Believe it or not, we have yet another kind of transcendental awareness and desire – perfect beauty.
Obviously all of us recognize and enjoy beauty in nature, music, people’s appearance, architecture, art, poetry, literature – and in many combinations of these forms. Beauty evokes a sense of pleasure, reveling, inspiration, awe, and even love. Its power to attract and hold us is quite remarkable.
As with the other transcendentals, animals do not seem to recognize them. A beautiful Mozart symphony simply causes dogs to howl, and the breathtaking landscape of mountains, ocean, and sunset is not nearly as interesting to them as odors along the ground.
Our awareness of beauty is so powerful, we can become obsessed by it – and as many a poet has suggested – it can intoxicate us.
We are never satisfied with the beauty we experience – we are always trying to get more – and more – and even more. Even though we are in the midst of a beautiful sunset on the beach, we find ourselves looking for a slightly better angle that might be better.
As we listen to incredibly beautiful music, we want to turn up the volume or find a better song – to get more. No one considers themselves to be beautiful enough, and we find ourselves looking for people more beautiful than even supermodels.
It is difficult to deny that we are seekers – not just of more and more beauty, but of perfect beauty.
We not only desire perfect beauty, we also recognize every imperfection in beauty in the world around us – in nature’s little flaws, in people’s slight blemishes, in music’s inability to satisfy us at the same level after we have replayed a song one hundred times. There seems to be no limit to our ability to recognize imperfection in beauty – so much so, that we become harsh critics of ourselves, others, and the world around us.
We return once again to the question of Plato.
How can we recognize every imperfection in beauty in virtually every context – from nature to human beings, to music, to art and architecture, etc., if we do not have some awareness of what perfect beauty would be like? If we do have such an awareness of perfect beauty, then where did it come from?
Again, you will be able to answer this question according to Plato’s logic – it could not have come from the world around us because it is filled with only imperfect beauties. It could not have come from our brain because it is constituted by restricted physical structures and processes.
And so, we conclude that it must have come from perfect beauty itself. This is how Plato describes his discovery of perfect beauty itself:
He who would proceed aright … should begin in youth to visit beautiful forms…[S]oon he will of himself perceive…that the beauty in every form is one and the same…and will become a lover of all beautiful forms; in the next stage he will consider that the beauty of the mind is more honorable than the beauty of the outward form…and at last the vision is revealed to him of a single science, which is the science of beauty everywhere. …
He who has been instructed thus far in the things of love, and who has learned to see the beautiful in due order and succession, when he comes towards the end will suddenly perceive a nature of wondrous beauty…a nature which in the first place is everlasting, not growing and decaying… but beauty absolute, separate, simple, and everlasting, which without diminution and without increase, or any change, is imparted to the ever-growing and perishing beauties of all other things.
Once again we ask ourselves the question, “What is perfect beauty itself?”
As Plato says, it is absolute, everlasting, unchanging, and is the source of the beauty of all worldly things. Plato’s perfect beauty itself is much like perfect truth itself, perfect love itself, and perfect justice and goodness itself – it is a single dimension of a perfect being and a perfect cause – namely, God.
Thus, God (as perfect beauty itself) is present to you and is the source of your awareness of perfect beauty, and as such you must be transcendental – beyond the restricted, imperfect, physical world.
In our next post, we’ll begin examining the last of the five transcendentals: perfect home.