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Editor's 1-Minute Essay: Part I
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The following represents a distillation of Dr. Adler's Syntopicon Essay plus my own thoughts:
Truth, goodness and beauty, sometimes called "the three fundamental values," have been used as standards to judge all that is in the world.
Beauty is like truth, a form of knowledge, in that we apprehend the beautiful object -- we take it to ourselves -- simply by knowing it, by beholding it, in the mind's eye.
Beauty is also like goodness, a quality we ascribe to things that please us, in that it gives us pleasure and satisfies our desires.
Beauty is unlike most forms of truth in that our knowledge of the beautiful comes to us intuitively, immediately -- without debate, discussion, research or questioning -- we simply know that the object is beautiful, and we know it immediately.
Beauty is unlike common goodness in that the beautiful object is desired simply for its own sake. Other "goods" such as apples, books, baseball bats, or even persons as sexual objects, offer to us utilitarian benefits: we desire to consume, touch, employ or in some way use all of these in order to extract the pleasure we think they offer. However, the beautiful object gifts to us pleasure simply by knowing or seeing it, without apprehending it directly or using it up.
Is beauty simply a matter of opinion, entirely in the mind of the beholder? or is beauty something objective, in the object itself?
Again, beauty seems to live in a middle-ground between these two views.
According to Thomas Aquinas, a thing of beauty will possess the three qualities of unity, harmony and clarity. These are objective standards of beauty, that is, standards residing in the object itself.
A problem results, however, in that humans cannot always perceive these three qualities due to:
(1) the "magnitude" of the object: some objects are too big or too small [see below] for us to perceive the three qualities inherent within the beautiful object;
(2) the undeveloped state of mind of the viewer: people live on various levels of educational, spiritual and cultural enlightenment, all of which impair or aid one's ability to see an object's beauty - its qualities of unity, harmony and clarity. As the saying goes, "We see things not as they are but as we are."
These last two items relate to subjective standards of beauty, that is, standards built upon the shifting sands of the frailty of human perception, "beauty in the eye of the beholder."
Editor's note: As I wrote this I thought of Dr. Weatherhead's work Why Do Men Suffer? and it occurred to me that the answer to the world's question regarding God's apparent heartlessness in "allowing suffering" likely comes down to man's inability to see the grand design and plan of God, the "unity, harmony, and clarity."
Regarding this issue of perspective, consider the following photo, one featuring gargantuan immensity, in terms of size, distance and time:
Each of these tadpole-like objects, gaseous heads, is at least twice the size of our solar system; each tail stretches 100 billion miles, about 1,000 times the Earth's distance to the Sun.