Remember our review of Peter Kreeft’s Summa Philosophica? We did nine (of ten plus one) chapters, then I laid aside the book and forgot all about it. When I was rearranging my books yesterday, I rediscovered it. Off we go!
Article 1: Whether beauty is an objective reality?
You bet it is. Even if you don’t want it to be. Here’s your very own self-made proof. Take a look at “Eventos de la vida de Moisés” by Botticelli. Study it at your leisure. When ready, take an ordinary blank piece of white paper and a green crayon, and in 30 seconds recreate, to the best of your ability, Botticelli’s work.
Before you will be two works of art, yours and his. Which is objectively better? Which is the more beautiful? Be honest.
This works with music, too. Try it with St Matthew’s Passion. Listen to the piece for as long as you like, then whip out your kazoo and, by memory, recreate Bach’s masterpiece. Which was the better, i.e. the more beautiful, performance? Yours or Richter’s? Now compare your playing to the Beatles or whatever is the top “hip hop” tune. In this case, you have a solid chance of winning.
But isn’t beauty in the eye of the beholder? If it is, that’s a strange place for beauty to live. There isn’t a mother-loving reader out there—I assume you all love your mothers—who has not made a comparison between works of art or music and pronounced this good, that bad. That means you had an objective standard towards which the art aimed, and that one approached the objective standard more closely than the other.
There can be argument at the fine level. Richter might have two bad nights in a row, conducting the first movement well but the second not as well one night and the reverse the second night. Now which was the more beautiful performance? Tricky. Our answer may only be probable. But then so much of our knowledge is. We do not claim objective physical reality does not exist when our knowledge is only probabilistic. If Jones is in the dock on trial for the murder of Smith, we might never know for certain that Jones did the deed, but we know it is true somebody did. Just because we can’t say with certainty it was Jones we don’t say murder isn’t a real thing or that it “depends on your prospective.”
Kreeft: “Disagreement does not prove subjectivity. If everyone disagreed about the correct answer to a complex mathematical equation, or about the location of a hidden treasure, that disagreement would not make the truth of the matter subjective.”
You can’t go by preferences, neither. People often prefer that which is bad or bad for them well knowing this to be the case. This is what sin is, after all.
Article 2: Whether beauty consists in harmony?
This one has “Plato, Aristotle, Augustine, Cassiodorus, Aquinas” on its side. Carl Sagan and Richard Dawkins, too.
Aren’t they always going on and on (Sagan not so much anymore) about how beautiful, how harmonious is the universe? You know they are, and on this subject they’re right. The mistake they and materialists make is saying the universe is the only beautiful thing.
But isn’t it so that “dissonances are often more beautiful than consonances?”
The harmony of dissonances with consonances is part of music’s higher harmonies, as colors are harmonious blends of light with darkness. The dissonances frame, reveal, and augment the beauty of the consonances as darkness does to light, absences to presences, and pains to pleasures.
Article 3: Whether beauty is the object of love?
[I]f the terms are conceived broadly enough, beauty can be defined as id quod videtur placet, “that which, being seen, pleases.” Whatever (id quod) is apparently (videtur) pleasing (placet) and satisfying is the object of our desire, for desire always seeks its own satisfaction. And whatever is desired, is loved. Therefore beauty is the object of love.
Article 4: Whether beauty moves us more than truth?
Except for inveterate mathematicians, it does. After all, how many high schools blurt out, “I love these beautiful and true algebraic equations!”? Novels sell better than books of philosophy. More people line up at the cinema for adventure than for documentaries. And “there are far more poems in praise of beauty than in praise of truth. Poems may not be a reliable index of objective truth, but they are a reliable index of what moves human love.”
Given the “poetry” one hears today, in the form of popular song, what moves people isn’t pretty. Yet how many, in their ignorance, are convinced it is?
Incidentally, there are also attacks on truth, but you have to submit yourself to an education to be plagued by these.
Article 5: Whether beauty moves us more than goodness?
Yep. “If beauty did not move us more than goodness, temptation would be impossible, for temptation uses the attractiveness, or apparent beauty, of something that is evil to lure us to prefer it to what is good [emphasis added].”
Article 6: Whether souls are more beautiful than bodies?
They are. But don’t forget that the soul is the intellective form of the human being. It is not a material object. Neither are our intellects material. Our souls can move beyond particulars, which are the only things our senses/brains can enjoy, and grasp universals, like truth and beauty. And universals are greater beauties than particulars.
Since our souls are capable of greater feats than our bodies, this makes them, in principle, more beautiful. Or uglier, depending on the soul in question.
Article 7: Whether persons are the most beautiful things in the world?
Indeed, I take this as read. We only ever have to be careful of those insane or evil persons who disagree. Like those who would save a newt—or an ideology—at the expensive of a human being.
Article 8: Whether all persons are beautiful?
They are. Yet some folks are especially vile. “Since the corruption of the best is the worst, these persons are the ugliest and least beautiful of all things in nature. Hitler is uglier than a hyena.” But “[g]reat evildoers are morally ugly only because they are ontological beautiful.” (The ontological beauty of what they are, not what they do.)
[T]he most important of all moral obligations is to have love and goodwill for all persons. But we are not to love evil, only good. And whatever is good, is also beautiful. Therefore all persons are beautiful.
Article 9: Whether God is beautiful?
Certainly. Speaking analogically, God is beauty. To pick just one example:
Whatever is true and good is beautiful, for beauty is a property that flows from truth and goodness. But God is supremely true and good. Therefore God is supremely beautiful.
Article 10: Whether music is the primal art and language?
My friends, it is. This is why it is so painful to see our language so debased and stunted. When you lack words for a concept, or the meaning of those words are twisted, you can’t speak coherently or truthfully about it.
Kreeft lapses into poetry:
[M]usic is the primary art because everything in the universe is held together by harmonious musical waves of energy/matter, and God is highest music of all, which is the harmony of love. Music has the ability, more than any other art, to ravish us into out-of-body experiences, or transcendence of self-consciousness.
Next and last time: Sample questions in ten extensions of philosophy.