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Beauty - Francis Kovach

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I composed this three-part essay five years ago. This sector of OBJECTIVISM ONLINE is a natural spot for it.

Beauty – Francis Kovach

Part I

The author of Philosophy of Beauty (PB) was my first philosophy professor Francis Kovach. Beauty is “that which, in sole virtue of a knowledge of it rather than its usefulness, delights its knower” (PB 24). What is “that which”? What is beauty?

A sense of beauty can be companion to other feelings engendered in a work of art. “Pure beauty merely delights; the sublime delights and awes; the tragic delights and saddens; the comic delights and makes one laugh; . . .” (PB 29). Michelangelo’s Pieta: pathos with beauty. Bernini’s David: power and determination with beauty. Brancusi’s Bird in Space: suspension and sweep with beauty.

Ugliness crafted in art is craft of the contrary privative of the positive value beauty (PB 250–64). Ugliness has been taken as a privative since Plato, although, since the nineteenth century, there have been dissenters.

One version of a positive interpretation of ugliness “seems to go back to Winckelmann, who ventured to assert that expressiveness was one of the primary characteristics of classic art, whereas Lessing held the more traditional view, viz., that beauty is the main purpose of classic art. Schlegel, at the end of the eighteenth century (1797) declared that the main concern of modern art is not beauty but the characteristic or the interesting, and the characteristic or the interesting may be, among others, the repulsive or hideous, i.e., the ugly.” (PB 255)

The kind of beauty in art is what Kovach called material beauty, “the integral unity of a multitude or variety of proportionate parts” (PB 185). Integral means the capability of the parts to contribute to the whole of the beautiful work, where “these parts, through their presence, actually ensure and constitute the wholeness of the beautiful material being” (185). Proportionate means capability of being put together with the other parts and of being united with them into the whole of the beautiful work of art (185).

In any “obviously well-arranged whole” there can be found “integrally proportionate and unified parts” (PB 185–86). The integrity of such an orderly material whole is the principle of its order. Integrity is “the property in virtue of which order has all the parts necessary and no parts unnecessary for it” (190). (I notice in passing that having all the parts necessary does not preclude there being alternative necessary parts; necessary part of a piston engine could be spark plug or fuel injector.) Such an artistic whole damaged or never completed, or composed as if those were so, frustrates the viewer. It frustrates fulfillment of the natural cognitive desire for and cognitive delight in the fully knowable. A full integrity renders things fully knowable with the delight that holds, and thereby, integrity is a true principle of beauty (193).

The esthetics of my Prof. Kovach, who was very learned in the history of esthetics, has considerable affinity with that of Rand. In much of her thinking about art, she was not alone. What Kovach says about integrity and integral unity in the work of art fits well with Rand’s writings on esthetics in The Fountainhead and in her nonfiction.

The proportionate “is intuitively intelligible and, thereby, cognitively delightful; whereas that which is disproportionate is, as such, intuitively puzzling, upsetting, disturbing, even displeasing to the beholder” (PB 195). Suppose a man “is listening to a lullaby, and suddenly he hears drums sounding fortissimo. . . . He will instantly intuit the unsuitability of the loud sounds of the drums to the soft sounds of the other musical instruments in the lullaby” (195).

The role of proportion is to render intelligibility and its delight intuitively. Unity in the work of art, or in a machine for that matter, “unity, as such, is intelligible; multitude, the privation of unity, is not. Inasmuch as the unity of a material being is intuitively, effortlessly intelligible, the knowledge of it is delightful, and the thing itself is cognitively delightful and, as such, beautiful” (PB 195). Kovach goes on to argue for the presence of integrity, proportion, and unity in all material things. That we do not encounter beauty in all of them is due to the order in some being not directly perceivable by us or not intuitively knowable by us or relatively inferior or conspicuously defective or so frequent that it cannot delight. The artist aiming to realize beauty, for cognitive delight of the beholder, will be concerned with composing details in right definite relations to the whole she has in mind, or at least selecting among particulars according with a whole emerging in mind. The order in her representation, if beautiful, will be an exemplification of the three principles of order of material being, concretely intelligible and, therewith, immediately delighting (198–208).

Francis Kovach belonged to the Scholastic tradition in philosophy. He took their view that beauty is objective. Beauty is there whether or not it is discerned. He argued for that view and, furthermore, he argued that beauty is a property of being the Scholastics called a transcendental property of being. Such a property is convertible with being and with other such properties. The distinction between being and its transcendental properties is only ideational; in reality they refer to the self-same thing. (Here I shall stay with the customary name transcendental property, though I think merely cohort is a better name.)

In Rand’s metaphysics, identity is such a transcendental property of being, where being means any and all existence, actual or potential, physical or mental (AS 1016–17, 1035–37, 1040–41, 1054; ITOE 56, 82, App. 240). The oneness or unity of each existent is also a transcendental in Rand’s metaphysics. Or, at least we can say that the oneness or unity of each entity, which is the primary and fundamental category among all existents in Rand’s metaphysics, is also a transcendental in that system (ITOE App. 199). The convertibility of unity with being is from Aristotle (Top. 127a27–28; Metaph. 1003b22–23; cf. Aquinas ST Q.11 A.1). Rand’s convertibility of identity and being was most fully seen before her by Avicenna with his addition of the transcendentals “thing and something, meaning definiteness and otherness, respectively” (PB 240). Avicenna was adding those specifically to the Plotinian set of transcendentals: unity, truth, goodness, and beauty.

