[The following passage is from George Santayana, by Newton P. Stallknecht, 1971.]
For Santayana value enters the universe with the emergence of conscious awareness. “The good when actually realized is a joy taken in the immediate.” There is no such thing as a value that cannot be enjoyed. This seems most obviously true when we consider the status of the beautiful. Beauty must be defined in terms of pleasure or satisfied taste. It is, indeed, nothing more than pleasure taken directly in the contemplation of an object. “The test is always the same. Does the thing actually please?” To delight in jewels because they are expensive is vulgar and “self excommunication” from intrinsic enjoyment. To love glass beads for their own sake may be barbarous but, for all that, a genuine appreciation. We do not enjoy the beauty of an object because it reminds us of something else or because it serves as a means to an end. In our enjoyment of the beautiful, our pleasure is inseparable from the presence of an object before our perception. Yet we do not feel that the beautiful object produces our pleasure or comfort as, let us say, a blanket or a bed warmer might do. On the contrary, we take a direct pleasure in the thing itself. This statement might seem a commonplace in the philosophy of art. But Santayana goes further and offers a challenging observation. We are, he insists, moved to recognize our delight as an actual quality of the object, a quality as proper to its existence as its shape or colour. The sense of beauty objectifies our pleasure. Our delight is transmuted in a moment of self-forgetfulness into a sense of the object’s value. In reality, this value lies in the object’s fitness or adaptation to our powers of perception and enjoyment. The sense of beauty carries with it a fleeting intimation that we need not always be at odds with our world. It offers a fulfillment that at times recompenses us for the anxieties and frustrations of our existence.
There are many kinds of beauty since there are many kinds of objects that offer us such direct enjoyment. Thus we can find beauty in the charm of a flower, the harmony of line and colour in a landscape or a picture, the “glorious monotony of the stars,” the expressive power of a poem or a painting. If we define the sense of beauty as a feeling of objectified pleasure, we must admit that beauty does not arise in isolation from other values, since the enjoyment that we take in a beautiful object always has a character of its own distinct from its purely aesthetic aspect as an objectification of pleasure. There are many kinds of pleasure that can be objectified. Indeed such enjoyment may be directed towards objects of moral significance. Poetry can pass into religion as it celebrates attitudes and ideals whose presence in symbolic form claims our full attention and our spontaneous admiration.
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