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Taste and See: Beauty Defined

As I touched on in the first post, I believe that there are two elements to beauty; two aspects of it; two forms it takes. I describe these aspects as moral beauty and aesthetic beauty. I’ve chosen these words specifically, in order to help articulate the depth and diversity of beauty.
Moral beauty, as I’ve called it, refers to the intent and purpose of a thing’s existence. Moral beauty is not tangible, or experienced sensorily, but is conceptual in nature.
Morality is the concern of the principles that govern right and wrong and naturally assumes that right and wrong exist as objective realities. If something is moral, we might also say it is good, or honest, or just, or true. Morality by nature is concerned with the welfare, prosperity, promotion, pleasure and satisfaction, primarily of human people, who can decide for or against it, but also for the rest of the created order.
I’ve used this word to describe this first aspect of beauty because beauty also has a moral aspect that is concerned with the things mentioned above, such as the welfare and prosperity and satisfaction of the created order. Beauty promotes justice. The moral aspect of beauty is, therefore, any idea that seeks promote the goodness of morality within the created order to the benefit of the created order. Things we might recognise as moral beauty would be the desire to show love to another person, the desire to promote the cause of justice or to overcome wrongdoing. Laws, such as human rights, and institutions such as hospitals and welfare systems; things that promote human flourishing, would be considered morally beautiful, as would my intention to buy my wife flowers after work, or my daughter a Kinder Egg after the park.
Aesthetic beauty, as I’ve called it, refers to the more tangible, more sensorily experienced aspect of beauty. Etymologically the word aesthetic is to do with perception and often refers to the particular experience itself, that an individual might have, upon an encounter with something beautiful, as he perceives it. Aesthetics also, and perhaps more commonly so, refers to the principles involved in determining how a thing’s physical attributes might make it beautiful. Shape, line, colour, taste, texture and sound would be the qualities under scrutiny when determining the quality of aesthetic beauty a thing possesses.
Both of these aspects of beauty evoke responses in the whole of a person, from his physical senses to his emotions and intellect. Both moral beauty and aesthetic beauty are usually present to some degree in a thing and our understanding, or appreciation, of one, affects our experience of the other. 
Not being a simple thing to attempt to understand, an illustration might help to put these ideas in a more identifiable context:
From 2010 in the Journal of Social Psychology there is an article called Skin Deep? This article is an examination of the influence of personality information on the perceptions of the physical attractiveness of different women on male university students. Long story short, the experiment showed that a wider range of female body types was perceived as attractive to the male students when they were given positive personality information to associate with the female body types they were looking at. Conversely, a narrower range of body types was found to be attractive when negative personality information was provided to associate with the same body types, compared to the control group.
I believe this to be true from my own experience. I perceive my wife to be more physically beautiful when her positive character traits are more evident. I am more physically attracted to her and find more pleasure in her appearance when her kindness is most evident. Not that her physical appearance changes depending on how kind she is being to me or anyone else, but the association with kindness to the physical element of her being enhances her as a whole unit. I’d be surprised if this were true for her also. The kindness of my wife is part of her moral beauty, and the shape of her cheek bones and the softness of her smile are part of her aesthetic beauty.
My reasons for thinking like this are because I believe that aesthetic beauty exists to draw us to an appreciation of moral beauty which is superior. It’s superior because moral beauty is essentially a character trait - the character trait of a personality, either human or divine. We can only call a thing beautiful if there is a moral aspect to it. The moral produces the aesthetic in order to draw attention to itself. And so the aesthetic represents the moral. Since we live in an aesthetically beautiful world, there must be a moral beauty it accompanies. If there is no purpose, there is no value and no beauty.
As I mentioned in the previous post, God created the world in order to manifest His beautiful qualities - to manifest Himself. Since God is spirit and has existed as spirit eternally and before time, one can only speculate as to how He expressed His beauty to Himself within the Godhead. However, since God created man as a physical/spiritual entity, with limited capabilities and capacities for experience and understanding compared to his perfect creator, I believe that the physical aspect of the created order, where aesthetic beauty exists, is there to reflect something of the moral beauty that God is. For instance, people need food to live. God could have engineered any number ways for man sustain his body physically, but he gave us food that looks good, tastes good, smells good. And, that after many millennia, we have not stopped creating our own wonderful new versions of. Food is big business and partly because it is pleasure business. It’s not just necessary, it’s interesting, it’s pleasurable, it’s enjoyable, it’s satisfying and it keeps us alive by providing the nutrients our bodies need to function properly. And so, the experience of the aesthetic beauty of food, for instance, should lead us to an appreciation of the moral beauty of God. The pleasure we get from our favourite food should remind us that God is kind; we should find pleasure in that also, and find ourselves drawn to Him. Now, the recognition of God’s kindness in the creation of our favourite food might not change the flavour itself, but it will add to the experience of eating it. Knowing that there is purpose and intent behind the fact that it tastes good, and keeps us healthy (I have a very juicy orange in mind as I write this, by the way), will enhance the overall experience of beauty we have when eating it. To know that we have been thought of in such a way helps us to understand that we are valued, and are considered worthwhile in our existence. If for instance I believed that a meal I was about to eat was prepared in anger, or, simply came into existence by chance, I don’t expect that it would be as enjoyable an experience, by comparison, no matter how tasty it was. Our understanding of a things moral beauty, will affect our appreciation of its aesthetic beauty.
For instance, my wife often asks me before she orders our shopping what meals I’d like to eat during the week. If I come home from work and she has gone out of her way and worked hard to prepare me a meal I’ve requested even though there might be a simpler or easier meal to prepare after a long busy day, I will appreciate the effort and the love behind the creation as much as the meal itself. (Sometimes I tell her that I can taste the love). If however, I come home from work and, say, she happens to be upset with me, slams a plate down in front of me, complaining that I asked for a meal that takes too long to cook at the end of a busy day, and decides not to bring out any cheese (I’m now thinking of chilli), then my experience of the meal is inferior in compared even though it’s the same meal. I can no longer taste the love, so to speak, and the food is less enjoyable, the experience of its beauty is diminished.
Ultimately every beauty experience is leading us to God because God is beautiful. My wife might cook the delicious meal, but God created cumin, chillies, rice, kidney beans and cheese, knowing that one day someone would combine those ingredients to world changing effect. He created them so that we might “taste and see that the Lord is good”, and that in doing so, we would fulfil our purpose of being created - to live under His rule, for His Glory, and to our joy.

Photo by Jared Sluyter on Unsplash

Comments

  1. I'd just like to point out that I have never deprived you of cheese in anger.

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