I’m standing on a protected ledge. Overlooking a beach widely known by name. The ocean is a deep blue. Great waves engulf any rock formations which stand in their way. Buildings watch over all of this in a sort of beautifully chaotic arrangement, reminiscent to me of European architecture. The sky is a faded blue. It's laid back and sunken with translucent clouds. I am deeply entrenched in this scenery. I feel like a part of Mother Nature, and I belong in this scenery as much as the ocean itself. Every thought fades away. Nothing else matters...
📍 Bondi Beach, NSW, Australia
Why do I feel this way about the sighting of water, air and concrete? Isn't this something I already expected anyway? I wouldn't claim to say anything exceed my expectations. I fully expected to observe these things. I estimated it to be worthy of its popularity.
But this isn’t merely food for the eyes. You rarely get taken aback by the food you already know is going to be good. You just feel pleased that your estimation was correct. Visual stimulation? Visual nourishment? No, this is something more. Visual stimulation is what it feels like on the surface, but there is something deeper going on beneath it. I am feeling more than I am perceiving.
The moment of transcendence. We can experience this same feeling of being lost in a transcendent reality beheld on everyday things. Like gazing upon sepia leaves fluttering down from towering trees in fall, superimposed over the golden sunset.
Soul by Pixar (Source)
Ah... How beautiful the world around us is. How miraculous it is that we get to experience it in all its glory. How remarkable it is to simply be!
But this is not how we feel at all times. We get caught in things other than the here and now. As a temporal experience, it's worth thinking of it as an event. Where the subjective mind and objective reality meet. The point where seemingly everyday things bring you to a point where they stop entirely in a moment of pause. This is the event we call Beauty. Now, I am back to the beach I'm overlooking, and I realise it is precisely this event I’m being gracefully pulled into. The event of Beauty.
Beauty is good. After all, its utility is unquestionable! Think urban cities. The architect Leon Krier speaks of beauty as the ultimate desire of power, and author Kunstler of the ultimate importance of utility to the selecting of place, but also of the importance of Beauty to its appreciation. Put simply, we gravitate towards things that are beautiful, and away from things that are not.
But I might go a few steps further beyond scenery and try to propose Beauty as some kind of a worldview, as opposed to mere appearance or a means of commerce. Beauty, as a philosophy of life and as a lens through which one can conceive the world. A quality one!
Elon Musk's Tweet
We can perceive the world from many perspectives. Science explains things, but the account is incomplete. Outside of the scientific perspective, we can grasp the world of spiritual experience from the perspective of Beauty — not seeking to use or explain, but simply to contemplate. Before I progress, I wish to be as clear as I can on one thing. What in the world is Beauty?
Beauty is not an easy definition. Philosophers have gone in circles for centuries trying to figure this out. According to the Oxford dictionary, Beauty is "a combination of qualities, such as shape, colour, or form, that pleases the aesthetic senses, especially the sight." But that doesn't do it for me. That's defining beauty by its characteristics or by how it manifests, and not as a form in itself. It's like saying truth is a combination of qualities, such as coherence, exclusivity or universality. But we can define truth. Truth is conformity with fact. Agreement with reality. Plato described Beauty as an idea or form of which beautiful things were the consequence. Why is it so much harder to define Beauty as a form, as the source of its characteristics?
At first approximation of a definition, we could say Beauty is something to do with the mental activity of a subject, typically expressed by a sincere utterance of "that's beautiful", in response to perceiving an object. And not every predicative use of the word "beautiful" refers to this actual Beauty. For example in Critique of Judgement, the philosopher Immanuel Kant denies that roses, without seeing them, are beautiful. It is not an "aesthetic" but an "aesthetically grounded logical judgement", since it is not the direct result of the aforementioned mental activity but a logically driven one. One of many better examples might be my encounter with Beauty overlooking the beach, as I recounted earlier. One can acquire some peace of mind from just watching that scenery. The **mental activity involved with the perceptual encounter is the focal point of Beauty. Beyond my experience, the list of things that carry the characteristic of Beauty borders on the endless.
...a baby's face, Berlioz's "Harold in Italy," movies like "The Wizard of Oz" or the plays of Chekhov, a central California landscape, a Hokusai view of Mt. Fuji, "Der Rosenkavalier," a stunning match-winning goal in a World Cup soccer match, Van Gogh's "Starry Night," a Jane Austen novel, Fred Astaire dancing across the screen. This brief list includes human beings, natural landforms, works of art and skilled human actions. An account that explains the presence of beauty in everything on this list is not going to be easy.
— Denis Dutton