In the thirteenth century, there began efforts to systematically derive the transcendental properties, and those various efforts led to a variety of sets of the transcendentals. The set and derivation of Thomas Aquinas came to be quite influential among modern Scholastics from mid-nineteenth century on. In his early work On Truth, Aquinas set out the following system of transcendental properties, as summarized by Kovach:

“Considering being absolutely, one can pass this affirmative judgment on it, ‘Every being has an essence’ or ‘Every being is something definite’—a judgment which leads us to realize the transcendentality of ‘thing’—‘being with a definite essence’, and the abstract transcendental of ‘definiteness’. Next, still considering being absolutely, we can pass a negative judgment on it, ‘No being is actually divided’, that corresponds to the judgment, ‘Every being is actually undivided’, and leads the mind to the recognition of the transcendentality of ‘the one’ and its abstract correlative, ‘unity’ or ‘oneness’. In the next steps, one may consider ‘being’ relatively. In so doing, and relating it to non-being, he can realize the truth of this proposition, ‘Every being is other than non-being’, which is the recognition of the transcendentality of ‘the other’ and the abstract ‘otherness’. If, next, somebody relates being to the first unique power of the human soul, the intellect, he can discover the truth of the following proposition, ‘Every being is intelligible’ or ‘true’, and thereby the transcendentality of ‘the true’ and of ‘truth’. If, on the other hand, one relates ‘being’ to the second unique power of the human soul, the will, he may recognize that it is true to say, ‘Every being is desirable’, and, through this judgment, the transcendentality of ‘the good’ and ‘goodness’. Summing up, we may say that there are exactly five transcendental properties of being in such a way that definiteness is an affirmative absolute transcendental; unity, negative absolute; otherness, negative relative; and truth and goodness, affirmative relative. (PB 241)

Aquinas latter expressed his belief that beauty also—in accord with Plato, Plotinus, and others—is convertible with being. Kovach argues for incorporation of beauty into Aquinas’ system of transcendentals. Consider intellect and will not separately, but jointly. Then, affirmatively and relative to that combination, we can say, “Every being is cognitively delightful,” which, according to Kovach, we have reason anyway to think true, outside its consideration in connection with Aquinas’ system. Then beauty is a transcendental property of being, for “we call a thing beautiful precisely if and when it delights upon becoming known to us” (PB 242).

Now Objectivists should be ready to correct and adapt this objectivist theory of beauty and artistic beauty. The Scholastic objectivist is on the right track in taking the intelligible and the good to be affordances of existence for human cognitive and evaluative powers. However, firstly, in Rand’s system, the fundamental affordance for truth is not truth, but fact (cf. Metaph. 993b30; ST Q.16 A.3). Truth is recognition of fact, which latter is a cohort of existence. Secondly, the affordance of goodness in existence is not fundamentally for will or desire, but for life. All occasions of value are confined to relationships of existents to life, including distinctly human forms of life, and to derivatives of life. Value and goodness are not cohorts of existence in Rand’s system (contrast with Aristotle’s NE 1096a23–29). Then beauty is not a cohort of existence; though if a sense of beauty is cognitive delight, sensed beauty is yet a function of the true and the good and can be objective in a new mix of the definite ways in which the true and the good are objective. Then too, whether an artwork crafts an illusion capable, in right conditions of the beholder, of eliciting cognitive delight by its concrete integral unity of held truths and values is an objective matter in an elaborate sense.

In her literature, Rand had bannered an objectivist view of beauty, with ugliness as its antithesis. The range of things she called beautiful was considerable, from the beauty of human face and body to the beauty of countryside and city skyline, to the beauty of an evening of formal debut composed by a mother for her daughter, to the sense of beauty a young woman would have for familiar items in the surroundings of her occasions with her lover, which occasions had carried “a feeling greater than happiness, the feeling of one’s blessing upon the whole of the earth, the feeling of being in love with the fact that one exists and in this kind of world” (AS 108).

The character Lillian Rearden, in a lecture to her husband, says that telling a beautiful woman she is beautiful is a gift of no cost. “But if you tell an ugly woman that she is beautiful, you offer her the great homage of corrupting the concept beauty” (AS 305). In Fountainhead Peter Keating accepts a commission to build a home for the successful writer Lois Cook, who tells him she wants it to be the ugliest house in New York. “’The . . . ugliest, Miss Cook?’ / ‘Sweetheart, the beautiful is so commonplace!’ / . . . / ‘Keating, where’s your courage? Aren’t you capable of a sublime gesture on occasion? They all work so hard and struggle and suffer, trying to achieve beauty, trying to surpass one another in beauty. Let’s surpass them all! Let’s throw their sweat in their face. Let’s destroy them at one stroke. Let’s be gods. Let’s be ugly!’” (ET IV 256)

