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Beauty

Ray and Christy arrived a little earlier than I expected, because Ray has a tendency to just barely meet schedules. It was Christy who had made sure they were on time.

"Hope we're not too early," Ray said as they strolled out to the terrace.

"More like on time, for a change," I said.

"Delighted to see you Christy," I said as I stood.

Christy did not say a word, but came to me directly and volunteered a hug. "Thank you, Regi."

"I'm sure you're welcome, Darling, but for what am I being thanked?"

"Oh, just for having us for lunch, and I'm really looking forward to talking about beauty, if you're still interested," she said.

[You may or may not remember that in our last conversation Christy had mildly protested my referring to her as a beautiful young lady, which is why I had mentioned that we would discuss the nature of beauty the next time we got together. Since it will not be part of my discussion with her, you, my reader, must know that Christy is one of the most beautiful women I have ever known, but like many of the most beautiful, she is totally unaware, or at least unimpressed by her own beauty, which just makes her more charming.]

The maid brought lunch which was mostly salad and various cold meats and condiments. I knew Christy was eager to start our conversation. I waited to see how she would approach it.

"Regi, what do you mean by beauty?"

"Well, Christy, I do not mean to answer your question with a question, but do let me ask you just one. Do you have your own idea of what beauty is? You do not have to tell me what it is, only if you have such an idea.

"Honestly," she began frowning, "I don't think I do. I want to say I know when something is beautiful, but I could not tell you why it is beautiful."

"That's fair enough," I said. I think that is about what most people who have given the question any thought might say. I have very serious doubts about those who assume they know all about beauty and what it is.

"Perhaps the first thing we need to do is get down to what we mean by beauty. One problem is the way the word beauty, or more commonly, 'beautiful,' is used.

"Here's what I mean. The word beautiful is used to describe almost anything one considers exceptionally good or interesting. Sports fans refer to a good play on the field as 'beautiful;' programmers refer to a really elegant program as 'beautiful;' Muslims refer to mass beheadings as 'beautiful;' and surgeons refer to the most gruesome of operations, when successful, as 'beautiful.'

"We're obviously not going to discover the meaning of beauty by identifying all the things that people refer to as beautiful. But notice, all those things called beautiful, even though they are not beautiful in any aesthetic sense, have one thing in common. There is something imminently satisfying or pleasing about them to those who refer to them as beautiful.

"Now what I mean by beauty is that quality of things which are both pleasing and satisfying in a way that is unique to human beings. It has to do with the recognition of the world as appropriate to the life of a human being."

"What do you mean by a 'unique to human beings?'" Christy asked.

"I mean human beings are the only creatures capable of appreciating and enjoying beauty just as human beings are the only creatures who laugh, blush, or cry, that is who can appreciate humor, shame or embarrassment, or sadness."

Christy just nodded, indicating she understood.

"The reason the animals have no appreciation for beauty" I continued, "is the same as the reason they have no sense of humor. Animals simply perceive the world as it is but are unable to make any kind of judgment about it. Human beings, on the other hand, cannot perceive the world without making judgment about it and evaluating their situation. They must constantly judge their own situation in the world as good or bad."

"Well, I don't see what that has to do with beauty," Ray protested.

"That's because I haven't yet said what it has to do with beauty. It has the same thing to do with beauty, as a matter of fact, as it has to do with humor. Our 'senses' of beauty and humor are our nature's way of making it possible to directly experience our intellectual evaluation of the world, just as though we could directly perceive them."

"I don't think I understand that, Regi," Ray said.

"Me either," Christy said.

"Well that's alright. It's not your fault. Both humor and the aesthetic sense are emotions, and almost everything being taught today about the emotions is wrong. But it is going to be impossible to understand the nature of beauty without some understanding of the nature of the emotions."

I paused to ring for Julie, the maid. She appeared a few moments later with two envelopes.

"Thank you Julie," I said taking the envelopes.

These are for you. It's a brief article on the nature of humor I wrote a while ago, called, "Humor—Why Do We Laugh?" I'd like you to take them with you and read them when you have some time, but of course you do not have to. The reason I'd like you to read the article is because it explains a little about what the emotions are and how they are the reason we have a sense of humor.

