Form of Fairness: review of essay by Edmund Burke

woman_sewing_by_lamplight_jean_francois_millet_grande
Jean Francois Millet-Woman Sewing By Lamplight

The topic of beauty has always been all the rage as discoursed in Burke’s treaties and the attributable aesthetics of St. Thomas Aquinas. Beauty has been a Cause of Arts uplifting our eyes and minds in the forms of poetry, painting, and sculpture. Then what is the cause that makes beauty in the woman? Edmund Burke, an 18th century Irish-Anglo statesman and political philosopher, postulates that it is not a perfect symmetry of physical features but a harmony of each physical part as a wholeness, the True Form that makes a woman beautiful in this expository treaties on the timeless and provocative topic.

Burke asserts that proportion is not a cardinal cause of beauty in human as well as animals. It is only part of a whole composition of a being because it varies in every species. In point of this notion, Burke argues against the application of “the Golden Section,” a medieval doctrine that pontificated the most arguably aesthetically pleasing proportion to be used for architecture and painting, to living person in measurement of physical beauty is absurd and preposterous. Such mechanical formulae might only serve its purpose to measure the utility of a building or artifice in which case the essence of beauty was to be manipulated by its functionality to propitiate the illiterate agnus dei with religious efficacy. Since humans are composed of flesh and blood, measuring the bodily parts with a compass and ruler to the standard of beauty is an aberrant Procrustean way of conforming to artificiality.

In the context of regarding Burke’s exposition of the essence of beauty, the grave figure of St. Thomas Aquinas looms large because both men’s ideas of beauty seem strike the chords with one another to a certain degree. First, Burke and St. Aquinas regard beauty as the essential object of intelligence because it falls within the grasp of the senses that serves the mind which is translated into knowledge – the knowing of beauty – which occurs then in the form of an object, even without its matter, and exists in the mind of the beholder. It is not the senses, but the mind that is responsible for recognizing the beauty of a seen object. St. Aquinas chimed the bells of Burke’s idea of beauty thus: “Everything is beautiful in proportion to its own form.” This means that a woman is beautiful to the degree in which she attains to the form of a woman as beautifully as possible to the the form of a woman.

In fact, beauty belongs to a realm of knowledge, the cognitive realm because it engenders quiet pleasure when seen. Emerson also affirms that beauty acquires a faculty of expression a century later. In effect, beauty consists in a certain metaphysical form in our mind, for our senses appear to delight in things or people in harmony with such form, satisfying our imaginations because even our sense is a some sort of reason that aids a cognitive process of knowing that becomes judgment. This view of beauty as a realm of intelligence is what Burke tries to relate to us in his essay by telling us that although certain forms of beauty exist in our mind, we must not strictly adhere to any such formulae to judge human beauty in defiance of our imaginations and reason that ultimately appreciate its essence and loveliness.

In light of the above, there is an essentially universal truth that all of the philosophers arrive at: that the beauty is the sovereign attribute of our senses, mind, and knowledge, the Trinity of our Being, in the wings of imagination. That was how great painters like Rembrandt and Jean Francois Millet saw beauty by saying “The beautiful is the fitting, the actual expression.” That was how they saw beauty in peasant girls and milk ladies that others ignored or overlooked. It proves that there is a certain cosmic quality of individuality, of a humane, catholic, and spiritual character that adds up to beauty of a person. In light of the above, it is honest-to-goodness fact that the standard of reason and taste is universal in all human creatures as regards the principles of judgment and of sentiment common to humankind.

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