A Euthyphro Beauty

Beauty is one quality that I am anti-realist about. I believe that beauty is ‘in the eye of the beholder’, but, due to my Psychological inclinations, I also understand that our human, evolutionary nature leads us to see ‘beauty’ as a way of identifying potential mates; a woman may be beautiful if she has large child-bearing hips, for instance, and a man beautiful because he has broad shoulders for fighting.

Nevertheless, the question is beyond the meaning of the language: do we enjoy sights and sounds because they are beautiful, or are they beautiful because we enjoy them? This question is an adaptation of the Euthyphro Dilemma[1] and could be seen to be meaningless, since it is a combination of both options.

However, to answer the question, we have to look beyond that use of language in philosophy to the way we put said language into practise in our modern society. Indeed, ‘higher-pleasures’[2] throughout history have been the arts, both visual and audible, as well as literature, which can provoke both in one’s mind. A friend asked ‘could we will ourselves to hear music without actually listening to anything?’, to which I replied ‘surely we do that already?’, since I am very used to full tracks of certain music running around my head, even when I do not want them to. However, even disliking a piece does not make it less beautiful. One man’s pain is another’s pleasure, so the saying goes, which does so well to explain how relative the arts are.

One might suggest that sights and sounds are only beautiful to certain people because of the certain emotions they create. Like the concept of beauty itself, sights and sounds elicit different, relative responses depending on the person. This is shown by some people preferring to listen to rock music rather than classical, despite that both might play a part in encouraging creative muses or help. Relativity is a sensible consideration to whether ‘Beauty’, the concept, exists extraneously of beauty-giving objects – but it is not my point.

On the other hand, is it correct, or fair, for this theory to rule out that sights and sounds are beautiful of their own accord? We certainly experience them as beautiful: if I were to stand in front of a well crafted painting or read a good piece of literature, I would allow myself to automatically consider it beautiful. This suggests that such beauty does not exist outside of the mind, for it appears that humans are some of the only species on the planet to know what they interpret as beauty. However, what we perceive does not necessarily make it the correct theory. If God created Beauty with an innate definition that the epistemic distance does not allow us to conceive of, perhaps He is the only one to know beauty as it is. He made us to know that His Creation possesses part of beauty. Certainly, to the deeper philosophers of the world, beauty is more than just an aesthetic illusion; beauty is something which touches us at our soul, in the way that it might bring us closer to God’s Beauty. Thus, that external, created beauty must already be there for us to feel it. In the same way that we know something is cold because our nerves can sense it is below our body temperature, our sense of appreciation can identify that something is beautiful in its appearance or sound.

Certainly, we think we enjoy sights and sounds because they are beautiful, but if no one noticed their beauty, it would still be there, we just wouldn’t recognise it.

[1] Is something good because God wills it, or does God will it because it is good?

[2] See John Stuart Mill’s Utilitarianism

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