In 2009, I posted an article I wrote on Truth and Beauty, and how we seek it and are enthralled by it. I stated that physics scientists are one the luckiest lots on the planet for their daily glimpses of beauty in math as it applies to understanding the universe.
The last few posts have centered on the role of virtue in well-being. Here I take a slightly different trajectory to spur your thinking about how truth, beauty, and virtue are all synonymous. I’d say most people don’t categorize ‘right judgments’ or ‘doing the right thing’ or morals as beauty, yet we act on this belief every day. Think about the TV news story about a man who risks his own life to save a child from a tragic death. Does anything grip our hearts as much as this? Why? Why would we say that’s a beautiful story? Obviously, we’re not talking about physical beauty. The beauty is in the ethic, the moral, the virtue, isn’t it? Beauty is bound up in doing the right thing, in sacrifice for another, and is even more beautiful when performed for someone who is totally incapable of returning the favor.
Beauty is linked to truth, because truth informs our ideas of virtue and beauty. We don’t value lies or deceit or murder. These actions are all, at some level, untruth about how life should be. We do not believe that in the ideal world that life should be full of evil. Our ideas of truth and lies, of good and evil, are enacted in our laws. We believe it is beautiful when justice is carried out.
Stated conversely, we believe it is ugly when truth does not win, when people hate each other.
My observations from Facebook: I post occasionally on Facebook about humanitarian projects, of children and people in dire need, in hopes of raising awareness and financial support. These posts don’t get many comments or “likes”. Same minimal response when I post stories of amazing human accomplishments. But, if I post a story or video about the the triumphs of love for the sake of another person, these posts get dozens of remarks, “likes”, and “shares”. Why? Because it appeals to our idea of beauty epitomized in truth and virtue. We are not so astounded by mere accomplishment, or by the needs of the world.
We are astounded by examples of beauty that approximate our idea of what we think perfect beauty looks like. The aesthetic satisfaction of beauty is necessarily bound up in the ideals of truth and virtue. Likewise, untruth and unvirtuous morals are ugly and repulsive to us.
I hope you see the link to health and well-being: Ugliness does not lead us to develop health interventions, or nursing practice, or to allocate money for research. Health/well-being is directly related to the quest for knowledge (truth) through research, the desire to do good (virtue) to others through evidence-based practice, and to treat all people as sacred beings (care/love).
Summing up: BEAUTY = TRUTH = VIRTUE