Saturday, 11 July 2015

Measuring Female Beauty

According to the great Aristotle, man is form and woman is matter. This observation is laden with the deepest implications, because it tells us something about the root of our being and the role bequeathed to us by nature herself.

Superficially seen, the mentioned utterance of Aristotle could be shrugged off as no more than an instance of the archaic worldview of a man whose thoughts should no longer matter to us. But this is the attitude of the crude-minded literalist accustomed to surveying the mere surface of things. It is precisely of such creatures it is said that “although seeing, they do not see.”

It is form that shapes matter, and in assigning formality to man and materiality to woman are we not acknowledging male superiority? This is not quite the case, because form in and of itself is a mere abstraction, viz., matter is required for what is no more than potentiality to be translated into the actual. This is to say that form alone can never be counted amongst the existents.

It could legitimately be said that woman stabilises man, much in the manner of matter which endows form with subsistence (Beharrlichkeit). Man, for his part, vivifies woman; and it must necessarily be so, because matter alone is a substance that is yet to assume a definite shape.

To speak of male or female superiority is permissible in a relative sense only. The perseverance of the female and her instinct for survival are boons that provide longevity also to those who surround her. Man, for his part, must make his presence felt with his intellectual brilliance, and his wisdom must inspire the female to admire and love him.

But drawing another human towards you with a view to being loved is easier said and done. As pointed out by a German philosopher, “die Forderung, geliebt zu werden, ist die groesste aller Anmassungen.” Magic potions, violent coercion, and desperate implorations: these are all methods to which recourse has been taken in order to gain the affection of another human being.

The degree of efficacy of the three mentioned methods cannot be determined with certainty, and we would be well advised to concentrate on more tangible means to attaining one’s amorous objectives. We have already touched upon male intellectuality as something that leaves refined ladies in awe, but what exactly is it that makes a woman worthy of one’s love? The simple yet
difficult answer is: beauty.

Now, beauty is one of those elusive concepts on which it has been written extensively, but all the elucidations on which we may care to meditate will leave us none the wiser. According to Plato, beauty is one of the transcendentals present in all beings, but this is a discovery of little value. During his poetic flights, Plato would describe beauty as the emanation of the true, or splendor veri as the scholastics preferred to call it. But all of these facile discoveries do not bring us any closer to the root of the matter.

Again it is Kant who has provided us with the most valuable pointers in regard to beauty. As the effect of beauty, Kant describes the “freie[s] Spiel […] der Vorstellungskraefte in einer gegebenen Vorstellung zu einem Erkenntnisse ueberhaupt.” Those familiar with Kantian epistemology will be aware of the purely intrinsic side to the process which results in the formation of knowledge, viz., the procession of preformed categories qua schemata into real categories which are rendered into concepts which in turn serve as components to our judgements. Reflection on beauty abides by no such rules of thought. The “freies Spiel” (free interplay) of the phantasms stored in our imaginary faculty of which Kant speaks terminates both in that which admits of being expressed and that which defies all such attempts. Beauty, insofar as it can be formulated upon apprehension, is merely exterior beauty, whereas intrinsic beauty awakens the contemplative in us.

The disinterested contemplation of beauty alluded to by Kant could also be seen as a negation of volition or a breaking of the will in the face of a beauty overpowering our sensibility, i.e., “visus, tactus, gustus in te fallitur” (“sight, touch, [and] taste fail [to comprehend] you”) as so pithily put by Aquinas. This jumbling up of the senses is the lot of many a man as he beholds a rare feminine beauty: the connecting link between our senses and our intellect is temporarily severed and the reflexive failure to trigger concepts or phantasms which could serve as templates for the beauty beheld paralyses the organism of those men who are unaware of what is taking place within them.

