May 17, 2017


A Defense of Beauty and Excellence from the Classical Tradition (PAUL KRAUSE, 5/17/17, Crisis)

Even before Plotinus, Philo of Alexandria maintained the only true moral good was moral beauty. The understanding and draw to beauty was always a moral endeavor for Philo. The reverse of this was that the only moral evil was the privation of beauty, since the privation of beauty--by definition--would be a privation of goodness since goodness and beauty are intertwined as a whole body. The whole body suffers from the degradation and eventual privation of beauty, denying the body that certain light--a semi-beatific vision--which would otherwise draw all together in desire for the truth that emanates from beauty. [...]

The insistence that beauty draws people together rested upon the classical insight that humans are inherently social animals rather than solitary, weak, and individualistic as Thomas Hobbes or John Locke maintained. Since humans are social animals, made in love and for love--imago Dei--beauty has an essential role in the social relationship. (And love is, by definition, a social phenomenon that involves more than the self.) Beauty is the gateway to truth, since truth is beautiful. Beauty and truth are, by definition, good. As Plotinus ended, "The Good, which lies beyond, is the Fountain at once and Principle of Beauty: the Primal Good and the Primal Beauty have the one dwelling-place and, thus, always, Beauty's seat is there."

Catholics, best of all, understand the importance of the union of aesthetics with arĂȘte. Beauty, itself, demands a value judgement. There is nothing harsh or unfair with proclaiming this truth. That which is beautiful is good, and that which is ugly, as Plotinus recognized, is neither beautiful nor good. There are natural gradations of beauty. As Augustine explained, the gradations of beauty lift one up closer to Heaven and the Supreme Beauty that is God. This follows the insights of both Plato and Plotinus who recognized that the experience of even low beauty awakens an innate desire for greater beauty that drives one to greater excellence in search for beauty.

The revolutionary outlook of modernity rested in its separation of aesthetics and morality, and in doing so, made both beauty and morality necessarily relative and solipsistic. In its relativism, as Allan Bloom noted in The Closing of the American Mind, a degradation of rational cultivation that had been central to classical philosophy through Catholic philosophy occurred. Rational introspection to arrive at truth is only possible through the fully cultivated intellect, but the spirit of relativism and postmodernism have rendered such notions as impossible to ever attain. Relativism is the great embodiment of anti-intellectualism as Leo Strauss explained in Natural Right and History. And the slip into solipsism and atomizing individualism runs counter to the social and communitarian impulse of human nature and Catholic philosophy.

Posted by at May 17, 2017 5:37 AM