Thursday, July 23, 2009


The word aesthetics is not so old. I believe it was coined by Kant, borrowing on the the Greek eitésis, which signifies sensation. We find the same root in other words, like "an-esthesia", which means absence of sensation.

Consequently, aesthetics, in the first instance, is what procures a sensation. Now, many impute to beauty or aesthetics a moral value. In other words, they persuade themselves that beauty is necessarily concomitantly good. It is not very difficult to show that they err. If beauty is in effect what procures a sensation, there have been for example many an aestheticism linked to perverse ideologies or frightful dictatorships. Moreover, aesthetics seems in those cases to carry more importance: colossal architecture, apocalyptic music, magnificent uniforms, quite spectacular ceremonies and public reunions, solemn literature, etc.

Hence, beauty has no finality of itself. In other words, it is not sufficient or capable of itself to lead to the completion of the human person. It is ordered to something other than itself. Without redeveloping here an entire metaphysics, some would hang the phone up, lol, we can nevertheless try to look at that towards which beauty is ordered.

In Greek philosophy, but also in other philosophies, like Hindu metaphysics for example, there are 5 recognized transcendentals. A transcendental is what suffices to itself, or what does not have any cause other than itself, or again what is finalized by itself and attracts the rest in as much as it is precisely first cause and final cause (which is absolutely not the case of beauty, and this well and truly constitutes one of the major errors of the contemporaries who elevate beauty to the rank of transcendental. Beauty is an errant cause of sorts, neither good nor bad of itself, it all depends on what it is associated to…).

In reality, Being is THE transcendental par excellence, but since Being is also aliquid (something), and since Being is true, and since Being is one (indivisible), and finally since Being is good, we turned aliquid, truth, one and good into four other full-fledged transcendentals, which isn’t wrong, but those four are in reality more like acolytes of Being. In other words, they are four other ways of naming Being.

Furthermore, as we quite rapidly ceased to understand what One is, we substituted it by Beauty, which is a singularly toxic error, the consequences of which are massive. This has lead including to physical massacres... for beauty ultimately substituted itself to good by veiling it and by sometimes justifying the most horrifying acts (not always, let's not exaggerate either).

Nonetheless, we must recognize that beauty is typically human. Animals do not make art or craft. Art and craft are one of the ways of differentiating man from beast. The animal does not wear ornaments, or clothes, which confers to clothing a foremost value of aestheticism, maybe even before any notion of moral value or modesty. :)

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  1. But are you confusing Beauty with Extravagance? Beauty is typically human in that it is unavoidably subjective. In its subjectivity would be where its strength is.

    And here, I'm thinking almost entirely of John Keats, and his lovely odes. But in thinking of these, it has often occurred to me how ugly the pursuit of beauty can be, and I have wondered where that Grecian Urn had traveled before it came to his eyes.

  2. "Art and craft are one of the ways of differentiating man from beast." So true! Bravo!

  3. Ah, what a picture. What a happy looking chappie, perhaps because he's got the lassie! But as for good taste, I think she likes the wilder part of aesthetics, and I think that, if one likes one's little titilations raw, that's the best way to get, of course, beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

  4. Beauty is a dead end street...but a lovely one!
    It doesn't lead to wisdom or enlightenment or knowledge of the mind. It is indeed an attempt, perhaps, to challenge death with the deathless. The problem is that the "deathless" was never alive to begin with and has only the power of short-lived attraction and exhiliration.I remember the first time I saw the Venus de Milo. It was beautiful! But was this due to many, many years of veneration and conditioning; or was it some sort of intrinsic quality. I don't know, but one hastens on to the next object after a few minutes without looking back.

  5. I'm been thinking about this a lot lately and have some idea: I think beauty is more powerful and essential than most will ever admit. We all settle at times for non beauty but in the end... it is everything. Inner beauty, of course, but outer beauty is what I'm talking about. Ideally, someone beautiful who has character and goodness on their face.
    I have a very unbeautiful aunt and she told my sister years ago than she believed beauty was useless. With time, I see that she has a point: She is filthy rich and my beautiful mother is not etc but I still have concluded that beauty is almost everything and just because we are forced to live without it doesn't mean we don't want it more than anything.

  6. Beauty is a human invention. In reality, there is no such thing as beauty; there is just what is. That's why beauty, like all abstractions, can be a million different things to a million different people. Every person, and every artist, and every culture can define beauty their own way because in fact it is nothing. Here's what Picasso said: "I have a horror of people who speak about beauty. One should speak about problems in painting."

  7. when my eyesight starts fading beauty will mean much less but for now I squeeze in all the beauty I can find.

  8. If the subject is aesthetics then a discussion of beauty is beside the point. Aesthetics is, in itself, a program of thought and experiment to investigate things that relate to personal human experience of likes, dislikes and preferences,in the same way that ethics is a system of investigation into human behavior. Beauty is as hard to define as morality simply because they are subjective. But the subjects of aesthetics, ethics, poetics, politics are definable.


  9. @Ism & Ologies,
    No confusion, what was being underled is beauty/aesthetics has no moral value in and of itself.

    Good to see you. Read your last post yesterday, interesting insights. :)

    You fly like a butterfly, hope you don't sting ;)

    Again, very nice thoughts. This makes me think, the artist who seeks beauty is put in contact with Quality, which can be a pathway to Being - many enter into first philosophy through philosophy of art.

    Appreciate the input. We do find ourselves under the full fledged dominion of quantity, having lost a sense of quality. As to outer beauty, me thinks after forty you have the face you deserve.:P

    Yes, there is much truth to what you say. However, I believe there is a harmonious element to beauty which is more objective than subjective. Thoughts?

    Beauty is important, it doesn't finalize a person.

    Those are excellent points. The heart of the subject is how beauty/aesthetics are not an end to themselves.

  10. wow..nice blog..
    interesting post here..the beauty..hmmm..we can be beautiful when we get old..? I think that the refexion of a beautiful soul..reflect the beauty on our face and our body even when we will be older. The beauty come from a beautful spirit and a beautiful soul..:)
    Nice to meet you!

  11. This got me thinking a lot further. It's interesting that aesthetics is ahuman.. I've never thought of that. Do you then think art itself is a ahuman? Or would you classify the two as completely different factors? just wrote a post on creativity/change. I'd love to hear what you think of it.