I once heard the comment "beauty can save the world". This struck me as whimsical because I had always thought of beauty as pleasing and enjoyable and that's about it. But then I read Plato's Republic. His thoughts on beauty gave me new things to consider. To Plato, the presence of beauty in a state is the measure of the most important qualities of the state, primarily justice.
In our day, beauty is often synonymous with such words as loveliness, attractiveness, charm, splendor, elegance, or magnificence. Plato's definition held some of these thoughts, but in a more tangible way. I think this definition is fitting:
Beauty is a delightful quality associated with harmony of form or color, excellence of craftsmanship, truthfulness, originality, or another property.
If beauty has a role in the state, maybe there is some merit to beauty saving the world. To understand the role of beauty in the state it is important to see how Plato uses beauty in his discussions. Presence of beauty is the true indicator of perfection in justice, the central tenet of Plato's state. Plato's definition of justice can be summarized as "one doing ones own work" (433b3-5).
It was a matter of principle to him that a man should not do someone else's work. "…The principle that it is right for someone who is by nature a cobbler to practice cobblery and nothing else…is a sort of image of justice - that's why it is beneficial." (443c3-6), Having this view of justice, it becomes clear that when the works of the craftsmen are beautiful, justice is perfect. (401 c4-d2). If a man does the work of another it is unjust, characterized by lack of beauty due to the lesser degree of skill and grace in doing a craft you have not ma...
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...e perfect work can only exist in a decayed state, I say that it is not perfect. Of course it makes people happy because it makes them wealthy and powerful. Anybody strong enough to take over, can have happiness. This sort of replaces the selection of guardians by the philosophers with selection by war. The winners rule. The winners must be wise and powerful to win and to remain in power, even if it is ugly and lacking in beauty.
But we have one final element to deal with that Plato didn't. We have a global community. Communication is instantaneous worldwide. People all over the world are a real part of each others daily lives. The state is becoming the world. As we enter this new type of state, I think the question shifts away from can beauty save the world to what is the definition of justice in a worldwide state?
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