Reflections on beauty

It is peculiar that there should be any beautiful things in the world at all. A reflection the nature and value of beauty may yield interesting theological results.

Beauty is essentially connected to personhood in the following sense: only a person, in the fullness of this term, cares for beauty and can value it appropriately; more than that, beauty is essential to a good life for a person. An animal, for instance, does not know that a sunset or a flower is beautiful. Neither does it make any difference to the life of an animal whether its surroundings are beautiful or not, since animals get along just fine even in the most squalid and repulsive conditions — rats in sewers, for instance. A person cannot live in an impenetrably gloomy environment, however, without suffering to some extent because of it. We have need of beauty in our lives to make them worth living; a life bereft of beauty is not worth living.

Moreover, beauty is something that we value for its own sake, rather than for the sake of something else. A beautiful work of art is worth keeping merely for its  own sake. The environment, in all of its beauty, is worth preserving and caring for precisely on the basis that it is beautiful. Once a person perceives beauty in some thing, to that extent she is willing to care for it for its own sake. A beautiful thing is not the same as a useful thing; the latter we use for the sake of something else, whereas the former we enjoy for its own sake.

Given, then, that beauty is something of value that can only be appreciated by persons, what can explain the reality of beauty in the world? Why is the world beautiful, and why is it possible for us to create beautiful things? The question might be sharpened if we were to consider the view shared by atheist philosophers of our day, a view which holds the absolute origins of everything to lie in the impersonal. On this conception of things, human personhood is a result of various fortuitous causal chains that ultimately have an impersonal beginning. If the starting point of everything is impersonal, why should there be beauty at all? But we discover there to be beautiful things in the world — note, we discover beauty in the world, we find it already there, rather than merely inventing or creating it. This makes far more sense if the origins of the world lie in a kind of transcendent Person, who, like us, appreciates beauty and loves it for its own sake and creates it.

Listen to this track by Pat Metheny and thank God every day for beauty in the world:


About Steven

I study theology and philosophy without ceasing. I have a B.A. in Philosophy from Arizona State University (2013), and an M.Div. from Fuller Theological Seminary (2016). I am currently an adjunct professor of philosophy at Grand Canyon University and a Ph.D. student at Fuller Theological Seminary.
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