Monday, August 17, 2009

the good and the beautiful: union or fusion?

Very often, when we find something beautiful, we tend to think of it as being good in itself as well. It is natural to think of these states as concomitant. Imagine, however, that we were to stand in front of a painting in an art gallery and not ask, ‘Is this beautiful?’, ‘Is this good?’ but ask, ‘Is this beautiful because it is good?’ so maybe beauty and goodness might exist independent of the other- but that is not the subject of the enquiry at the moment. Let us be clear that we are taking as a premise the co existence of beauty and goodness and not questioning that. what we are investigating is the NATURE of that co-existence. This paper would begin by outlining working definitions of the abstracts that we would deal with- namely, ‘beauty’, ‘good’, ‘union’ and ‘fusion’. I would then shape my position on the issue and lastly, I would like to discuss cases which appear to be a deviation from my stated position.

In ‘Groundwork of the metaphysics of morals’, Kant defines Good to be that which is the product of a ‘rationally guided will’. This, of course, refers to what is good action. What is notable is that according to Kant, nothing can be taken to be good without qualification, except good will. So things like honesty, courage, or altruism that are usually considered universal goods can sometimes produce results that maybe undesirable. They could also arise out of motives that were not very genuine in the first place- for example, a celebrity might donate money in order to be in the spotlight. Thus, good is defined NOT by the effect, or the intended effect, but by the WILL guiding the action. That much is for a morally good action. Good THINGS are those that produce a desirable mental state in self-aware beings. Thus, a movie is ‘good’ because it guides our mental states closer to those of optimism, elation, intellectual validation or whatever we seek in a movie. Similarly, coffee that does not produce the intended mental state can be called ‘not so good’.

I believe that we can again go back to Kant, this time in ‘The Critique of Judgement’, to understand what beauty is. Kant defines beauty as, ‘PURPOSIVE WITHOUT PURPOSE’. This means that when we look at something beautiful we feel that it has been designed with a purpose in mind. Ultimately, however, we find that the thing serves to particular purpose. For example, when we look at a flower, we admire its symmetry, its general location and its form and we think that these attributes were present to either serve a specific use or exemplify a specific perfection. When we discover no such thing, we experience a sense of pleasure that Kant calls “disinterested”. The recognition of beauty PRECEDES the sensation of pleasure that it produces. A sunset is beautiful and therefore, we feel pleased in its presence and not BECAUSE the sunset gives us pleasure, it is beautiful. This distinction id very important because it tells us that Beauty is essentially a simultaneous impression on our senses and feeling. Unlike Good, we do not evaluate beauty. It is not mediated through cognition.

I would define FUSION as ‘a merging of diverse and distinct elements into a whole where the individual elements can still be perceived in their own right’. UNION, on the other hand is the ‘uniting of two or more distinct elements where the elements tend to become indistinguishable’.

On the basis of these definitions, I would now like to state my position on the issue- THAT THE COMING TOGETHER OF BEAUTY AND GOOD IS AN ACT OF FUSION, AS CAN BE DISTINGUISHED BY A REFLECTIVE CONSCIOUSNESS and they sometimes only produce an illusion of unity, which can be systematically proven to be misleading.

Let us now go back to that painting in the art gallery. When I first look at it I find it Beautiful because it appears to have a purpose and yet be purposeless. One can LATER admire the symmetry, harmony of colour, the order of objects depicted et cetera and call it GOOD. When I found it beautiful, I was pleased. That sensation was disinterested. It was a purely aesthetic judgment. I say that this is a case of FUSION because I can break-down the combined sensation of beauty and goodness if I focus on the process of that sensation. At this stage, I find the painting beautiful and it gives me pleasure. Now I notice this desired mental state, that is, the state of pleasure, and I RATIONALIZE purchasing that painting or desiring to own a likeness. That second phase is what gives us an idea of the ‘goodness’ of the painting.

In fact, the process of growth and education is very much a training to be able to analyze the good and the beautiful in a thing separately. A child yearns for a dress that is beautiful to look at and considers it also good. An adult has a better understanding of what part of a shoe is lending it its beauty and what part its goodness. Sometimes, we take this distinction the other way round and tend to find something beautiful ON ACCOUNT OF its goodness. There could be a comfortable and sturdy shoe that has lasted me for a couple of years. Gradually, I may begin to find the simplistic style and the dull colour beautiful. But this is a REASONED beauty, and either it is not really beauty but appreciation or we can still analyze HOW we started finding it beautiful. Either way, it is a case of FUSION where the individual components can be individually identified.

A seemingly anomalous caser is when employers hire prospective employees because they happen to be better looking than other candidates. Similarly, sometimes teachers favor students, voters favor politicians and even the jury favors certain under trials because there is a validation that ‘looks’ provide. This was interestingly analyzed in a 1972 study called “The Beautiful is Good” by Dion, Berscherd and Walster. Does that mean that there is a UNION between the two aspects and the judges could not make it out? It is quite possible that the focus was on the sensation of Good that favoring such a candidate produced IN the employer and not on the Good that another candidate could have done for the company. But we can find out the error in judgment later- showing that the indistinguishability between the two was not due to its OWN nature, but due to a less enlightened consciousness. A simple test to show that it is a case of fusion would be the ability to take out either Beauty or Goodness from an object and STILL have the other property intact. For instance, we can stick election posters all over on a Rolls Royce and still ride it as s good car. Conversely, we can replace the engine of a Rolls Royce with that of a lesser car and still find the car beautiful to look at.- though no longer good in what is expected of a car.

In conclusion, I would like to restate that my position of fusion was grounded on the fact that even when together, Beauty and Goodness arrive to us in two distinct phases, and can be separated one from the other if needed. This, I hope proves the case.

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