Beauty: A Very Short Introduction
Roger Scruton in his work Beauty is not trying to address the question, what is beauty, but delving deeper into the philosophical conundrum of critique. How does one make aesthetic judgments in a modern/postmodern world when the concept of beauty is so closely tied to truth and goodness but these have all been stripped of any meaning? By rejecting the desecration of art, beauty, and humanity in the rebellion of modern thinking and returning to a proper understanding of beauty with the help of Kant and Hume going all the way back to Plato. Scruton proposes that critical analyses are about changing someone’s perception. In this short introduction, he sets out to show how one can allow the beauty of life found in humans, nature, everyday things, and works of art to communicate its message of hope, love and purpose. The hermeneutical key needed to unlock the door is to see beauty as a “real and universal value, one anchored in our rational nature, and the sense of beauty has an indispensable part to play in shaping the human world” (xii).
What I found most intriguing in his argument is as it progressed, beauty becomes as much about the viewer or partaker as it is about the object itself. But not in the way that the moderns have portrayed in their narcissistic version, for Scruton has a much different approach to the subject. Beauty is more than what we see, hear, taste, and touch. It is not merely a sensory experience, but communication of meaning. Seen in nature, artwork, and the everyday; beauty is about hope, that this world is real, life has meaning and purpose, love is possible, and there is more to it than meets the eye. Good or true art shows us not only what is but what can be. And the beauty we perceive tells us what ought to be, what is right or proper and fitting. To see the world this way requires a certain understanding on the part of the participant informed not by the particulars of technique but the universals of truth and goodness and other virtues, which requires contemplation. Aesthetic judgments are only possible if beauty is not merely opinion or preference. Encounters with beauty are individual subjective experiences but ones viewed through universal, rational lenses.
Therefore, it is vastly important that we continue to teach people how to encounter the arts and life in such a way as to receive the message communicated through beauty. And it is also vital to continue producing art both in the formal works on display and in the informal setting of private life that has meaning. Because humans will never stop creating but in the absence of beauty instead of imagination we are left with fantasy and instead of the embodied human form, we have pornography. For when we can no longer see the beauty of life in the world or art and stop making it ourselves then we lose in part what it means to be human and degrade ourselves to a fate lower than that of animals. Scruton challenges us to reevaluate how we see the arts and the world around us in order to preserve the sanctity of life. For he sees that more is at stake than the world becoming increasingly “ugly.” The loss of beauty is a death sentence for the soul and a fate I fear the world is quickly approaching with little or no regard for the cost involved.