Finalist, 2005 Kids Philosophy Slam
Christian Tarsney, age 18
Saint Louis Park, Minnesota
"Truth or beauty? What is more
important in your life, truth or beauty?"
To understand the question, we must define our terms. "Truth"
is best defined as the correspondence of thought and reality.
Well-worn though this definition may be, it is the fairly precise
and fits common usage. For thought to correspond to reality is
for the interrelation of concepts within the mind to mirror the
interrelations of their referents in the external world.
Beauty is a more difficult concept. It is a quality that we perceive
through the senses, measured by our reaction, or proper reaction,
to an object of perception. However, while this reaction is pleasurable,
beauty is distinct from sense pleasure. A good meal or a hot shower
gives pleasure, but we would not therefore describe it as beautiful.
Instead, beauty involves the apprehension, through the senses,
of something beyond the immediate object of perception. This thing
is not merely another object, or our enjoyment would be merely
sense pleasure at one remove. Instead, it is an abstraction, conveyed
through our experience of an object, which makes that object beautiful.
These abstractions, to be beautiful, cannot be morally or emotionally
neutral. Instead, they must represent ideals, abstractions to
which we attach value. Thus, beauty is the pleasure given through
the experience of abstract ideals embodied in physical realities.
As this definition implies, our esthetic perceptions are a product
of our moral beliefs and values. I consider the music of Mozart
or Dvorak beautiful because it embodies ideals of happiness and
benevolence that I consider morally good; my esthetic appreciation
of the Sherlock Holmes mysteries stems from their reflection,
both in theme and in plot structure, of the ideal of rationality.
On the other hand, I dislike most modern popular music because
it embodies moral principles of anti-intellectualism, unreflective
sense pleasure, and emotionalism that I consider false. I dislike
Voltaire's Candide because it reflects pessimistic and cynical
beliefs with which I likewise disagree. If my philosophical beliefs
were to undergo change, my esthetic beliefs would logically have
to do so as well, since I identify as beauty that which reflects
Having thus determined and illustrated the meaning of beauty,
its relationship to truth should become clear. Beauty is the appreciation
of realities and ideals; truth is their apprehension. Thus, truth
is more important both in the abstract and in life, because it
is foundational to beauty. One must validate one's moral ideals
to validate one's esthetic judgments. While the appearance of
beauty may be in the eye of the beholder "true beauty",
i.e. beauty that truly has value, must be founded on true and
rational premises, on right and valuable ideals. If that which
appears beautiful lacks this foundation, its beauty is ultimately
illusory, and will vanish as the myth behind it is dispelled.
If the ideals that I recognize in the work of Dvorak, Mozart,
or Doyle are false, then my appreciation of them is similarly
false, and their beauty a delusion. Truth, therefore, is what
gives beauty its meaning and value, and is thus more important.