I've been reading a lot of philosophy lately, going back to my roots of the ancient Greeks and I came across a lovely little book called "On Beauty and Being Just" by Elaine Scarry. I had been thinking in lofty terms lately - notions of true Beauty and Love, all with capital letters, and wondering if such things existed, and if so, then could I still define them as I had so cockily and confidently in graduate school. Had I, at my wizened old age, become more cynical and less certain of absolutes, or was I more convinced. Scarry's book, which I use as a framework here, so if you like this, you'll enjoy Scarry, served as a leaping point and so I jump right in to what is Beauty if it is an absolute and how do we know it when we see it, what do we do when we see it, and how do we react? Here are a few thoughts and some information from Scarry. Note, this is for the philosopher in you. If you're not a philosopher, the whole thing will strike you, as it would most sane people, as absurd. But like mathematicians, our job is to deal in abstracts and so we do. So here goes….
Experience, or prior experience of discovery teaches or trains us to believe that if we have discovered beauty before, then we will discover Beauty again. Accurately, if beauty was unexpected and we therefore cannot predict it, we can be surprised again and may discover other beauties, but also, that there are beauties too plentiful for one person to discover all of them, though certainly we believe they exist. We even "revise (our) location in order to place (ourselves) in the path of beauty" thereby increasing our odds. We actively seek it out, the way an orchid hunter hunts orchids perhaps, or the lepidopterist butterflies. We seek not only to see beauty, true beauty, but to possess and own it. It is in our nature.
But our sense of Beauty as an ideal is almost always attached to an object or person object, as Plato believed. We are hard-pressed to simply define the term Beauty - for what is it that makes a thing beautiful? Is it even possible to define this - and in actuality, I think not, and so I won't try other than for the sake of argument and because I just read On Beauty by Elaine Scarry, which is actually titled, quite philosophically as is fitting, "On Beauty and Being Just."