BEAUTY IN EVOLUTION
Theories of aesthetic, so far, have paid little attention to the development of the sense of beauty, except perhaps in the individual. This was natural enough so long as the idea of evolution was unformulated, or, if touched upon speculatively, played little part in men’s general attitude to life; and since the doctrine of evolution came to its own, little original work, beyond that of Croce, has been done in this region. Croce touches the evolutionary aspect but lightly, though it is implicit in his identification of History with Philosophy:
“Since all the characteristics assigned to Philosophy are verbal variants of its unique character, which is the pure concept, so all the characteristics of History can be reduced to the definition and identification of History with the individual judgment.” “If History is impossible without the logical, that is, the philosophical, element, philosophy is not possible without the intuitive, or historical element.” “Philosophy, then, is neither beyond, nor at the beginning, nor at the end of history, nor is it achieved in a moment or in any single moment of history. It is achieved at every moment and is always completely united to facts and conditioned by historical knowledge.—The a priorisynthesis, which is the reality of the individual judgment and of the definition, is also the reality of philosophy and of history.[Pg 52] It is the formula of thought which by constituting itself qualifies intuition and constitutes history. History does not precede philosophy, nor philosophy history; both are born at one birth.”
This view, however interesting and suggestive it may be in the realm of pure thought, for the simple reason that it does not boldly grapple with the fact of practical dualism, is difficult of application to the process of the dawn of consciousness. Croce’s whole philosophy is directed to the denial of dualism; it is a new form of idealistic monism. We have been led in our earlier reasonings to deny an ultimate dualism, but we have also been led to affirm dualism as existent in Time, through the self-limitation and immanence of Eternal Spirit. On this basis, at which we arrived through a detailed consideration of the process of inorganic and organic evolution, we reared our whole superstructure. On this same basis, then, we will attempt to reason out a view of the evolution of beauty that shall be in harmony both with the facts of evolution and with the theocentric system that issued from our discussion as apparently the only possible explanation of the universe, so far, at least, as its broad outline was concerned.
If beauty be the expression of an intuition, and if, further, the intuition required involves a sense of relation, there can be no true perception of beauty until self-consciousness arises. Broadly[Pg 53] speaking, this is to say there can be no sense of beauty except in man.
But here at once we are brought up against the fact of sexual selection. Surely the posturings of spiders, the dance of the ruff, the display of the peacock and the Bird of Paradise, the song of the warbler (if indeed this be a courting and hymeneal song) do imply some aesthetic preference in the mate? Still more does the elaborate performance of the Bower-bird, with its love-chase through the gay parterres of its carefully decked garden and in and out of the double-doored bower, suggest some sense of beauty.
This fact, which at first sight seems fatal to our whole theory, really supplies us with the clue we lacked.
Perhaps, even at this moment of courting, there is no true self-consciousness. Our previous discussions have led us to question whether this exists at all in animals, except possibly in a few of those most developed through contact with man. But there is unquestionably a sense of relation. The male and female are urged to love-play by the sexual impulse, and this necessarily involves a sense of inter-relatedness. It may not be—probably is not—sufficiently conscious of the self and the other to be termed love. It is a mere sense of the necessity of the other for fulfilling a need as urgent and as little understood as hunger.
