About the existence of universal beauty
There are many ways to define beauty. Biologists might explain it as a result of hormonal activity, musicians call it harmony, mathematicians find anything working beautiful, and physicists measure it by its practical value. The most characteristic part of beauty remains undoubtedly its subjectiveness – nobody can ever dictate to anyone else, what to call beautiful, what not to. Whether an object is beautiful or not, is always subject to argument. But from what point can we truly call something definitely beautiful? And if that is not possible, is anything that cannot be in any way considered beautiful a possibility? To answer these questions, one must observe theories disserting the eternal and ever-constant existence of beauty and draw conclusions from them.
By focusing on synthetical or man-made beauty we find the theories of John Keats and Denis Dutton. Keats claimed in the beginning of the 19th century that beauty is truth and truth is beauty. Since the truth can sometimes hurt, one might think that there is an obvious inconsistency in the theory – how could something we call perfect and positive possibly be painful? We have heard of artists, who had to suffer to create beauty, writers, that suffered during their creative processes, scientists, who, in their search for truth, had to endure various tortures. But we hold the fruits of their labor beautiful and hardly painful. However, as modern art has repeatedly proven, pain is considered a beautiful form of art even nowadays. If there are any doubts, one need only visit the third floor of KUMU.
It cannot go unnoticed that Keats does not mention the beauty of a lie, although that is exactly what is most common to us. One needs only listen to a politician to discover the immense beauty of lies. Then again, when we, the people, find out we have been fooled, the act of lying loses its charm.This effectively proves that every truth is not beautiful. Keats’s theory holds only until politics enters the picture. This can be illustrated by a quote by Alan Moore: “Artists use lies to tell the truth. Politicians use lies to cover the truth up.”
The late professor of philosophy Denis Dutton believed in what he called a Darwinian theory of beauty – that the sense of beauty per se has developed in accordance with the laws of evolution. To prove his theory he brought examples through eons of history, which allegedly contributed to the evolution of man and society. His examples ranged from the impractically numerous tear-shaped stones of homo habilis to modern standards of beauty. He claimed that art and the sense of beauty are merely side effects that assist the process of evolution, mostly with the aim of finding the perfect life partner. An exquisite handiwork gives an impression of powerful potential to members of the opposite sex. Unfortunately history is full of artists and philosophers who were never given credit for their work in their lifetime. Does that mean they lived too soon in terms of evolution? If they had lived later, would credit have been directed where credit was due? Or perhaps their work is considered beautiful because it is old? If this is the case, the Darwinian theory still stands as evolution is also catalyzed by beauty that shows us the past. This means art is discovering ourselves – through art we see our past, present, and future. And as Socrates so wisely put: “I know that I know nothing.” – something new is always discoverable, therefore beauty can be found in everything. Thus, through focusing on syntetic beauty we can clam definitely that there is relative beauty in every object, action and phenomenon.
It would also appear that Dutton’s proposed theory holds true in terms of natural beauty as well. It is the general consensus, that a small lake in a green mountainous valley or in the middle of a plain, surrounded by woods, is a “beautiful” landscape. A barren tundra has a rather negative effect. This means that we sense a potentially fertile land beautiful. We may not be aware of it consciously, but there is something inside every one of us, something that has been in every human being for many generations, something that guides us towards land on which our species could survive and thrive. Since every member of every species comprehends innately, where it has the largest probability of surviving, one can conclude that every being has an innate sense of beauty. And since every environment is suitable for some type of organisms, must every environment be beautiful to someone. Most environments are only partially suitable for thriving, which makes them only relatively beautiful. Hence, beauty is an essential part of evolution. Everything is of use to someone, therefore everything has beauty. In general, one might say that due to an almost infinite amount of beings existing presently, there has to be a practically infinite amount of opinions on objects’ beauty. Thus using the theory of probability, it is set that everything is beautiful as long as someone is concerned.
Beauty can also be defined as achieving potential. Since evolution is a process chasing perfection, this definition must, by default, apply to the Darwinian theory of beauty as well. An absolutely beautiful object that cannot become any more beautiful, hence it has achieved its ultimate potential. This ‘thing’ could be God, the perfect being according to Anselm of Canterbury. The God in his approach has allegedly created the world and everything within. It is also common knowledge that evil begets evil and goodness good. Beauty, evil and good have always been part of the natural order of things – for there to be evil, there must also be good; for there to be beauty, there has to be ugliness. Therefore it is reasonable to assume that beauty also is created from pre-existing beauty. It should also be made clear that the lack of beauty is not automatically ugliness – a compromise between the two always exists. This concludes that everything created by God’s beauty has to have some measure of beauty in themselves and that beauty can be considered as a measure to potential, as defined by Aristotle. Because everything has beauty, it must be possible to find beauty in everything. The possibility of finding beauty in turn defines the existence of beauty.
When pondering about beauty, one cannot avoid the problem of the absolute lack of beauty. If we are to say that there exists something that is not beautiful, something absolutely beautiful has to exist. The aforementioned absolutely beautiful being would be God. In that case the object that is not beautiful would have to be a complete opposite of God. However, this kind of being is not mentioned in the Bible, by which God is perfect – Lucifer is merely a fallen angel, previously under God’s command, henceforth definitely not up to par with God. In this case God cannot be defined as the absolutely beautiful being, as it has no yang to its ying. Therefore this argument must be devoid of matters of faith, in order to avoid conflicts with the basic principles of faith itself. From an empirical point of view, one has to admit that up to now no observation has found proof of either extreme of beauty. Brute logic supports the nonexistence of the absolute lack of beauty – since it is, in and of itself, a relative and subjective concept due to its many definitions, which, as a matter of fact, usually happen to define it as such, it must be undoubtedly be concluded that absolute, uncontestable and definable extremes of beauty cannot possibly exist. Next I shall bring two examples of the search for the lack of beauty, which support this claim.
The most famous seeker of beautilessness is Douglas Adams, whose poetry is thought to be beautiful simply because it is not. It is something different from anything ordinary, it is something one of a kind. People in general prefer to stand out from the crowd, to show their individuality. And exactly that is the beauty of ugly poetry – innovation and rebelry. But this is by far not the only time someone has made an attempt to create something truly not beautiful.
Scott Rickard, a professor at Dublin University, attempted to find a piece of music, which would not be considered in any way beautiful. In music, beauty is hidden in patterns and repetition. Indeed, Beethoven used one and the same motif hundreds of times within a single masterpiece. Rickard therefore concluded that he must construct a piece of music that lacks any kind of repetition at all. The result of his long and enduring research was a single composition, which premiered in September, 2011. However, in order to create this horrific music, he had to use beautiful mathematics – avoiding repetition was only possible thanks to an algorithm that hinged on base numbers. Thus, even in the pursuit for beautilessness we inevitably find beauty. One might even say that the search for it is beautiful and the result of it has to be beauty because of it.
The nonexistence of things without beauty is supported by three separate proofs, each with a different approach – everything has beauty from the evolutionary and potential perspectives and it can even be proven through a conflicting claim. At the same time, the proofs looked at three different definitions of beauty: beauty as a catalyst of evolution, as a measure of potential, and as an arbitrary characteristic. One must inevitably conclude that beauty is everywhere in everyone and everything. Since beauty is in the eyes of the beholder, it depends on the existence of an original beholder. However, in the absence of an observer one can claim that beauty is everywhere as nobody could possibly disagree. Thus, beauty exists barely because life exists and will last long after life has perished. Pulchritudo longa, vita brevis est.