Monday, September 03, 2007

Entry#123: A timeslice in the history of Beauty

Beauty, its form, function, realization, significance, et. al was often studied in ancient times. Below is a rather elegant writing (as many historical writings tend to be) entitled "On Beauty" by famed philosopher Plotinus (204/5 -- 270 C.E.):

“Beauty is mostly in sight, but it is to be found too in things we hear, in combination of words and also in music, and in all music [not only in songs]; for tunes and rhythms are certainly beautiful: and for those who are advancing upwards from sense-perception ways of life and actions and characters and intellectual activities are beautiful, and there is the beauty of virtue. If there is any beauty prior to this, this discussion will reveal it.

On this theory nothing single and simple but only a composite thing will have any beauty. It will be the whole which is beautiful, and the parts will not have the property of beauty by themselves, but will contribute to the beauty of the whole. But if the whole is beautiful the parts must be beautiful too; a beautiful whole can certainly not be composed of ugly parts; all the parts must have beauty.

You must become first all godlike and all beautiful if you intend to see God and beauty. First the soul will come in its ascent to intellect and there will know the Forms, all beautiful, and will affirm that this, the Ideas, are beauty; for all things are beautiful by this, by the products and essence of intellect. That which is beyond this we call the nature of the Good, which holds beauty as a screen before it.

So in a loose and general way of speaking the Good is the primary beauty; but if one distinguishes the intelligibles [from the Good] one will say that the place of the Forms is the intelligible beauty, but the Good is That which is beyond, the ‘spring and origin’ of beauty; or one will place the Good and the primal beauty on the same level: in any case, however, beauty is in the intelligible world."

According the the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, the above means:

"Plotinus recognizes a hierarchy of beauty. But what all types of beauty have in common is that they consist in form or images of the Forms eternally present in Intellect. The lowest type of beauty is physical beauty where the splendor of the paradigm is of necessity most occluded. If the beauty of a body is inseparable from that body, then it is only a remote image of the non-bodily Forms. Still, our ability to experience such beauty serves as another indication of our own intellects' undescended character. We respond to physical beauty because we dimly recognize its paradigm. To call this paradigm ‘the Form of Beauty’ would be somewhat misleading unless it were understood to include all the Forms cognized by Intellect. Following Plato in Symposium, Plotinus traces a hierarchy of beautiful objects above the physical, culminating in the Forms themselves. And their source, the Good, is also the source of their beauty. The beauty of the Good consists in the virtual unity of all the Forms. As it is the ultimate cause of the complexity of intelligible reality, it is the cause of the delight we experience in form."

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