Beauty

The only way that our apprehensions of beauty might not be illusory is if they are possibly true – if, that is to say, the beauty we apprehend in things is objectively real, regardless of our apprehensions, so that our apprehensions of it can then be either accurate, or not. But as only finitely scient, creatures cannot establish what is objectively real. They can establish, rather, only what is real to them in their partiality and incomprehension. They can establish, to put it plainly, only what is subjectively real. So it is beyond our powers to establish objective truths of any sort, such as mathematical truths. At most, we can discover them (this incapacity of ours to establish objective truths is but a department of our incapacity to create objects of any sort – to bring things into actual existence from nothingness). So then likewise also with beauty. We don’t establish it, but only apprehend it – or, fail thereat.

As only omnipotence can create ex nihilo, only omniscience can establish what is objectively real. So if our apprehensions of beauty are verisimilar, they must be apprehensions of God’s apprehensions of beauty. Otherwise, they’d be false.

When we feel that the mountain is beautiful, then, or the baby, the sonnet, the formula, or the melody, we are feeling God’s feeling of their beauty. [Bearing in mind, of course, all the usual caveats about analogy in respect to God apprehending or feeling – remembering, that is to say, that our ways of apprehending and feeling are but dim echoes of their originals in God.] When we apprehend beauty in x we are apprehending the beauty that God sees in it – the fact that God apprehends beauty in x being the only possible basis of the supposition that the beauty of x is objectively real, so that our apprehensions of that beauty can be true.

Thus our feelings of beauty are in some way participations in the life of God, just as (somewhat differently from our point of view)(though not from God’s) our feelings of truth or goodness are likewise participations in his life. Apprehensions of beauty, truth and goodness then are partial apprehensions of God. Perhaps this accounts for the peculiar *solidity* and security of such apprehensions, the sense of homecoming and arrival, of safety and rest, of solution and resolution and completion – indeed, of satisfaction, exaltation, and gladsome joy – that they engender.

18 thoughts on “Beauty

  1. creatures cannot establish what is objectively real. They can establish, rather, only what is real to them in their partiality and incomprehension.

    How postmodern of you.

    our incapacity to create objects of any sort – to bring things into actual existence from nothingness

    This seems wrong even from a religious perspective. God created man in his own image, and thus man is a creator as well.

    the sense of homecoming and arrival, of safety and rest, of solution and resolution and completion – indeed, of satisfaction, exaltation, and gladsome joy – that they engender.

    Indeed. But children leave home, and while they may return, it is never to quite the same home as the one they left.

    Have you read Christopher Alexander? Very interesting architect and theoryist. Antimodernist, not explicitly theistic but sort of verging on that. I find him intriguing but can’t buy all the way into it, I think you would like him. He wrote a monumental four-volume book on The Nature of Order, which starts by trying to establish that beauty is objective.

    • “God created man in his own image, and thus man is a creator as well.”

      This does not follow. By this logic, since God created man in His own image, man is also omnipotent and omniscient, which he obviously isn’t.

    • I doubt he intended his work this way, but Chris Alexander is actually a major resource for reactionary thinkers of various stripes – enough that his books have appeared on our Books page from the very start of the Orthosphere.

      I would not say that the notion that creatures cannot establish objective truths is post-modern. On the contrary, it is classical. Note the difference between “establish” and “apprehend.” I didn’t say that there is no such thing as objective truth, but rather nothing other than competing subjective (and tendentious) assertions, as the post-modernists do. Nor did I say with Kant and other moderns that while there is an objective truth, we can’t apprehend it. We can; that we can apprehend such truths is rather a presupposition of the post.

      But we cannot *establish* an objective truth. We cannot, e.g., create a mathematical truth, but rather only discover it. Nor from our limited partial perspective can we attain to a comprehensive and exhaustive understanding of any contingent state of affairs, because only omniscience can know everything there is to know about anything – anything at all. And such knowledge would be necessary in order to found a complete and exhaustive account of any contingency, that included all the objective truths about it.

      If then there is such a thing as an objective state of affairs, it cannot be a merely creaturely product. It can be founded – and thus found – only in omniscience.

      And that’s an extremely pre-modern doctrine. Indeed, it is about as ancient as a doctrine could well be.

      It is quite orthodox Christian and Jewish doctrine that creatures cannot create as God does. That we are made in the imago dei does not mean that we have divine powers. The image is other, and less, than its referent.

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  3. This may be a bit OT but I am still thinking that although the earth is full of the glory of God there exists downright ugly and revolting creatures like slugs, snails, blobfish, etc.
    How do they reflect the glory of God? Beauty indicates the glory of god yet it is not universal.