But in the sex-impulse we find a beginning of the fact of inter-relation; and this is the foundation we require. The elaborate instances we have mentioned go a step farther than the simple sex-need. There is a definite attempt to make that need reciprocal by stimulating the dormant sense of relation in the mate through the use of objects to which a meaning is given through emphasis or through arrangement and juxtaposition. And this meaning is recognised, though perhaps not as beauty exactly; that would imply the expression of the meaning to the self, and it is doubtful if the self yet exists. But it is very hard to draw any line. At all events we can say that here there is relation—and self-conscious relation is love; and that here is expression of a meaning and a need—and a recognised meaning, or intuition, when expressed to the self is beauty. We are on the confines of aesthetic. Now at first sight this idea may raise a feeling of antagonism, almost of disgust. We seem to have reduced beauty to terms of the sexual impulse. Further consideration will serve to dispel this sense of a derogation of beauty, and will even give to the sex-impulse itself a nobler significance, making it appear as the first stage in the emergence of Love and Beauty; rendering to it the honour due from an understanding of the end which it subserves. There can be little doubt that in man the perception of beauty in the opposite sex—not as beauty perhaps, but as[Pg 55] simple attraction to a beautiful person—does very generally precede that of more impersonal forms of beauty. Amid savage races this is unquestionably the case. The strange decoration of the body and other rites in the initiation of the adolescent, are undoubtedly expressions connected with sex-relations. To us they are ugly because they fail to express our fuller understanding; to the savage they are beautiful. And I believe that in the children of a highly developed artistic race it is true also in some measure. The love-admiration of boys and girls begins at a very tender age; and the psychoanalytic work of Freud and Jung gives a significance, no doubt often exaggerated, to acts and thoughts and dreams of children which, if not strictly sexual in the common sense, are yet connected with the impulse—called by Jung the libido—that underlies the evolution of the race. If we employ the terminology of Bergson and Driesch, we may say that the élan vital, or entelechy, is the libido of Jung; that, as the animal progresses along the path of evolution, it becomes the sexual impulse in the wider sense given to the term by Freud; and that in one aspect it finally becomes the sexual impulse in the sense in which the term is commonly understood, while it achieves infinitely higher levels in the direction of spiritual progress at the same time. But observe what this implies. We have just noticed the obvious fact that the sex-impulse involves a sense of relation.[Pg 56] It is probable that the first dawnings of relationship, albeit in a primitive, almost sensational form, arise here. The using of inanimate objects as tools is probably evolved later than conjugation, even in the protozoa. Difflugia may make use of grains of sand to form its test, but all protozoa conjugate. Anyhow, this is a minor matter. The important point is that in the sex-impulse arises first the sense of a relation between individuals, which is destined, far later, to grow into the first stages of love; and in the development of the child we find traces of this origin, distorted and chronologically misplaced, exactly as one would expect from the Law of Recapitulation.
Another point of interest arises here. Many psychoanalysts, and notably Jung, have shown that mythology has an overwhelmingly sexual content. Further, Rivers, and others, have extended the conception of the primitive, or infantile, character of myth in relation to the primitive or infantile character of dreams, showing that both belong to a lower level of culture than does the waking self. As time goes on more and more, not only of the minor activities of the individual, but of the earlier activities of the race, are relegated to the unconscious. Psychologists have long recognised this fact in dealing with habit-formation, but[Pg 57] these recent writers have given it a deeper significance. The spirit uses the past as something on which to build the future. In old days, and among primitive peoples still to-day, the explanation of life was sought in a very childish manner. The impulse of sex was not understood, its relation to procreation was largely hidden, as witness the ceremonies of Intichiuma, and many others that, by symbolic magic, should confer fertility. It was mysterious, yet immensely powerful. It had some sort of relation to the birth of children and animals. The creation of all things was mysterious, but since the new was born these two mysteries must be connected. Hence the sexual symbolism of myths that were predominantly aetiological in character—that were predominantly attempts to answer the great Why? of the universe.
In the present connection, then, the chief interest of the work of Freud and Jung on infantile phenomena associated with sex, in so far as it is not exaggerated, lies in the fact that here too we have an instance of the working of von Baer’s Law of Recapitulation. In the animal the sense of relation begins with sex; in the child we have strange, fragmentary primitive sex-phenomena (if these psychoanalysts be right), dissociated from many of their natural concomitants; phenomena suggesting some close analogy with the temporary appearance in the embryo of structures that disappear again,[Pg 58] having lost their significance. Can it be that the purely animal basis on which man’s great structure of relationship is raised, is merely a foundation, becoming gradually hidden, covered up?
