The Measure of Beauty

A question most puzzling to the modern mind is how it can be possible for beauty not to be in the mind of the beholder. How can beauty be objective, there is nothing to measure?

Some objective truths are not measured.

Measured objects are only those objects that have a repeated characteristic, such as length, such that every inch of length is equal in length to every other inch. Only equal ratios can be multiplied.

What I mean by beauty is what men commonly mean by beauty.

I attempt no technical or philosophical definition: it is that which draws one’s thoughts out of one’s own selfish absorption, and makes one breathless with wonder. Men can survive without it, but not enjoy life without it.

A man in the tropic and in the arctic can look at the same sun at the same hour, and see it differently.

The sun is objective: it is a true thing. It is there. It is real. It would be there if both men vanished.

Their personal thoughts and feeling about the sun are based on their coign of vantage, their past experience, their judgments both considered and immediate.

However, again, these are personal viewpoints ABOUT something that is impersonal and objective.

If one of the two men decides that in his judgement, the sun is pyramidal and pitch-black, this is not a matter of a different viewpoint or a difference of past experience, he is merely wrong and what he is saying sounds insane.

Likewise for questions of justice and judgment. Two men might look at a law case, and one think the punishment was too harsh for what honest justice requires, and the other not harsh enough. This is a matter where reasonable men can differ.

But if either man says that it is just for the innocent to be punished, he is making an objective error in his perception of justice.

That man’s view is not one where reasonable men can differ: by differing on the nature of justice itself, he departs from the fellowship of reason. He is expressing opposition to the concept of justice itself.

Likewise for things like symphonies or taste in women. You might not like Beethoven’s Ninth personally, but any objective critic will affirm there is objective beauty there, even if his own tastes run to Jazz tunes.

But the man who calls atonal cacophony music is not expressing a difference in musical judgment, he is expressing an opposition to the concept of music itself.

He has departed from the fellowship of those who make judgments about music.

Likewise, you might be more attracted to redheads than to blondes when it comes to dance partners, but if you are romantically attracted to an eight year old, there is something objectively wrong with you.

You have left the fellowship of decent romance, and entered the realm of the perverse.

Those who uphold perversity as nothing more than merely a difference of viewpoint and judgment are the ones expressing an opposition to the concept of decency itself.

Now, I would argue that the proposition that beauty is in the eye of the beholder has a jarring ugliness to it which, once draw to the attention of the viewer, he cannot help but see.

For “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” is cognitively the same as the statement, “beauty does not really exist, except as arbitrary self-deception” which is the same as saying “beauty does not exist” which is the same as saying “beauty is bullshit.”

I submit that this sentence in addition to having a logical and a cognitive meaning, also is subject to aesthetic judgment, just in the same way a geometry can be either elegant or awkward.

We judge the aesthetic qualities of thoughts as well as judge their other properties.

I ask the reader where the sentence “beauty is BS” has no register in your aesthetic judgment?

It is saying that each and every thing you have ever looked upon as fair or beautiful is an example not merely of hallucination (for we hallucination, when we do, about things that do exist somewhere, just not in the room with us) but of a total break with reality: believing that a whole category of being exists that does not exist.

It is saying that all this universe and everything in it is ugly.

It makes a mockery of man and life and the cosmos and God Himself. All poets since the paleolithic have wasted their time and genius on nothingness.

I cannot think of an uglier statement than to say that ugliness is all and seeing any beauty is utter self deception.

My point is that even people who deny that beauty exists, in the act of denying it, still employ the categories of fair and foul, pretty and ugly, sublime and horrific.

No one can escape the perception of beauty.