    • That beauty is objective does not mean there are no uglinesses anywhere. Even assuming that God appreciates the beauty of the slug in ways we cannot, that still would not mean there were no uglinesses. Indeed, that beauty is objective means that ugliness is, too.

      • Any objective ugliness is a result of defects in the creaturely implementation of God’s will. Viz., the supreme ugliness of the created order, from which all ugliness derives: the Fall.

        The Fall does not serve God’s purposes, but frustrates them. Nevertheless he works all defects to his ends, despite their evil. In the end, omnipotence cannot be frustrated in his purposes.

      • That’s the doctrine. The Fall ruined everything. Not just our Fall, but the Fall of Lucifer and his cohorts that preceded our own. One of the functions of the angels is to administer the creation. When some of them rebelled, some aspects of the administration of the world went to hell.

      • “Are you saying that in a perfect created order(without the fall) there are no ugly or revolting creatures in existence?”

        Personally, I have some inkling of what mosquitoes were / would be like in an unfallen world*, so I can take it on faith that other creatures resolve similarly well.

        (* Where I am, no hiking excursion in summer to ‘commune with nature’ is quite complete without also inadvertently ending up communing nature in the person of quite a number of bloodsucking insects. No one is actually killed or even substantively inconvenienced in the process — so the fact that this seems painful and undesirable is obviously just a matter of perspective. Any relationship of parasitism resolves quite straightforwardly into symbiosis.)

      • That’s the other side of the answer to Infowarrior’s question. I had not broached it yet because I am working on a post about it. In short, minds of the same sort or species that were all rightly oriented to their own proper good under the providence of the Good would all agree about what was beautiful and what was not, and would also find the beauty in many things that we find revolting.

        In a Fallen world, even ugly or terrible things can have a beautiful aspect, arising from their domestication by God to their own part in a general flux of the created order toward its final resolution and fulfillment at the eschaton. Pain, e.g., which Christian orthopraxy has always recognized as at least potentially sanctifying, and thus beautiful, provided the sufferer maintains the correct, the true perspective upon things. Martyrdom, tragedy and grief could also be adduced in this connection. Each had a noble aspect, indeed a sublime aspect, even to the pagans.

  4. Dear Kristor, I think you got your map and terrain so incredibly mixed up that I am not even sure anymore you know where one ends and the other begins… do you at least still see a difference between statements about reality and statements about our perceptions of reality?

    If yes, what can even it possibly mean that beauty is objectively real? That a pretty flower objectively has the same physical properties we think it has? This is most likely true. That these properties create a sensation of pleasure in our minds? This is also true, but it is a statement about our minds. Or that we put these pleasurable sensations into the verbal category beauty? Yes, that is also a true fact about our minds and categorizations. Or that we somehow should project back this verbal category we made for describing these pleasurable sensations into the actual object and consider it its objective property, I mean, how isn’t that immediately obvious that would be crazy? For starters, “beauty” is not even a property of things, but a property of sensations in our minds. It is just our own usual human sloppiness that instead of saying, more accurately, that “looking at this thing reliably causes me the feeling of aesthethic pleasure”, we just say “this is beautiful”. This is sloppy, but thankfully it is slowly ending now, I think this one of the more positive social chances these days, that younger people learned to automatically correct for it, now when someone says “band X is really great” they learned to hear “I really like band X”, for they understand now, correctly, that the speaker is explaining the sensation in their mind, not reality.

    But at least I understand now why you need a God… essentially, you really, really want at least _some_ map be fundamental to the terrain. You hate the uncertainty of a universe where most statements are just opinions, and the rest just stand or fall on their predictive power, not on a truth more inherent. And to make the map in your mind to have any chance of being at least partially fundamental to reality, you need to think that reality is itself a map in Gods’ mind or at least coming from there. Your theism reduces to a hunger of knowability, of convincing yourself that reality is not fundamentally weird and alien to human minds.

    • First there is a mountain; then, there is no mountain; then, there is a mountain.

      If there is no terrain, then the map is entirely a fiction. If there is no contour out there on the mountain, then the contour lines on the map that represent it (but that are not the same thing as the contour) mislead us by indicating the reality of that contour.

      Our apprehensions of beauty are like the contour lines. The beauty that is out there is like the contour of the mountain. If the beauty is not out there, then our apprehensions of beauty are simply false.

      If reality is fundamentally weird and alien to human minds, then the notion that reality is fundamentally weird and alien to human minds is false, along with all our other notions about reality.

  5. Pingback: The Beauty of Being | The Orthosphere

  6. Spending time thinking about art is what first allowed me to entertain the idea of God.

    Can something be objectively beautiful? If yes, what’s the rational basis for this belief?

  7. Beauty is the attractive power of the Good, so it is necessarily objective.

    But if you want an argument, let me know what your metaphysics and epistemology are so I’ll have some idea of where to start.

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