In oral reply to a question in 1976, Rand maintained that beauty is a sense of harmony. A beautiful face, body, sunset, image, or object will have parts that are harmoniously integrated to the whole unit. “If there are contradictions and clashes, the result is marred or positively ugly.” Consider a face you find beautiful. It is beautiful because all its features “are harmoniously integrated, . . . they all fit your view of the importance of all these features on a human face.” A sunset or landscape will be regarded as beautiful “if all the colors complement each other, or go well together, or are dramatic together.” Rand went on to say that this was an objective definition of beauty (in her particular relational sense of the objective) and that to maintain it as a universal standard of beauty, you need to “define the terms of the objects you are going to classify as beautiful and what you take as the ideal harmonious relationship of the elements of that particular object. . . . It is true, of course, that if there were no valuers, then nothing could be valued as beautiful or ugly, because values are created by the observing consciousness—but they are created by a standard based on reality. So here the issue is: values, including beauty, have to be judged as objective, not subjective or intrinsic.” (Beauty in Binswanger 1986; see also Hospers 2001, 322–23; PB chap. V)

There are some ambiguities in those remarks, but there is clear enough fit with Rand’s writings, and it is a little surprising Rand never committed those remarks on beauty, polished perhaps, to writing. Three observations: She spoke of the harmoniously integrated. Yes, integration is at work in Rand’s analysis of beauty and at work in several ways in her whole theory of esthetics. She spoke of importance (relative importance), and this does have definite work in selections made in composing an artwork, including literary work, but, I say, not in analysis of the integral unity of the parts of a beautiful face. She spoke of harmony. That is a species of proportion, that is, harmony is one of several ways by which parts may be joined with other parts into a whole that is beautiful, a whole whose knowledge delights (PB 207). Notwithstanding that last point, Rand’s view of beauty as a whole had by harmoniously integrated parts is subsumable under my Thomist professor’s wider definition of material beauty: the integral unity of a multitude or variety of proportionate parts.

In those oral remarks, Rand spoke of the positively ugly. I do not take that as an affirmation of the views of some modern estheticians that ugliness is some sort of fundamentally positive antithesis to beauty, another, equally positive reality. (On history, analysis, and resolution of the issue, see PB 250–59.) It would seem most natural in Rand’s philosophy to see ugliness vis-à-vis beauty as parallel evil vis-à-vis goodness (AS 1024). That is, ugliness would be lack of beauty and not equally a positive reality, but a real lack and, moreover, a positive opposition to beauty.

Rand’s principle of the harmonious for the beautiful should be widened to the proportionate. I should note, however, that her conception of the harmonious was not confined to the tranquil, for she spoke of dramatic composition of colors, and her own art form, the novel, required dramatic conflict. Harmony for Rand could not plausibly be confined to accord. Perhaps Rand’s conception of the harmonious was synonymous with the proportionate. Perhaps her definition of beauty did not differ from Kovach’s definition in that element (cf. PB 205).

The view of beauty defended by Kovach is an intrinsicist one, which in common parlance and in philosophy has been called the objectivist view. He defends the position that everything is beautiful, though by contingencies of our minds, we do not always experience the beauty there. One way in which Rand’s view of beauty needs to be objective in her special sense, not intrinsic, is as follows.

On the beautiful, I propose a Randian contraction in comparison to the conception of Scholastic objectivists. Similarities given in perception are there whether or not this were a world in which sentient life such as we had arisen. Integral unities of multitudes or varieties of proportionate parts are not something that exists outside the context of life. Only with the entry of life into the world is there entry of the proportionate. It is only the concept life than makes the concept proportionate possible, just as it is only the concept life that makes the concepts value or problem possible.

Magnitude structures are in the world. Ratios are in the world without our putting numbers on them. Proportions are in the world and can be an element of the proportionate. Proportions, however, are not enough to constitute an occasion of the proportionate said of a multitude or variety of parts forming an integral unity, which type of unity is beauty.

There is a complication of expression. The noun correlate of the adjective proportionate is proportionateness. That is ugly, and one seldom sees it used. One sees instead proportion used as the noun correlate of proportionate. That is a broader sense of proportion than I mean in saying proportions are an element of the proportionate, and in such cases, one could substitute the proportionate for proportion. For example, instead of saying harmony is a species of proportion, I would better say harmony is a species of the proportionate.

Life is the force of beauty. Even the singular stillness and quiet around thought of a loved one deceased has its faint, shadows-beauty by life and our knowing it. We may not know how our visual, motor, intelligent, and affective systems have evolved such that we delight in perception of the intense pattern of a butterfly wing, evening soar of swift, or display of fireworks. But of beauty as integral unity of multitudes or varieties of proportionate parts, we know life is the force of beauty.

(To be continued.)

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Part II

Recall the definition of material beauty by Prof. Kovach, which he maintained in full cognizance of over two hundred theories of beauty from the fifth century B.C. to the latter half of the twentieth century: the integral unity of a multitude or variety of proportionate parts. Of unity more generally, Kovach writes “no thing is intelligible or knowable unless it has unity” (PB 197).

Rand defined knowledge as “a mental grasp of a fact(s) of reality, reached either by perceptual observation or by a process of reason based on perceptual observation” (ITOE 35). In her view, we have in perception direct mental grasp of some entities, grasp of some unities that are entities. That is some knowledge. Then too, concepts in Rand’s view, as in many a view, are unities of classes of particulars grasped notably through similarities of the particulars. Rand can concur that no thing is intelligible or knowable unless it has unity.