"Until we understand that much it is not really possible to understand the nature of beauty, at least what I mean by beauty," I said.

They both thanked me, but Christy looked disappointed.

"Is anything the matter Christy?" I asked.

"Well, to be honest, I'm a little disappointed. I thought we were going to talk about beauty, and I was really looking forward to it," she said somewhat emphatically.

"I agree," I said. "But since I cannot explain what beauty is without explaining the emotional basis behind it, we cannot really discuss it very well."

"We could talk about a very old philosophical question having to do with beauty though, if anyone is interested."

"What's the question?" Ray asked.

"The question is this: is beauty a real attribute of things that are called beautiful or is it only a subjective experience or evaluation? One of you take a stab at answering the question, and we'll go on from there," I suggested.

Christy began, "I know some things I thought were beautiful when I was younger are not beautiful to me now. Some music I really thought was beautiful, just seems crude to me now," she said.

"So that would mean beauty was what you attributed to the music, not something that was actually in the music, wouldn't it?" Raymond suggested.

"Whatever it was about the music that Christy found beautiful when younger, but now finds crude, has not changed, has it?" I asked.

"No," Raymond agreed, "but whatever it was, was not beauty or Christy would not have changed her opinion of it, would she?"

"Very good, Raymond," I said. "You have just solved the mystery. Do you know why?"

It was Christy who answered.

"Whatever there is about the music I found beautiful, or what there is about anything else I find beautiful is a real attribute of those things. Whether or not the attributes in question are actually beauty or whether or not I can know if they are beauty depends on my... what?... my ability? capacity? ... to recognize whether it is beauty or not? Is that right, Regi?"

Her answer quite surprised me. "That's absolutely right," I said, "at least that's the gist of it. So what we'll discuss next time is exactly what recognition of the beautiful is, and where it comes from.

"Now there is one other thing I want to address, but I don't want to embarrass you Christy, so just take it in stride."

"I'll do my best," she grinned.

"You disagreed with me when I said you were beautiful, and I understand why. You are much too intelligent and honest for any false modesty, so I believe you really do not think you are beautiful. The reason is because I'm able to identify the beauty, and you are not. One reason you are beautiful is because you are a woman, and I might add, you know it. I only say that because we are living in an age where so many are confused about what they are."

"Oh Regi," Ray said with a hint of disdain, but Christy laughed.

"Yes I know I'm a woman, and I like it," she said firmly. "I probably shouldn't, but I feel sorry for women who are not completely comfortable being women."

"I do too, actually," I confessed, "and they are the only women that I do not always find beautiful.

"That is not all I meant, however, when I said you were beautiful. I find beauty in every woman, but every woman is different, and the kind and degree of beauty in every woman is different. Your beauty is uniquely your own, and quite ravishing."

I thought I noticed a bit of smile from Christy, and perhaps a hint of a blush.

"Is that why you love all women, Regi?" Ray asked.

[Ray was referring to an earlier discussion we had about love in which I suggested the every man loves every woman.]

"Is that right?" Christy asked, her eyebrows raised. "You love all women?"

"Yes, Darling, I love all women, and, no, Ray, it's not the reason I find all women beautiful. It's actually the other way around. It's because I am aware that I love every woman, and that every woman is in some way lovable, that is the reason I can see the beauty in every individual woman ... except," I added, "those who have managed to squelch their femininity, and with it, their lovability.

"Ray is not being completely candid, by the way Christy. When we talked about love, I said that every man loves every woman and referred him to a quote by Oliver Wendell Holmes. Perhaps Ray can find it for you. I'd be interested in what you think of it. You might also ask him why the question came up."

Ray would have liked to shut me up at that point, because the question had come up regarding his feelings for Christy. I doubted Ray had yet made his feelings known to her.

Julie brought us ice cream and some yummy toppings for dessert.

Ray said, as a joke, "what a beautiful dessert!"

Christy followed with, "it was a beautiful lunch. And the conversation has been just beautiful, too."

"Well, all I can say is you two are a couple of beauties!"

It was mostly joking after that and we agreed to have another lunch soon to finish our discussion of beauty.

—(12/14/15)