Is Beauty an Absolute?

Reading philosophy is valuable. Philosophers spend their time delineating concepts that are, for most of us, somewhat vague. Whether or not you agree with them, the value of their writing lies in the asking of the question and thus the crystallization of your own thoughts.

What is Beauty? Beauty is difficult to pin down, and our thoughts on the subject tend to be rather muddy. We say that Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and that Beauty is Truth. Of course, there are those who say that Truth itself is relative…

“Beauty, as we have seen, is a value; it cannot be conceived as an independent existence which affects our senses and which we consequently perceive”. – George Santayana

“Beauty shines with a light from beyond itself. Love is the name of that light. At the heart of beauty must be a huge care and affection for creation, for nowhere is beauty an accidental presence.” – John O’Donahue

Not only must we discriminate between the paths of thought that Beauty as Absolute and Beauty as Relative will take us upon, our thinking is clouded further because, in our world, the word Beauty is discussed primarily as it concerns the female face and form, and is given to an entire industry. This muddies the waters, as beauty of face and form incorporates Beauty as well as other factors.

So, to our discussion – is Beauty an absolute or an opinion? It is an absolute. During the writing of this post, I turned my head to see sunset painting the clouds bright pink, on a deep blue sky. Had I not noticed what was going outside my window, it would have remained… and remained beautiful. There are no doubts sights to be seen, sounds to be heard, scents to be smelled, textures to touch in the Andromeda galaxy that would bring any of us to appreciative tears. That we do not experience them makes them no less beautiful.

Of course my faith informs my position. If one of the Names of Christ is Beautiful, how can I call Beauty an opinion? He is Who He is, there is nothing more absolute. Because I believe that Beauty is an absolute, I have something to pursue in all that I create, whether that be a space in my garden or a dress on my sewing form.

What is the consequence of believing that Beauty is an opinion? If one considers Beauty present only in the eye of the beholder, anything can be beautiful, which means that there is nothing to pursue, except the pleasure that one takes in the aesthetic sensation so induced. Pleasure is certainly pleasant… but is it a proper end in itself?

When discussing the beauty of face and form, the first thing to understand is that corpses are ugly. Anyone who has been to an open-casket funeral knows this, and it says nothing of the skills of the undertaker. It matters not the makeup nor the form, when the soul has left, so has the beauty. A marble sculpture has far more Beauty than the tent made of flesh once the life has left it.

If we understand the true nature of Beauty is an absolute – the absolute perfection of God, of which we can but see a facet – then we can maximize our beauty by maximizing first our goodness, and then by maximizing the truth in the way we display the inner self in the outer person. (There’s very little use in representing yourself truthfully if what is true is that your soul is ugly and small. Rectify the insides first). Yes, one wants to take care of entropy – decay, disease, excess weight, etc. One wishes to adorn with craftsmanship and artistry. But the end, the end is the revelation of the soul. Without that, there is no beauty – regardless of how much mascara is used.

Clear thinking produces wise action, and for that we can thank the philosophers, because someone has to ask the question properly in order for it to be answered. Beauty, then, is an absolute – and an absolute good.

Leave a Reply