Similarly, she is along Kovach’s line of unity in beauty when she thinks of the beautiful, natural or artificial, as consisting in parts that are harmoniously integrated to a whole. Remember always that a part-whole relationship is not the same as an instance-concept relationship. A ramification of that for the present topic is the following: things incommensurable for integration into a concept might nevertheless be integrated together to a beautiful whole. Consider Rand’s example of incommensurables, length and color (ITOE 13). Though length and color share no specific measureable dimension under which concept of a specific common attribute can be obtained, length and colors can be, in a unified artwork, assembled proportionately within their kinds and in their values.

We have seen that in the view of Kovach the role of proportion in beauty is to render intelligibility and its delight intuitively. Is esthetic intuition an exercise of sense perception, imagination, intellect, a combination of them, or another faculty?

Rand thought some similarities are intellectual, but others are given in perception. She conceived the latter as well as the former sorts of similarity to be “the relationship between two or more existents which possess the same characteristic(s), but in different measure or degree” (ITOE 13). I have argued that within her theory of concepts, and the role of similarity in it, her definition of similarity should be amended to read “the relationship between two or more existents possessing the same characteristic(s), but in different measurable degree or in different measureable form” (2004, 284–85) It remains that some similarities are given in perception. Is the proportionate in sensible beauty given in perception?

There is some scientific evidence that proportions highlighted by increased activity in certain parts of the brain during observation of artworks are correlated with judgments of their beauty accompanying brain activity in another, evaluative part of the brain (Di Dio, Macaluso, and Rizzolatti 2007. This experiment pertained to experience of proportions in Classical and Renaissance sculpture, and does not establish the much larger speculation that all occasions of the proportionate in sensible beauty are given in perception. Among people who had known that perception is mediated by nerves and brain, the larger proposal has been around as far back as Ibn al-Haytham, known in the West as Alhacen. He thought that similarity and difference, and beauty too, were recognized at a high stage of processing by the visual system, but did not require any reasoning to their recognition (Smith 2001). The main correction to his picture we can make these thirteen centuries later is that the pleasure associated with sensed beauty comes from another part of the brain, though its activation, like perceptual activation, is automatic.

Magnitude structures are in the world. Ratios are in the world without our putting numbers on them. Proportions are in the world and can be an element of the proportionate. Proportions, however, are not enough to constitute an occasion of the proportionate said of a multitude or variety of parts forming an integral unity, which type of unity is beauty.

There is a complication of the terminology, unfortunately. The noun correlate of the adjective proportionate is proportionateness. That is ugly, and one seldom sees it used. One sees instead proportion used as the noun correlate of proportionate, and I have done that earlier in this subsection and in §IIA, following the usage of Kovach. That is a broader sense of proportion than I mean in saying proportions are an element of the proportionate, and in such cases, one could substitute the proportionate for proportion. For example, instead of saying harmony is a species of proportion, I would better say harmony is a species of the proportionate.

Kovach had it that experience of material beauty, whether in nature or artifact, is an occasion of the intelligible grasped intuitively, rather than discursively. That is the knowledge component of the experience on which the appetitive (emotional) component depends. An esthetic experience, like any experience, has preconditions, essential parts, and consequences. The essential parts of esthetic experience are “recognition of beauty and delight caused by that recognition” (PB 294).

The preconditions of the esthetic experience, both the cognitive preconditions and their appetitive attendants, divide into (i) conditions without which the aesthetic experience cannot easily take place or (ii) more proximate conditions without which it will not take place at all (PB 293). The experience will not take place at all without sensory perception and, according to Kovach, without sensory pleasure, a pleasing of the senses by the perceived object being proportionate to their sensitivities in the delivery of its beauty (294–95, 303–4). Sometimes the sensory perception requires also imagination to reach the esthetic object, such as when a person become blind touches sculpture to arrive at its shape, the esthetic object (298).

A natural question: If beauty is an integral unity of a multitude or variety of proportionate parts, how is it that a single color or a single tone can be beautiful? “Even such pure ‘sensations’ as that of a single tone or even color, despite its seeming simplicity, is in fact a composite, composed of static and/or dynamic, qualitative or quantitative parts and, as such, constitute a more or less well-organized whole, thus fulfilling the requirements of beauty, viz., unity in multitude (if not in variety)” (PB 302).

Kovach’s view of the distinction between sensation and perception coincides with that of Lee 1938. Sensation is “the conscious response to the stimulation of a sense organ or nerve receptor,” whereas perception includes “selection among sensations, combination, organization, and sometimes supplementations from the imagination” (PB 301–2). My professor in the lineage of Aristotle and Aquinas saw perception as made from sensation by an internal sense, the common sense (see Stein and Meredith 1993).

As mentioned lately, there is an appetitive reaction to sensory cognition. This appetitive reaction is itself “a specifically sensory pleasure flowing from the attainment by the external and internal senses [internal, the common sense and imagination] of their proper, connatural object” (PB 303). The perception of the beautiful causes some sensory pleasure because in such perception there is cognitive fulfillment of the proper (the system-dedicated) and proportionate object. Esthetic pleasure begins with the common sense, where sense data have been unified “into some definite units and wholes” (303).

