10 July 2006

Aesthetics and Ethics

Noah Webster: illicitly borrowing the Spot.The final point of discontinuity between myself and my commenters was the connection between aesthetics and ethics. I did assume the connection in my argument before, so I'll elaborate it a little more now.
Our goal here is to begin with God in all of our thinking, making him and his revelation the foundation for our thought so as to avoid foolishness. So we are not altogether methodologically sound when we start with a (standard but) secular dictionary's definition of aesthetics. We must simply remember that Merriam-Webster cannot be neutral in their discussion, and by ignoring God in the definition of beauty, they evidence not only a bankrupt definition of beauty but also a hatred for true beauty. However, despite their bankruptcy, I believe that M-W makes a(n illicitly borrowed but nonetheless) helpful predication about beauty. Namely, they associate aesthetics with pleasure. See for yourself.

1 plural but singular or plural in construction : a branch of philosophy dealing with the nature of beauty, art, and taste and with the creation and appreciation of beauty
2 : a particular theory or conception of beauty or art : a particular taste for or approach to what is pleasing to the senses and especially sight
3 plural : a pleasing appearance or effect :BEAUTY

The M-W definition of beauty is similarly associated with pleasure:

1 : the quality or aggregate of qualities in a person or thing that gives pleasure to the senses or pleasurably exalts the mind or spirit : LOVELINESS

But there is still something missing from the discussion. If we stopped here I think we would only have a foolish understanding of beauty. I think T. Robert Baylor has added the all-important missing ingredient to this understanding of aesthetics (emphasis mine):

I don't think that the use of aesthetic language necessarily implies a philosophical connection between morality and aesthetics; it seems more likely to me that the authors are borrowing aesthetic language to describe God's pleasure in proper ethical living.

Baylor notes that the authors of the Scriptures use "aesthetic language" because of "God's pleasure in ethical living." So I ask, what else could beauty be? Beauty, objectively considered, is what God takes pleasure in. In other words, God's affections define beauty. And because God is highest in his own affections, God is what Beauty is. The immense overlap between aesthetics and ethics should be becoming clear. Righteous actions please God because they conform to his nature which is the standard of beauty and highest in his affections. Beauty and good are united in him because his affections and character provide definition to both.

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