Love is, no doubt, in origin an impulse of sex. Yet the highest love we know and experience in ourselves has nothing sexual in it. When a man and a maid fall in love there is no thought of such things in the mind of either. Primarily, true love is utterly pure from admixture with animal instincts, though it may be, and is, founded on them in the evolutionary sense, and though they still play a vastly important part, made beautiful by the love they subserve. But the love that begins as conscious sex-instinct is no love at all. There is love between men and women, even young men and women, as well as between those of the same sex, that is either utterly free from all sexual content, or in which that content is so trivial in amount, and so completely dismissed from attention, that it is practically non-existent. If one is conscious of it at any moment, one is so by a definite effort of the mind, and for the specific purpose of bringing before oneself the wonderful emergence of the purest and highest activity of the spirit from so lowly and physical an origin. Such love is far higher than the love between husband and wife often is, where the sexual side is primary as well as primitive, and friendship secondary.[Pg 59] Only when husband and wife are first friends, and then, after that, live together with a full realisation of the sacramental meaning of sex as the foundation on which the eternal temple of love has been and is being built, can their union approach the highest level. Then it is indeed the best of all in this life. It takes them closer to the heart of things than mere friendship would, and enables them to make their other friendships perfect through the understanding which it brings. The physical subserves the spiritual, and even in the physical the two are united. The physical and the spiritual are for them one—parts of a whole. Their own friendship is perfect as far as anything human can be perfect, and by it their friendships with others are made perfect.
We see, then, in the founding and development of the sexual impulse the first movement of the élan vital along its true path of evolution. The élan vital determines progress; it is the unrest, the divine discontent of spirit creating itself in matter. It progresses along various roads, but the road that leads it to its own fulfilment lies through sex. The élan vital becomes libido in an even narrower sense than that, almost co-extensive with Bergson’s term, which Jung gives to the word. For through sex the[Pg 60] sense of individual, and subsequently personal, inter-relationship comes into being. With the arousing of self-consciousness we find the dawn of love. This is the beginning of understanding. In the intuition of love is born the knowledge of Reality. Faint, partial, obscured by the sex-basis on which it is built up, it is yet the key to the mystery of being. Gradually, slowly, amid disappointing foulness and blind passion, it still grows. In its insistence on relationship it is manifested as the human aspect of religion. Side by side with it grows the knowledge and love of God. This is the divine aspect of religion, and the two together make the world and the activity of the spirit an intelligible whole. The “What is Truth” of jesting Pilate finds here its answer. All truth, all life, all process, in short Reality itself, is known in the knowledge of the creative love which is the activity of spirit. We see sex[Pg 61] growing to greater and greater importance until we reach man. Then self-consciousness intervenes; the ideas of relation and of fellowship dawn; love finds a beginning, and then sex begins to lose its privileged place. From pre-eminence it sinks to a secondary position. Its spiritual part is nearly played, and something higher carries on the work. Love is more than passion. Sex must continue to function, for man has still a physical body; but its spiritual significance is understood, and that is a thing far greater than itself. As love grows, passion sinks and sinks from its first prominence, till love is all. “They neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are as the angels.” If this means anything at all, it means that in the end the physical body will have played its noble part and pass away, with its passions and its failures; while the life goes on, revealed in a body spiritual.
In the light of this understanding nothing is left unclean. Even in the work of Freud, in so far as it is true, and not coloured by the overstrained interpretations of a pathologist, there is nothing to shock, though much to sadden us. Where in man there is over-emphasis of sex there is a return to the lower, animal stage. Men are regarding life in terms of what has been, and not of what shall be. They are falling short of their own possibilities. In what degree this phenomenon is pathological, due to some neurosis or psychosis, we may not judge them; in what[Pg 62] degree their over-concentration on animal passion, to the exclusion of true spiritual activity, is under the control of the will we are in presence of sin. For, from the evolutionary point of view, sin is the refusal to live up to the standard that is at present possible, the acquiescence in a standard that belongs properly to a stage outgrown; lower; more animal, less divine. It is content with an anachronism; the willing acceptance, the welcome of failure to progress—and this means refusal to progress.