Unified sense data are passed on to “imagination” or “phantasy” for storage and recall. The latter operation can be creative, and that is the recall esthetically significant, for it can alter the original image with connection to other images. “It is at this point that the personality of the beholder has the greatest impact on the manner in which the beholder actually sees and/or hears the perceived esthetic object, altering, enriching or impoverishing it according to his cognitive and/or emotional habits, etc.” (PB 303).

These sensory and perceptual experiences, cognitive and appetitive, are still at the involuntary level. Though rising to esthetic pleasure (or displeasure), they are not the esthetic delight (or revulsion) that may obtain in the beholder’s rational will. That is to be found in the esthetic experience itself. I shall turn in §C to the experience itself and to its consequences (e.g. esthetic judgment). There too I shall begin to analyze what has been called intuition in esthetic discernment.

I should like to supplement Kovach’s example of a person become blind combining touch of a sculpture with imagination to perceive shape. In beholding all the crafts of illusion that are art, we use imagination. I do not mean imagining various meanings of a work. I mean the automatic imagination such as is required for seeing figures in a perspective drawing as situated coherently in a three-dimensional space.

Scientific research since the writing of PB has corroborated and elaborated what Kovach wrote about perceptual imagination and its partial dependence on personal traits of the beholder in the necessary and proximate preconditions of esthetic experience. At the stage of immediate perception, normal viewers of The Raft of the Medusa (a realistic and romantic craft of illusion) experience brightness variations, forms, figure-ground, colors, and gestalt organization. We see familiar objects in the scene. Robert Solso points out that when we view Raft we “see” not only the raft, the people, the sail, the ocean, and other objects. In seeing this scene, we may also “hear” the wind flap the sail or “feel” the coolness of the seawater spraying over the raft (2003, 4). I never heard the flap of the sail. Probably that is because I have little experience with sailing. That is a variation among normal perceivers. Furthermore, we can have somewhat different imagistic prototypes of objects (cf. Rand on “visual abstractions” in 1971, 1010–11) and somewhat different schemata of the overt human expressions of feelings. We can have different feelings evoked by given combination of colors. And what we see immediately in a painting can change as we get more experience and training in viewing (Solso 1994, 116–22, 140–55; 2003, 230–33). Such variations mean that not every particular in perception and its appetitions is needed without alternative in the automatically formed necessary and proximate preconditions of esthetic experience.

Kovach’s contingent and more remote preconditions for esthetic experience are esthetic attention (cognitive) and esthetic expectation (appetitive). These facilitate esthetic experience, but are not strictly necessary, for sometimes one is struck unexpectedly by the beauty of something.

Esthetic attention is a cognitive openness with an interest “in whatever the aesthetic object has to offer to the rational mind,” a deliberate set of mind to recognize the beauty of the object “as fully as possible and thereby, to enjoy it as much as possible” (PB 297). In that way, esthetic attention is an interested attitude. It is, however, also a restriction on cognitive openness because we try to turn away from any other objects that might interfere with our esthetic experience. In this way, esthetic attention is a disinterested attitude; it is disinterested in the nonesthetic.

In Rand’s conception of esthetics, I should say disinterest in the non-esthetic includes not only setting aside such things as whether one can lift a particular statue and whether one can afford to buy it. Appropriate disinterest in the non-esthetic includes also setting aside Rand’s ultimate function of art, its provision of regeneration for pursuing one’s life projects. What remains not set aside is interest in experience that is means to that ultimate function of art. One does not set aside that more immediate psychological function of art, which is end-in-itself engagement with concretized value-metaphysics (Rand 1965, 16, 18; 1966, 36–37).

There are certain flaws in Siegfried [Fritz Lang 1924], particularly in the nature of the story which is a tragic, “malevolent universe” legend—but this is a metaphysical, not an esthetic, issue. From the aspect of the director’s creative task, this film is an example of the kind of visual stylization that makes the difference between a work of art and a glorified newsreel. (Rand 1971, 1042) Set aside the fact that the work does not show the efficacy of the good on earth and urge one forward in one’s life projects. The esthetic occasion remains.

Kovach argues “the primary aesthetic senses are those of vision and hearing; the secondary aesthetic sense is touch . . .” (PB 298). Vision and hearing afford cognitive distance, cognition not bound immediately to biological usefulness, which enables disinterestedness and a delightfulness entirely of cognition (299–301). Moreover, the proper objects of vision and hearing—colors, shapes, and tones—are amenable to organization for expression of human ideas and thoughts, in particular for the orderly, for the well-arranged, for the properly structured whole that is beauty.

Rand allows, of course, that music is a bearer of beauty, indeed it is an art. However, she takes its psycho-epistemological function to be different than those of the graphic and plastic arts such as painting, sculpture, and architecture (1971, 1009–10). In Rand’s metaphysics, entities are the primary form of existents, the one on which depend all others such as action, attributes, relationships, and all systems of relations such as knowledge. The graphic and plastic arts employ sight and touch, which are the principal senses for discerning entities, therefore, for full re-creations of reality by the artist.