It should also be pointed out in this regard that our ideas of beauty can be either cosmopolitan or philistine. The concepts guiding our lives are no mere abstractions; rather they should be seen as receptacles subject to the constant revision and distillation of that which they contain. We are not beings living solely within ourselves; we are also beings with a history. What Kant calls the Einheit der Apperzeption is our ability to synthesise with coherence all that we see and live through. In this case the factors of intellectual and volitional prowess come into play. The philistines are those whose lives seemingly unfold in a strictly rectilinear fashion; unwilling to face the contradictions attendant on existence, they wish away all that flies in the face of their prejudices and expectations. The cosmopolitans, on the other hand, are those who strive to give their apperception the widest extension possible; and they take into account all the contradictions to existence as obstacles that must needs be faced not only because they ennoble our lives, but also because our willingness to fraternise with the foe enables us to comprehend what otherwise would have remained incomprehensible to us. In the light of these considerations, it could be said that the philistine’s understanding of beauty is constrained by cultural norms and a general provincialism rooted in the lack of refinement and education, whereas the cosmopolitan endeavours to ground his concept of beauty in true universality, thus enabling one to penetrate the appearances (Erscheinungen) so as to partake of that bottomless abyss and primal cause (Urgrund) from which all that is issues forth:

“In truth, when the man looks into her eyes, he sees a life much deeper than she herself realises […]. That which is immortal in him looks at that which is immortal in her, and the gods descend to meet in them.”

The beauty of which we have spoken thus far is the beauty of essences. Considering that we are attempting to come to terms with feminine beauty, there is another modality to beauty that must be accounted for: this is the beauty that is consequent upon essence, and unless we get to behold this second kind of beauty, we will not be able to ascertain the validity of the judgement that we may have conferred on the essence. Case in point: a woman may dazzle us with her natural beauty, but as soon as she opens her mouth, we see her for the worthless lump that she really is. Furthermore, a woman who persists in displaying severe intellectual deficiency into her twenties does not admit of being reformed and may rightly be deemed a lost cause.

In Aristotelian terms, the beauty posterior to essence is known as the second act of a being to which essential beauty serves as potentiality. Here it is worth pointing out that there is no necessary correlation between beauty qua essence and beauty qua act. As we all know, a beautiful woman could well cause us nausea with the sheer stupidity of her words and deeds, whereas a woman to whom nature may have been less generous or downright unkind might evoke our sympathy if not admiration with the beauty of her spoken words and accomplishments. On a personal note, I would like to point out that some of the most sinister ladies I ever encountered were also hideous by nature. The injustice that nature had done to them had unleashed demonic forces within them that prompted them to act out of envy and malice, viz., to quash the happiness of others.

As regards the nature of our acts, provision must be made for the factors of upbringing and social context as correctives to the deterministic view which adjudges acts to be the necessary outcome of essence. The complexity of the human condition is such that what induces one individual to accomplish excellent deeds could well pacify the will of another. Some thrive amidst adversity, whereas others need constant encouragement. Moreover, there is a thin line separating virtue from vice, viz., the same act could be lauded as fortitude or decried as intemperance, depending on circumstance. Existence itself could thus be deemed an art, the mastery of which is acquired through trial and error. In this regard, the following observations of Kant are highly instructive:

“An einem Produkte der schoenen Kunst muss man sich bewusst werden, dass es Kunst sei, und nicht Natur; aber doch muss die Zweckmaessigkeit in der Form desselben von allem Zwange willkuerlicher Regeln so frei scheinen, als ob es ein Produkt der blossen Natur sei.”

This is to say that art must imitate in nature with such painstaking fidelity that one cannot tell the one from the other. A beautiful female of good upbringing, refined manners, and intelligence is one of those rare creatures who upon being found should never be lost sight of. She conducts herself with such naturalness that one cannot tell if the beauty of her acts is owing to acquired habits that have left a lasting imprint on her character or if she was born thus – nor does one need to know. To the wonder of which we just spoken the coquette may be counterpoised, and this is one of those grotesque creatures of which there are far too many in this world. Although it goes without saying that the coquette must be avoided like the plague, it is worth dwelling briefly on the cause of this anomaly. According to Stendhal, the coquette is the product of failed upbringing, viz., parents who constantly remind their daughter of her beauty hamper the development of her interior qualities.

It must be conceded that a woman who combines within her both essential beauty and the beauty of acts is hard to come by. According to Rochefoucauld, such a woman “is a hidden treasure, and he who has found her would be well advised not to boast about her.”