But to see in the sex-impulse the explanation of love is to fall into the same error as do the materialists, though the error has assumed a new and more subtle guise. You can no more explain love by sex than you can explain mind by matter. In both cases you are using terms to which you can attach no meaning. Ultimately I cannot think of matter and yet exclude mind; I cannot think of sex and yet exclude relation, and so, ultimately, love. For scientific purposes no doubt I can do both, for science is a process of abstraction in which we disregard everything that is not relevant to an immediate and narrow purpose. But philosophy may not abstract. She deals with the concrete and the real.
We have apparently lost sight of the question of beauty; but those who have followed the thought of the first chapter will realise that we have not in fact gone far afield. Upon the founda[Pg 63]tion of sex, as we have seen, the sexless activity of love is being slowly reared; and love is relation—relation is the reciprocal, creative activity which is spirit, and spirit is Reality. God is Love; men perfected are, or will be, love. The being of God and men alike is the activity of personal relationship, made perfect in union while yet each retains his self-identity. The knowledge of this relation, the expression of it, is Beauty; and in Beauty the whole theoretic activity is comprehended in the ultimate resort, when intuition, the immediate contact, and logic, the mediate contact, are made one through perfect knowledge.
Since then, the first origin of the realisation of relationship is born in the sex-impulse, here the beginnings of beauty must be sought. But to search for them in any developed form—to search for what we understand by beauty—in the animal consciousness is vain. There can exist in it only some dim fore-shadowing, some preference. Not until true self-consciousness arises can there be any real sense of beauty, if beauty be the intuition of a relation expressed to the self and to others. And arguing from the psychological effect of beauty upon ourselves—the longing it produces, and the creative impulse—we have been driven to define beauty as the expression of a relation. The germ from which love and beauty will spring is already[Pg 64] there in the relation between animals, but who would guess that from the least of seeds should be born so great and noble a tree?
Many have sought the origin of the sense of beauty in the attraction of sex, and have then hanged Beauty under this bad name. To do this is to proclaim oneself a materialist. Our idea is far different. Reasoning from the standpoint to which we are driven by an examination of evolution that does not neglect the phenomenon of personality; finding the only explanation of evolution itself in free personal relationship; we see in sex the primitive ground-work of that relationship. Physically, the sex relation subserves many purposes; it provides a chief mode of introducing variation, it blindly helps on the evolutionary process through selective mating, it provides the chemical stimulus to the development of a new organism from the gamete or sex cell. But it does more. In the light of the end we see in sex a far nobler function; of a significance not transient but abiding. In the great adventure of Creative Love, to sex is given the task of bringing about those relations which constitute the ground-work of the personal union which is Love. Of the understanding and the expression of this relation is born the sense of beauty, destined gradually to transfigure the world for man, as he learns to see order and purpose and significant relation in the whole, and to endure eternal and yet always new.
Throughout this essay, in our quest for the meaning of Beauty we have been driven to reject the ground of the Natural as the proper standpoint for viewing the Beautiful. Rather, in Nature regarded from the point of view of ultimate Reality, we have found a value only through relation; and it is the intuition of this relation, expressed to conscious mind, that constitutes Beauty. No relation is, however, satisfying but one which is mutual. There is beauty in all expressed relations, even those of mathematics and physics, but because these relations are primarily expressed for the purpose of the science as between thing and thing, and their relation to the perceiving mind is relegated to the background, the sense of beauty is not roused in any great degree. By scenery a far more vivid sense of beauty is kindled, and hand in hand with this goes a keener sense of dissatisfaction and creative longing. By pictures and the like we are brought into touch with the mind of the artist; he has felt a relation and given to it technical expression, and we follow anew his creative intuition. In doing so we get in some degree into relation with his mind as well as with the thing in which he saw beauty; and we derive additional joy from this personal[Pg 66] relation, mediate though it be. But still there is dissatisfaction, as well as creative desire. This longing is identical with the longing of one-sided love. We receive and cannot give. Only in perfectly reciprocal love is the longing absent, while yet the creative aspect is most vividly present.