Rand missed the neat point that Kovach recognized, the fact, and reasons for the fact, that vision and hearing are the most ample senses for beauty. The high rank of vision and hearing and lower rank of touch for esthetic experience weighs against Rand’s priority of sight and touch for art, including beautiful art, as re-creations of reality. It suggests that Rand’s conception of re-creation of reality is too narrow.

It is ordinary usage to sometimes mean only the graphic and plastic arts when speaking of art. I doubt that is because of some psychological function served by those arts, where that function is paramount to functions served by other arts. People do not usually first think of music, architecture, or literature on hearing the term art. Rand knew she needed to underscore for the reader the inclusion of literature as art: “. . . bear in mind only two characteristics of art (and of literature) . . .” (1963, 37). Literature is obviously a suitable medium for re-creations of reality. It might be thought the underlying reason literature is not first thought of as art is because its re-creations are via concepts and imagined concretes, whereas in the graphic and plastic arts, the re-creations can be directly presented to perception. It might be thought music and architecture are not first thought of as art because they are not obviously re-creations of reality in which the primacy of entities is imported.

Typicality of the visual and plastic varieties for the concept art is not, I think, a mark of blessing for Rand’s placement of those varieties as central among the nonliterary arts. I say central for her because music fits poorly, to say the least, under her definition of art by lack of re-created entities and because she took architecture (in 1971) as not re-creating reality. The latter was likely a careless overstatement. I think it fairest to interpret her as meaning in 1971 only that in architecture the artist does not control so many facets of re-creation as an artist making something entirely nonutilitarian (cf. Seddon 1984, 34; Ust 1995; Enright 2001, 343–53). This would be in keeping, up to a point, with Rand’s thought that sculpture, though an art form, is a form more limited than painting because (mistakenly, due to her overly restrictive definition of art) she confined sculpture as art to human figures (Rand 1971, 1012).

Estheticians can be roughly ordered right to left on a scale of how they resolve tension between the disinterestedness of esthetic attitude and the potential of some artifact to have not only esthetic interest, but utilitarian interest as well. The non-esthetic disinterest of the esthetic attitude tugs against the utilitarian interest we have in some beautiful artifacts. In Kovach’s theory, his definition of material beauty, the integral unity of a multitude or variety of proportionate parts, does not rule out beauty in utilitarian objects. Neither does Rand’s conception of beauty, which as we have seen, is a subsidiary of Kovach’s. However, awareness of an object’s use can interfere with confining attention to respects for which knowledge itself issues in pleasure. I locate Kovach in the center of the scale. His conception of esthetic disinterest does not rule beauty of utilitarian works out of court or inferior to beauty in works we call fine art. So I put him at center, rather than to the right.

Rand 1971 is off to the right concerning architecture, off there with Schopenhauer and Kant, though her reasons for landing there depended on peculiarities of her own definition of art and on a shaky argument from her metaphysical and epistemological primacy of entities over other existents. In The Fountainhead (1943), Rand was left of those viewpoints on beautiful utilitarian works, indeed she was left of center. In step with the author of that novel, I say function and site are perfectly good realities to be re-created in the esthetics of the building, and with expression of metaphysical value-judgments, and notwithstanding the circumstance that actual function of the building is not at distant remove from the artistic expressions of that function (and of that function’s devolution into various building systems). (See further, Gillis 1992; Enright 2001, 348–49.)

(To be continued. I’ll list the References in a post after Part III.)

Edited by Boydstun
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Beauty – Francis Kovach

Part III

It remains to set out Kovach’s essence of esthetic experience itself and its consequences. Within those districts are esthetic intuition and esthetic judgment.

Let us call the cognitive component of the essence of esthetic experience itself esthetic cognition. Clearly, esthetic cognition in literature is partly suprasensory. The meanings of words and sentences are conceptual. Esthetic cognition in literature is at least partly intellectual. “The full beauty of the poetic work is knowable only by the intellect in cooperation with some external and some internal senses” (PB 305).

Similarly it goes for songs that have words and librettos of operas. Intellect is engaged in the discernment of this beauty. What of the beauty of nature, city skyline, or nonliterary art? Is suprasensory intellect, such as the conceptual faculty, required to discern their beauty? 

The senses can reveal the multitude or variety of parts composing the beautiful object, natural or artificial. In the view of Kovach, the directly perceivable colors, shapes, movements, and tones are principles and terms of relations between their multitudes and varieties, but they are not such relations themselves. In particular they are not the unity of proportionate components in the beautiful object arising from the relations all those directly perceivable elements have to each other and to the whole. Material beauty is a unity that is sensorily incognoscible; it requires an act of suprasensory intellect to be recognized.

In further support of that conclusion, consider that not only literary arts, but nonliterary ones have a theme, an artistic idea “manifested, expressed, or symbolized by the artwork in such a way that the entire arrangement of all its parts is made according to the idea as the exemplary cause of the artistic order” (PB 306). This consideration lends some support to Kovach’s conclusion that the unity that is material beauty of art requires suprasensory intellect for its recognition. But I think the strength of this consideration’s support is only about half what my Prof. Kovach gauged for it. To bring this consideration to bear, he uses the following premise: “To recognize an order or arrangement without recognizing the principle of that order is certainly impossible” (306). I reject that premise.

