Are Beauty & Pleasure Values? Are They
Treated as Values or as Things to be Exploited?
[In the following passage from his autobiography C. S. Lewis describes a distant cousin whose family helped raise him and his brother after his mother’s death.]
As for the youngest, G., I can only say that she was the most beautiful woman I have ever seen, perfect in shape and colour and voice and every movement—but who can describe beauty? The reader may smile at this as the far-off echo of a precocious calf-love, but he will be wrong. There are beauties so unambiguous that they need no lens of that kind to reveal them; they are visible even to the careless and objective eyes of a child.
Beauty is a form of genius—is higher indeed, than genius, as it needs no explanation. People say sometimes that beauty is only superficial, but at least it is not so superficial as thought. It is only shallow people who do not judge by appearances.
Of Psyche’s beauty—at every age the beauty proper to that age—there is only this to be said, that there were no two opinions about it, from man or woman, once she had been seen. It was beauty that did not astonish you till afterwards when you had gone out of sight of her and reflected on it. While she was with you, you were not astonished. It seemed the most natural thing in the world. As the Fox delighted to say, she was “according to nature”; what every woman, or even every thing, ought to have been and meant to be, but had missed by some trip of chance. Indeed, when you looked at her you believed, for a moment, that they had not missed it. She made beauty all round her.
C. S. Lewis (from Till We Have Faces, 1956)
I had a passionate desire to find some link between the true and the beautiful, so strong that beauty gave me intense pain from the constant sense of this unfulfilled requirement of harmony between it and fact. I read Alastor [a poem by Shelley] after I had lived some time in this state, and there I found the exact mood I had experienced, vividly described. It was only gradually, as I came to care less and less for beauty, as I got through the natural period of morbidness, only as I became more purely intellectual again, that I ceased to suffer from this conflict.
Unsuspectedly from the bottom of every fountain of pleasure, as the old poet said, something bitter rises up: a touch of nausea, a falling dead of the delight, a whiff of melancholy, things that sound a knell, for fugitive as they may be, they bring a feeling of coming from a deeper region and often have an appalling convincingness. The buzz of life ceases at their touch as a piano-string stops sounding when the damper falls upon it. Of course the music can commence again;—and again and again—at intervals. But with this the healthy-minded consciousness is left with an irremediable sense of precariousness. It is a bell with a crack; it draws its breath on sufferance and by an accident.
There are very voluptuous appetites and enjoyments in mere abstractions—like mathematics, logic, or chess. But these mere pleasures of the mind are like mere pleasures of the body. That is, they are mere pleasures, though they may be gigantic pleasures; they can never by a mere increase of themselves amount to happiness.
G. K. Chesterton
That unchecked indulgence in the more obvious types of pleasure is unsatisfying, is the unanimous teaching of those who have had the leisure and opportunity to try them in all ages. It is the more unfortunate that it is a truth which nobody believes to be true until he has discovered it for himself. . . . You cannot take the kingdom of pleasure, any more than you can take the kingdom of beauty, by storm.
C. E. M. Joad
The pleasure of the moment begins to wither almost as soon as it blossoms; our pleasures are soon swallowed up in time’s relentless torrent.
Fr. Michel Quoist
What do men mean by the desire to be dissolved and to enjoy the spirit free and without attachments? That many men have so desired there can be no doubt, and the best men, whose holiness one recognizes at once, tell us that the joys of the soul are incomparably higher than those of the living man. In India, moreover, there are great numbers of men who do the most fantastic things with the object of thus unprisoning the soul, and Milton talks of the same thing with evident conviction, and the Saints all praise it in chorus. But what is it? For my part I cannot understand so much as the meaning of the words, for every pleasure I know comes from an intimate union between my body and my very human mind, which last receives, confirms, revives, and can summon up again what my body has experienced. Of pleasures, however, in which my senses have had no part I know nothing.
Pleasures are shafts of God’s glory as it strikes our sensibility. As it impinges on our will or understanding, we give it different names—goodness or truth or the like. But its flash upon our senses and mood is pleasure.
C. S. Lewis
Mathematics, rightly viewed, possesses not only truth, but supreme beauty, a beauty cold and austere, like that of sculpture, without appeal to any part of our weaker nature, without the gorgeous trappings of painting or music, yet sublimely pure, and capable of a stern perfection such as only the greatest art can show. The true spirit of delight, the exaltation, the sense of being more than Man, which is the touchstone of the highest excellence, is to be found in mathematics as surely as in poetry.
There are, of course, many different kinds of beauty in mathematics. In number theory it seems to be mainly the beauty of the almost infinite detail; in abstract algebra the beauty is mainly in the generality. Various areas of mathematics thus have various standards of aesthetics.
R. W. Hamming
Once, as he had sat writing near an open window in Cambridge, he had looked up and shuddered to see, as he supposed, a many coloured beetle of unusually hideous shape crawling across his paper. A second glance showed him that it was a dead leaf, moved by the breeze; and instantly the very curves and re-entrants which had made its ugliness turned into its beauties.
C. S. Lewis (from Out of the Silent Planet)
No object is so beautiful that, under certain conditions, it will not look ugly.
Nobody who adores beauty in any one of her many manifestations can fail to doubt the dogmatic negations of the materialist, for every lover of beauty must be influenced consciously or unconsciously by the doctrine that beauty in its many manifestations is a reflection of the eternal beauty which time cannot corrupt.
The perception of beauty is a moral test.
Henry David Thoreau
Thoughts about Beauty & Pleasure
BEAUTY: The adjustment of all parts proportionately so that one cannot add or subtract or change without impairing the harmony of the whole.
We ascribe beauty to that which is simple; which has no superfluous parts; which exactly answers its end; which stands related to all things; which is the mean of many extremes.
Ralph Waldo Emerson
Beauty deprived of its proper foils and adjuncts ceases to be enjoyed as beauty, just as light deprived of all shadows ceases to be enjoyed as light.
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.
Newton P. Stallknecht
Beauty is the promise of happiness.
Beauty of whatever kind, in its supreme development, invariably excites the sensitive soul to tears.
Edgar Allen Poe
It is in rare and scattered instants that beauty smiles even on her adorers, who are reduced for habitual comfort to remembering her past favours.
tresses man’s imperial race ensnare,
And beauty draws us with a single hair.
Beauty and folly are old companions.
It is amazing how complete is the delusion that beauty is goodness.
Beauty is indeed a good gift of God; but that the good may not think it a great good, God dispenses it even to the wicked.
It makes no moral sense that beauty should erase sin. And yet, in this world at least, it does.
Talking about serious questions is a pleasure; it is perhaps the greatest mere pleasure known to man... But in our time it is a secret pleasure; it is enjoyed in dark corners, like a vice.
G. K. Chesterton
There is much pleasure to be gained from useless knowledge.
The test of pleasure is the memory it leaves behind.
Jean Paul Richter
Those who are now pursuing pleasure are not only fleeing from boredom, but are acutely suffering from it.
Instant gratification is bad psychology. Pleasure must be earned because part of its very intensity comes from resistance or self-control. To gratify every impulse at once destroys this intensity, as the breaking of a dam reduces all water to the same level.
To a happy soul, pleasures are no longer necessary; to a pleasure-seeking soul, happiness is not yet possible.
People feel joy, as opposed to mere pleasure, to the extent that their activities are creative.
What begins as the love of life and beauty often ends in the worship of eroticism or force.
Every religion of the beautiful ends in orgy.
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