The study of Philosophy irradiates the world for us, increasing our sense of the beauty that is in it. We understand more; the world’s relation to us is more real, deeper, wider. Religion has the same effect, though in so far as it sometimes belittles the world it tends also to deaden our understanding of the world’s beauty. But if our philosophy coincides with our religion and our scientific theory is a part of both, Beauty has a chance of winning her proper position. If this philosophy and this religion find their ultimate Reality in the personal relationship we call love; if in their ‘science’ the creative process of that love’s activity in self-limitation stands revealed; Beauty indeed comes to her own. In our intuition of the world’s beauty we are in touch with the creative idea of the Master Mind. Only a philosophy and a religion that are rooted and grounded in the God who is Love, yet take the fullest account of the time-processes of love which we call evolution, can reveal the fulness of Beauty. Then Beauty is seen as Spirit’s grasp upon the relation between all the parts of the whole—a relation that is not yet complete, and can only be complete when the sole relation is[Pg 67] that of love between personal beings, of whom God is the first in timeless Being. Then, when matter is seen as the expression of God’s self-limitation for the sake of His people’s freedom, realisation dawns that matter is instinct with beauty for the understanding mind. Aesthetic becomes the link that binds all our theoretic knowledge together, making it one—serviceable as an equal partner with the practical activity. In this partnership the activity of the spirit is perfected. The beauty of relationship is always new, just as love is always new. Our creation is our expression of our personal being in relationship, which is ultimately love. God’s creation is the expression of His Personal Being in relationship. Without relationship He would not be personal; but more is implied in this statement than merely internal relations. Personality, the δύναμις of κοινωνία, is centrifugally creative, as we have seen elsewhere, and the thing created, because it is a relationship, is beautiful, and is new. In the perennial newness of beauty we find the key to God’s creative activity. He creates new persons, because His relation to them is new and beautiful. Just because His experience is the experience of Perfect Personality new things are perpetually[Pg 68] added. Without this activity His Being would not be perfect. Its perfection is substantiated by its power of finding beauty new. Only the inactive dullard fails to see beauty and is bored, and in his very dulness he loses the prerogative of personality.
From the height of such a conception, standing upon ultimate Reality, we have looked down upon the humble beginnings of the intuition of relation, or of beauty. These we found pre-eminently in sex, and so far we were in accord with the psychoanalytic schools of Vienna and of Zurich. But we saw sex transformed and made beautiful, because our eyes were fixed, not on low, immediate purposes, but on the wonderful things that were to come. Mainly out of the relationship of sex spring music, art, literature—all the beauty that is so far removed from its physical origin—and it is in these things of eternal value that we find the true purpose of sex, as opposed to its immediate physical meaning. In music, art, literature we see the expression of growing understanding. The Reality is brought nearer and nearer to man.
Could Philosophy but bring our thought in closer contact with Aesthetic, as Croce has nobly endeavoured to bring it, understanding would quicken marvellously. Could religion embrace the arts and use them, the world would move Godward with fresh inspiration; the arts themselves would be enriched, coming into their true[Pg 69] heritage. Croce has paved the way to understanding, but he missed the goal because he did not perceive that the content of Reality is relationship. This essay attempts to indicate how much is lost by his omission. God is Love; Reality is Love. Love is relationship. Beauty is the expression of our understanding of that relationship. The Good, the True, the Beautiful are seen as different aspects of the same Reality; each definable only in terms of another; each involving, and indeed being, the same system of relations seen from a different angle. Goodness is the relation of spirit to spirit, Truth the relation of part to part and part to whole, Beauty the expression of the spirit’s knowledge of the relations that make up Reality. Our understanding of these relations—yes, and God’s understanding—is perpetually creative, and its creation is a new thing for Perfect Being; for the Perfection of Being is only substantiated by its power to create the new, the beautiful, the related. Matter is beautiful because it is understood as the expression of the infinite activity of the spirit of love. As Personal Being is the one thing that lasts beyond Time, and carries in itself the character of absoluteness, so it appears that Beauty, the knowledge and expression of the relationship of Personal Being, is also eternal. Beauty can never cease, for it is a necessary part of God’s experience and ours.