One can find a literary passage beautiful, state some of the reasons for that, yet realize there are some other reason(s) it is beautiful that one has yet to formulate. Similarly, one child may have become able to arrange sticks of varying length parallel each other in strict order of increasing lengths, made plain by aligning one end of each stick flush along a base line. A somewhat younger child not yet able to do that might come along and take pleasure in the final arrangement, I’m pretty sure. She could recognize the arrangement, she could respond to the order, yet not recognize the principle of the arrangement or order and not yet be able to make such an arrangement herself. Rand thought, and I concur, that we can perceive some similarities without yet understanding the bases of those similarities. Surely that is so for some beauty as well. Notice that “visual harmony is a sensory experience and is determined primarily by physiological causes” (Rand 1971, 1044).

I shall grant Kovach that whenever beauty is discerned some principle of unity made of proportionate parts has been registered. Sometimes that registration cannot obtain without intellect, even if only imagistic and schematic intellect. It seems unlikely intellect is required in other cases, as in cognition of a beautiful tone.

In the case of artistic beauty, I shall grant Kovach that some intellectual cognition has occurred if one has glimpsed something of the artist’s idea. I’ll take visual art minimally to be a craft of illusion (or perhaps a relative of such craft) having an idea or theme, composed of parts integral to that theme and contrived to occasion contemplation of the work as an end in itself. Beauty has been the main way of winning that aim, and if one has glimpsed something of an artwork’s idea, experience of the work’s beauty has likely engaged intellect even if only schematically and nondiscursively. Watch Gimbologna’s Mercury as you walk around him. Ignorant of who was Mercury, the meaning of the iconography in the statue, and the circumstances of the artist, what Mercury does before you and in you is lift off the earth (and your mind has been touched by a mind like yours across 400 years). This is only one idea for a sense of human body lifting off earth. Mercury’s forms and configuration had to be tuned to this idea to realize the idea, its parts proportionate in making this unity and joy.

So I shall not go along with Kovach on the proposition that all material beauty is sensorily incognoscible. Some unities of proportionate parts of a beautiful scene or object might be recognized with automatic imagination and connection to prototypes, short of any schematic intellection. However, Kovach’s proposition can pass with me for all cases of artistic beauty, whether in literature, painting, sculpture, architecture, or music. Art in the intended sense is a making of embodied meaning that will require intellect to discern. The beholder may find some of the meaning beyond his ken, but should expect it right alongside his anticipation of beauty.

Let Kovach now guide us further into the nature of the intellect’s portion of the esthetic experience itself. In beholding the beautiful object, the distinctive cognition is not the formation of the concept of beautiful object in general. It is not the cognition that is abstractive induction, and our cognition distinctive of the esthetic experience itself is not a coming to know how to define beauty. Rather, “by coming to know and enjoy the beauty of this object, . . . we recognize the object in its intelligibility, i.e., as a concrete unity in the concrete multitude or, simply, as a concrete” (PB 307). At the end of Part I, I contracted the Kovach view that unity or oneness of being is enough to constitute wholeness adequate for beautiful being (which for most of its occasions, we do not apprehend). The unity must be the sort constituted by proportionate parts, and there is no such thing as the proportionate in a world not faced by the organizations that are living beings. Kovach’s point that esthetic cognition is intellectual, though not abstractive, stands fine all the same. That is, it stands fine for those cases of esthetic experience that require intellect come into play, which is another contraction of Kovach’s scope, for I do not accede to the point that intellect must come into play in all cases of esthetic experience.

The esthetic cognition enlisting intellect is not abstractive, neither does it consist in application of a concept to the singular case beheld. Such esthetic cognition does not consist in “this beauty.” That concept has its place in the later stage, in the judgment “This is beautiful,” a consequence of the esthetic cognition. Recognition of beauty in the esthetic experience by intellect is neither abstractive of concepts nor applicative of them. It is not conceptual, yet intellectual. Then too, the intellectual esthetic cognition is not a judgment (PB 307). 

In beholding the beautiful object, one is turned to contemplation of the object. In this contemplation, one’s mind “notices or discovers in its own light the integral parts with their relations to each other and the whole; and this contemplation . . . does nothing with the blissful vision of the beautiful object in a discursive manner” (PB 309). In this cognition, we know beauty. It is not speculative or scientific knowledge. It is not the esthetic knowledge of the art critic or the philosopher of beauty. It is not the technical knowledge of the artist. It is not knowing by faith or mystic reception. It is only our natural knowing of the beauty of the object, not our consequent knowing that the contemplated object is beautiful (309). 

The esthetic cognition enlisting intellect is “an immediate, yet full grasp by the intellect of the beauty of the contemplated object,” not a conclusion of logical inference (PB 309). That is to say, such esthetic cognition is intuitive and nondiscursive. Esthetic cognition of a graphic or plastic artwork may envelope across time as one is seeing more and more of the object. Literature and music require substantial duration of apprehension. All through such spans of apprehension, it remains that the dawn of beauty is coming immediately and not as conclusion of reasoning. One’s difficulty in giving complete reasons for the experienced beauty is not merely difficulty in verbalizing one’s reasoning. One had never adduced reasons to deliver the beauty.

