The danger of relegating beauty to the trivial pursuit of pleasure

Joshua Hren in The Hedgehog Review:

“Beauty,” David Hume held, “is no quality in things themselves: It exists merely in the mind which contemplates them; and each mind perceives a different beauty.” If this were the case, then the human race’s radical disagreements over aesthetical evaluations would be reducible to harmless preferences. Inclined as we might be to enthusiastically espouse our favorite music as “beautiful,” honesty would require that we chasten our speech, opting for the more modest “beautiful for me,” or—better yet—“I like it,” and nothing more.

Not a few foes of moral relativism hold to a wholesale aesthetical tolerance, a permissive disposition toward what is called “beauty.” According to this breakdown, we ought to be morally outraged by fraudulence but can in good conscience soak up artless, sentimental movies stamped with “family values”—as if the ugly, caricatured portrayal of things so overwhelmingly good were not an insult, not to say a borderline crime. We shall not murder but there are no nots or oughts governing our responses to Michelangelo.

In very different ways, both the novelist Henry James and the philosopher Dietrich von Hildebrand make the case that moral disfigurement can be ugly and that aesthetic misjudgments can correspond to vicious poverty of the moral variety. They rally praise for the beauty of self-transcendence even as they caution all comers who would relegate aesthetics to the trivial pursuit of pleasure.

More here.