Why does beauty make us better?

Why does beauty make us better?

It does good, it upsets, it arouses joy. Often considered as relative, subjective, sometimes superficial, it nevertheless has the power to make us better. Why does beauty have a transfiguring power?

Facing the peaks of snow-capped mountains or in front of the sky reflecting on the sea, it is a light that radiates, that crosses, that bursts. Sometimes the wonder is such that it is even useless to say “It’s beautiful” or “Look how beautiful it is”. This moment of contemplation, which everyone can experience, does a world of good. However, brain sciences are not able to explain why a sunset or a master painting provoke inner upheaval or great joy that even affects happiness. Where does this power of beauty come from? How can it interiorly transform those who approach it, to ultimately make them better?

Beauty is not a mere ornament

“Beauty is not a mere ornament. Beauty is a sign by which creation signifies to us that life has meaning”, François Cheng explained in January 2020 to François Busnel, the host of the show La Grande Librairie, who asked him about the beauty. “With the presence of beauty, all of a sudden, we understood that the living universe is not a huge neutral and undifferentiated entity but that it is moved by an intentionality”. This explanation of the meaning of beauty the famous writer and philosopher developed in a luminous way in his “Five meditations on beauty”.

Beauty and goodness are one

By asking the question about the nature of the link between beauty and goodness, François Cheng gives the example taken from his mother tongue, Chinese. To designate kindness, the ideogram haha is graphically composed of the sign women and sign child. And to designate a beauty that offers itself to our sight, the language says hao kan, which means “good to see”. Lulled by this language, a Chinese tends to “instinctly associate beauty and kindness”, he writes, developing his thoughts with this passage from Henri Bergson in Thought and Movement : “It is the grace which is read through the beauty and it is the goodness which shines through under the grace. Because goodness is the infinite generosity of a principle of life which gives itself. These two meanings of the word “grace”, beauty and goodness, are one. »

Goodness guarantees the quality of beauty; beauty radiates goodness and makes it desirable.

Beauty makes us better because it calls for kindness, François Cheng tells us: “Kindness guarantees the quality of beauty; beauty radiates goodness and makes it desirable. »

Behind beauty hides the love of God

There is one thing essential to grasping the transfiguring power of beauty. For that, we have to dive back into medieval philosophy for a moment. The latter insists a lot on the transcendentals, that is to say on the great attributes of being, in other words the fundamental qualities of “what is”. Saint Thomas Aquinas lists five of them: the Good, the Good, the Beautiful, the True and the Just. “They are interchangeable in the sense that they complement each other, reinforce each other, mutually transform each other in an internal coherence and deep unity. What is true is good, what is right is good, what is beautiful is true…

Man’s impulse towards beauty makes him better. Why ? Because it brings it closer to the One who is at the origin of beauty. Beauty orients her towards Him.

“They ultimately speak of the same reality, that of Love. They are the same radiance of Love”, explains to Aleteia Bertrand Lethu, philosopher and author of Fifteen secrets to connect with God (Yeshua editions). “Why is a thing good? Because there is Love behind. Why is something right? Because there is Love behind. Finally, why is a thing beautiful? Because there is Love behind”, he continues, specifying that this Love “overhangs the Good, the Good, the Beautiful, the True and the Just and thus lets the presence of God shine through”. If someone seeks beauty, he more easily approaches goodness. His drive towards beauty then makes him better. Why ? Because it brings man closer to Him who is at the origin of beauty. Beauty orients her towards Him.


Beauty itself is Christ

Fyodor Dostoyevsky, one of the greatest Russian writers, sketches it out wonderfully in a famous phrase uttered by Prince Myshkin, the central character of The Idiot “Beauty will save the world”. It’s obvious, it’s not just any beauty: it’s that of Christ that Dostoyevsky thinks of. “By eliminating Christ, you eliminate from humanity the ideal of beauty and goodness, you make it inaccessible. For Christ came for just that: for mankind to know and recognize that a true human spirit can appear in this celestial brilliance, in fact, and in his flesh, not just in dream or ideal — that it is natural and possible”, continues the writer in this famous meditative reflection, at the heart of his novel The Karamazov Brothers. A thought that can be extended by that of the philosopher Simone Weil: “Beauty itself is the Son of God. Because he is the Image of the Father and the Beautiful is the image of the Good. »

Saint Francis of Assisi, Saint John Paul II, Saint Augustine, Saint Francis de Sales had this same intuition. Check out their bright thoughts on beauty:


Leave a Comment