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Problems arise when beauty is subjective

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'Real and universal value' affects judgments of right and wrong
By Malin Jordan
"Pentecost" by Jan Joest van Kalkar."Pentecost" by Jan Joest van Kalkar.
Is beauty really in the eye of the beholder? That famous idiom was put the test May 5 at Regent College, when famous British philosopher Roger Scruton gave a lecture on beauty.

His answer? An emphatic, 40-minute "poppycock!" There is ugliness in the world, and especially today, very ugly art, but most people lack the courage to make judgments about what is beautiful and what is not. He said modern-day relativism has dismissed the definition of the beautiful as a subjective pursuit. He noted many parts of Western society are suffering because of this, including the study of the humanities in our universities.

He noted that beauty is something humans know innately, that beauty is a "real and universal value, one anchored in our rational nature, and the sense of beauty has an indispensable part to play in shaping the human world."

In summing up the problems of Western society, he gave an illuminating two-word definition: "perpetual adolescence." I would have used the words "spiritual illness" to describe a culture that has turned its back on its Christian heritage, but Scruton does it better, disguising his insight as a subtle understatement.

Hence the problems of the West can be defined as a bunch of 16-year-olds who just got their licences and permission (finally) to borrow their respective family cars. Their interest in attending Mass is at an ebb and their interest in beauty is mostly inward, bordering on self-interested narcissism and the hedonistic drives that inundate most middle teens.

In defining the West, he also defined the reigning maxim of the Culture of Death: that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. And therein lies the problem. The maxim, now elevated to Commandment One in secular circles, gives people a licence to load their lives with excuses and convenient lies used to justify an array of negative actions and behaviours beset with ugly causes and effects.

When beauty is accepted as resting in the eye of the beholder only, a subtle tyranny begins to be imposed on those who make judgments, as adherents to the Culture of Death bully anyone who would deny anyone else any "choice."

Who would stand in the way of man and woman's right to kill their baby, if that baby got in the way of their pursuit of a beautiful life?

If someone is in intense pain, or even a slight spiritual malaise, who would dare oppose their right to a "beautiful" death, free from the constraints of the objective answers of truth or goodness?

Or who would dare oppose the right of special-interest groups to impose their values on society - even if they only represent five to 10 per cent of the populace? (The irony here is that special interest groups say the majority has no right to impose their "subjective" values on the minority.)

Scruton rightly chalked all of it up to a spiritual problem and not an aesthetic problem.

It is part of that great ugliness, now undefined by an aggressive relativism imposed on everything in this Culture of Death. And until we countermand this "trangressive ugliness that pollutes familiar ideals and values," as Scruton noted, we will be stuck walking down an ugly path in a world devoid of the power to make judgments - and, therefore, one devoid of beauty.

Last Updated on Thursday, 12 September 2013 08:11  

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