Friday, April 26, 2019

A Mark of a Good Soul

Now I admit at once that the interest in the Beautiful of Art (under which I include the artificial use of natural beauties for adornment and so for vanity) furnishes no proof whatever of a disposition attached to the morally good or even inclined thereto. But on the other hand, I maintain that to take an immediate interest in the Beauty of Nature (not merely to have taste in judging it) is always a mark of a good soul; and that when this interest is habitual it at least indicates a frame of mind favourable to the moral feeling, if it is voluntarily bound up with the contemplation of nature. It is to be remembered, however, that I here speak strictly of the beautiful forms of Nature, and I set aside the charms, that she is wont to combine so abundantly with them; because, though the interest in the latter is indeed immediate, it is only empirical.

He who by himself (and without any design of communicating his observations to others) regards the beautiful figure of a wild flower, a bird, an insect, etc., with admiration and love—who would not willingly miss it in Nature, although it may bring him some hurt, who still less wants any advantage from it—he takes an immediate and also an intellectual interest in the beauty of Nature. I.e. it is not merely the form of the product of nature which pleases him, but its very presence pleases him, the charms of sense having no share in this pleasure and no purpose whatever being combined with it.

Immanuel Kant, Critique of Judgment.

As usual, Kant has too sharp a division between the empirical and the nonempirical, and I think you can definitely argue that he is confusing artificial use of beauty with contemplation of artificial beauty, and natural regard for beauty with regard for natural beauty. But the essential point seems essentially right: an unaffected love of beauty, while not the same as being moral, is a mark of nobility of mind, a nobility that naturally has a connection to moral living.

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