I hesitate to agree with Kovach on that point in the case of literature. Conceptual meanings are factors in the beauty of a poem. Here is the first verse of my poem


No council, no say.

All earth turn, night trail day.

Unceasing sea tease land away

to watery deep stage lay,

dark, for none. 

It is not reasoning that delivers beauty from the meaning component. It is delivery of meaning that makes that beauty. I’ll stay with Kovach on nondiscursivity in the case of a poem and in the case of a novel as well. The beauty of fit between plot and theme or the beauty in the conclusion of a story, given what had gone before, are beauties of fitness in conceptual meaning, but it is not reasoning that has made that fitness into beauty. Hesitation ended. 

The intuitiveness of esthetic cognition enlisting intellect is like the intuitiveness in the grasp of first principles of being and of thought. The difference lies in the categories of object in the two kinds of intuition. Materially beautiful objects are concretes perceived or imagined. First principles are suprasensory objects of apprehension. “Sensory perception is an intuition with a sensory subject and object, . . . the grasp of self-evident principles is an intuition with suprasensory subject and object, [and] aesthetic cognition is an intuition sensory in its object and suprasensory in its subject” (PB 311).

In that usage, intuition means only a natural, immediate, and non-discursive apprehension. Paul Crowther mentions that the content of art is experienced mainly in psychologically intuitive terms, without us being explicitly aware of the factors making the experience. “By ‘intuitive’ here, I do not mean anything strange or mysterious. Most of our perceptual knowledge has this character. . . . / Intuitions are explicable in principle, even though they may turn out to involve issues of great complexity which do not allow a definitive analysis” (Crowther 2007, 8). I would add that analysis without sufficient scientific information on the process is greatly impaired analysis.

Esthetic knowing is per se delightful. It is delightful in itself, not on account of some further manifest end imputing the delight that is esthetic delight. The per se delightfulness of esthetic knowing is “delightful at the sensory level in terms of its object, the beautiful, but delightful at the suprasensory level in terms of its subject, the rational will as it rests in the mental possession of the intuited beauty” (PB 311).

Among the cognitive consequences of the esthetic cognition and delight, is the esthetic judgment “This is beautiful.” Kovach rates this as a necessary consequence. I think it is not necessary during early childhood. For adults, it seems to be necessary at least in this way: the knowing of anything necessarily entails ability to know the correctness of the proposition “Such is so” or, in Rand’s words, “It is.” 

Kovach lists numerous contingent effects of esthetic experience, particularly experience of fine art, that have been claimed, combining lists of D. W. Gotshalk and Monroe Beardsley. It is among these contingent and more remote effects that one will find external purposes served by fine art, overarching purposes cognitive, appetitive, social, or moral (PB 316–17).

As for the necessary appetitive effect of the esthetic experience, focally the experience of beautiful fine art, it is a desire flowing directly from the esthetic judgment and its keep in knowledge and flowing indirectly from the esthetic intuition and delight. For the moment the beholder intuits the beauty of an object, an esthetic love is born, one assuming the specific character of esthetic joy or delight possessed in that moment of beholding. The object of this desire is not only or firstly the enjoyment of the previously beheld beauty. Rather, it is the desire to face that particular beauty again (PB 315–16). So I long to again walk around Mercury in Firenze and to again stand gazing a long while into On the Terrace in Chicago. Face to face.



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Boydstun, S. 2004. Universals and Measurement. The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies (JARS) 5(2):271–305.

Crowther, P. 2007. Defining Art, Creating the Canon. Oxford.

Di Dio, C., Macaluso, E., and G. Rizzolatti 2007. The Golden Beauty: Brain Response to Classical and Renaissance Sculptures. PLoS ONE 2(11):e1201. 

Enright, J. 2001. Art: What a Concept. JARS 2(2):341–59.

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——. 1966–67. Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology. Expanded 2nd edition. 1990. Meridian.

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Torres, L., and M. M. Kamhi 1992. Ayn Rand’s Philosophy of Art V. Aristos 5(4):1–8.

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“As for the necessary appetitive effect of the esthetic experience, focally the experience of beautiful fine art, it is a desire flowing directly from the esthetic judgment and its keep in knowledge and flowing indirectly from the esthetic intuition and delight. For the moment the beholder intuits the beauty of an object, an esthetic love is born, one assuming the specific character of esthetic joy or delight possessed in that moment of beholding. The object of this desire is not only or firstly the enjoyment of the previously beheld beauty. Rather, it is the desire to face that particular beauty again (PB 315–16). So I long to again walk around Mercury in Firenze and to again stand gazing a long while into On the Terrace in Chicago. Face to face.”

(photo — 2/27/20)


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I’d like to record a link telling the remarkable life of my first philosophy professor Francis J. Kovach.

I relayed in the course of my paper the way of Thomas Aquinas on the situation of transcendentals (such as unity, truth, goodness, and beauty) with being. At the time I wrote that (2013), I was not yet aware of a book by Jan A. Aertsen titled Medieval Philosophy as Transcendental Thought (2012). This book has since become a tremendous help to me in better understanding the history of medieval metaphysics (Arabic and Latin) in its developments from Aristotle and the relation of medieval thought to early modern philosophy, including the transcendental idealism of Kant.

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