We often reflect on the nature of actions and emotions: whether such a ruling is just, or whether it is right to feel a certain way. The generators of these motivations may spring from several different sources depending on whom you talk to. For example, a Platonist may say that there is a Form of Love, and that our earthly love is an imperfect reflection of that eternal Form. Or a Christian may say that Love springs from God, and that all sins and virtues flow from love either improperly applied or correctly manifested. A modern day atheist may state that our motivations spring from evolutionary adaptions or even accidents. Love is therefore a byproduct of the need to perpetuate the species, for which both reproduction and social cohesion is necessary.
Let’s consider love for a moment. I say only for a moment because it really deserves its own essay (or book, or lifetime), but I’m most interested in what causes love: beauty. I do not only mean beauty in the classical sense, of a beautiful girl or a spectacular sunset. I mean Beauty in a broader sense; the beauty of drawing close to your childhood home, the beauty of a life beginning or ending, the beauty of family and friends. What is this thing, then, this thing we call Beauty? Clearly it encompasses many things, but the fact that aspects of all these things may be named with a single word must mean that some essence binds them together.
We start by imagining Beauty as something that all things have to a greater or lesser degree. And this makes sense. Consider the world’s greatest works of art. Clearly these draw deeply from beauty. Other, more mundane things contain less, and some contain none at all. So we conceive of beauty as an Essence of sorts, that imbues some things and passes over others. However, after thinking a bit we start to find problems with this rather simplistic analysis. For example, most of us would agree that a new bride in her wedding dress is beautiful. However, to other people this may seem like a bizarre ritual. I’m thinking specifically of somone like a Hadzabe tribesman coming across a wedding ceremony (don’t ask me how) and wondering: what on Earth are these people doing?
So clearly beauty is not an Essence independent of the observer. In fact, this leads us to the well-known saying: “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” So maybe we should back up a bit and consider the possibility that Beauty is an interior state of mind, like an emotion. Particular people find particular things beautiful, for example, but all people experience beauty, therefore the perception of beauty is a human condition shared by all of us. Could it be that the ability to perceive beauty is part of the human experience, just as is sadness, hope, love?
And so if we shift beauty from an aspect to an emotion, we begin to realize that the world never lacks beauty; in fact it is we who lack perception. In fact, we do not go out in search of beauty, rather we go out in search of the thing that will unlock the beauty within us. So therefore let’s recognize the beauty and grace that surrounds us every day, and by so doing we will live and love all the more.
For Sarah Paige Berling and Eric Hofrichter, congratulations on your new life together!