The Feeling Fallacy

I’ve been working on a research paper for class on the aesthetics of Thomas Aquinas. (For those who might not know the term, aesthetics refers to that which is considered beautiful.) For Aquinas and for many others in the Christian tradition, beauty is objective. Readers of my blog have known for a long time that I contend for this.

The work right now I’m reading is “The Sense of Beauty” by George Santayana. I find this one fascinating because he has such interesting ideas. However, I disagree with nearly everyone of them. It’s brought me closer into knowing what it is that I really believe and the fallacies in the thinking of those on the other side.

On page sixteen of the book, he says this:

“So that for the existence of good in any form it is not merely consciousness but emotional consciousness that is needed. Observation will not do, appreciation is required.”

What I take him to be saying is that if we weren’t here, there would be nothing beautiful. However, we have to be here and we have to have wills because beauty resides in appreciation. If we do not have an emotional response to what we are seeing, can we truly say it’s beautiful?

However, I read that and thought immediately that that was the fallacy I’d written about in Thoughts and Feelings to which I will from now on call it the Feelings Fallacy. Is it possible to appreciate beauty without having an emotional response to it? My response is that this is indefinitely so.

I understand there is another work on beauty out there from the Christian perspective. I am working on getting it from the library, for the last student who had it has yet to turn it in and it was due more than seven months ago. The writer though says that if we were in an art museum and the lights went out and we couldn’t see the paintings, they would lose some beauty due to our not being able to perceive them.

I couldn’t disagree more. All of this makes beauty subjective.

Our problem I think lies in our thinking that we are the observers of the beauty alone and the ones that determine if it is or is not beautiful. Can we remember that there is an eternal viewer? It’s God. If he says something is beautiful, well it’s beautiful. If he says it isn’t, then who are we to say it is?

What is beautiful? That which reflects him in some way. Don’t think though that I have this totally figured out yet. I’m still pondering this more and more and trying to get at what beauty really is. I don’t think it’s clear enough to just say it reflects him, but I think that’s definitely a great place to start.

Let’s also remember something else. God is impassible. He does not react to things. He proacts to everything. He knows what you need even before you ask him. He has the answer to your prayer before you pray. Why pray then? Because you wouldn’t get the answer if you did not. He is teaching you how important it is for you to communicate with him and rely on him.

Thus, God sees all beauty and does not have emotions over it. Does this mean he doesn’t care about it? No. It’s a much deeper care. It is like the care a husband and wife can have after several years when the emotions have died down. Emotion is the explosion that starts a relationship off.

In the same way, we can see beauty and have no emotional response to it even though we are aware it is beautiful. Consider if you are sick or tired or both. You can see something beautiful and know it is and just not have a response. In fact, you could wish that you did have a response. (Most of my problems I think consist of not having emotions I wish I did or having emotions I wish I didn’t.)

I believe though this is something we have to get past. We have to get rid of this idea that all beauty is an emotional response. It isn’t. Emotions can be a response to beauty, but they don’t have to be. Many people can respond in many different ways due to psychology or genetics.

I shall continue reading this book as it is quite enjoyable still. Hopefully in the near future, I will have even more to say on beauty. Hopefully though, you’ve already begun thinking about it.

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