in essence everything is beauty, for that we must wear glasses to see beauty. Greetings

I'm glad you got that nice feeling too, it was part of the idea for this piece :) Greetings! :D

La verdad es exelente tu publicacion , y la verdad que la belleza es unica, saludos.

jejej muchas gracias! :D

and we all should learn to see it! :D