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The Problem of Ugliness

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Written by Basil on 02/9/2003 1:19 AM. Filed under:

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I was having a deeply satisfying conversation with the wonderful and joyful Katie via IRC this evening. She is also a choir director, and we were discussing Beauty — obviously a subject on which musicians would have some ideas. I was being conflicted, as usual, about the conflict between genuine excellence and personal desire and ambition.

I studied aesthetics some in college, both as a philosophy major and as an art history minor. As a result, I have beliefs about Beauty which are no longer widely held.

Classically, Beauty was called a Transcendental. It shared this honored distinction with Truth and Goodness. The True, the Beautiful, and the Good make up a triumvirate called the Transcendentals. A good introduction to them is Mortimer Adler’s Six Great Ideas. Another is C. S. Lewis’ The Abolition of Man.

It is my conviction that once Western civilization gave up on Beauty, relegating her to the realm of the entirely subjective, then Truth and Goodness (i.e., morality, ethics) inexorably followed. Today, nothing is absolute. Everything is subjective. If some hail this as a triumph, then it is the triumph of intellectual anarchy. Without a resusciation of classical thought, our civilization is already a corpse.

So, let me get back to the revelation that I had in talking with Katie. I was describing these beliefs of mine in the context of explaining why I make the decisions I do as a choir director. In the course of this conversation, Katie made the following conclusions from my statements:

So, you’re saying that something true and good is inherently beautiful and vice-versa? Makes sense… God didn’t create anything ugly. We only became so after the Fall.

Then, I made an observation that is a totally new epiphany for me:

Non-beauty indicates somehow that we are trying to be something that God did not create us to be.

Katie and I both needed some time to unpack that statement a little bit.


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