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THE PERFECT: THE THIRD ULTIMATE REALITY KNOWN
STANDARD OF THE CREATIONS OF
IZATION BY ACTION.
& 40. Origin and Significance of the Idea. The idea of the Perfect arises when we think of an object as constituted in accordance with the truths and laws of reason, and as thus being in its constitution an expression of these truths and laws. I have the idea of a circle as a portion of space inclosed by a line, all the points of which are equally distant from a point within called the center. If I think of a line actually drawn in exact accordance with this idea, I think the figure thus described must be a perfect circle. If I think of a steam-engine constructed in exact accordance with every law regulative of such a structure, I must think of it as a perfect steamengine.
The idea of the perfect implies a rational standard within the mind, accordance with which is perfection. Without such standard the idea of perfect and imperfect could not arise; the mind would have no idea for the words to express. Objects might be compared as large or small, agreeable or disagreeable, useful or noxious, but not as perfect or imperfect.
This rational standard is possible only because we have knowledge through rational intuition of the truths and laws of reason. The Perfect, therefore, denotes a new reality, our knowledge of which depends on rational intuitions.
This is the norm or standard of the creations of thought and their realization by action, in nature and in art, in growth and in construction, in character and institutions. By it we judge as perfect or imperfect a rose and a watch, a solar system and a steam-engine, the character of an individual and the institutions of society.
$41. Ideals. I. When the mind imagines a perfect object, that creation of the imagination is called an ideal.
I have distinguished imagination and fancy. When the mind in its creation proceeds in harmony with rational truth and law and thus expresses the deepest reality and true perfection of the object, the creative power is called the imagination and its product is an ideal. When the mind creates capriciously, without regard to truth, law and reality, the creative power is called the fancy and its product is a conceit or fancy.
II. In creating its ideals the imagination uses only the material given in perceptive intuition, but combines it in accordance with the principles and laws of reason. Cicero says Zeuxis had five of the most beautiful women of Crotona as models from which to make up his ideal of perfect beauty.*
Ideals are not obtained by copying observed objects. The qualities of observed objects are used as material ; the ideal is attained, not by imitation but by creation.
The ideal thus created may be itself imperfect, that is, not the true ideal. The error, however, as in ethical mistakes, is not in the principles but in the judgment that applies them. Taste is improved by culture, as are the delicacy and correctness of moral judgments. The liability to mistake is greater than in morals, because in æsthetics we are one remove further from the principles which we apply.
III. The ideal is usually nearer to perfection than the object of it observed in experience or expressed by art. A great artist is above nature and comes down upon it from his ideals. An imitator is beneath nature and tries in vain to lift himself up to it. Says Cicero: “We can conceive of statues more perfect than those of Phidias. Nor did the artist when he made the statue of Jupiter or Minerva contemplate any one individual from whom to take a likeness; but there was in his mind a form of beauty gazing on which he guided his hand and skill in imitation of it.” † Goethe says, “ The Greek artists in representing animals have not only equaled, but even far surpassed nature. ... They turned to nature with their own greatness. ... Our artists .... proceed to the imitation of nature with their own personal weakness and artistic incapacity, and fancy they are doing something. They stand below nature. But whoever will produce anything great must so improve his culture that, like the Greeks, he will be able to elevate the mere trivial actualities of nature to the level of his own mind, and really carry out that which in natural phenomena .... remains mere intention.” I
But must not an artist be true to nature? Yes; and he is the more true to nature for approaching it from his ideal. A photograph is an exact copy of the man; but it is a copy of him when he is brought to a full stop, when his attitude and face are least expressive, and all his lineaments stiffen and shut him in, as an oyster shuts itself in its shell. A portrait is idealized; and for that very reason it is more true to nature; for it presents the man in his best expression, which best reveals all that is worth knowing in him as a man. So nature is the expression of ideals in the mind of God. In getting the ideal we get the real significance and deepest truth of nature.
+ Orator, c. 2 and 3.
* De Inventione, II. 1.
Copversations with Eckermann, pp. 341, 342.
IV. Ideals are possible only by virtue of the reason. Ideals are not found by observation but are creations of imagination according to y the standard of reason. It is because man is rational that he is im
pelled to seek and enabled to find a perfection which exists neither in himself nor in the objects about him, but which is the standard by which he judges both himself and outward things. And it is because nature itself expresses the thoughts of the reason which is supreme in the universe, that man finds suggestions of his own ideals in nature and discovers all things arranged in a Cosmos progressively revealing the Ideal which is perfect and eternal in the mind of God.
V. The practical importance of ideals is the same with the practical importance of the imagination.
Invention alike in the fine arts and the industrial, is primarily the creation of an ideal. An attempt to realize anything in invention without an ideal must fail. The attempt would be like that of a child to arrange blocks while as yet it has not attained the ideal of a house or of any geometrical figure; it becomes a mere hap-hazard juxtaposition.
Ideals are important in discovery. The hypothesis, which is the first step in the Newtonian method, is simply the creation of an ideal.
Without ideals criticism is impossible; criticism is always the comparison of the actual with the ideal. One cannot say, It is a beautiful morning, or, It is a shocking bad hat, or, It is a love of a bonnet, without an ideal with which the object criticised is compared.
Without ideals we should have no knowledge of progress; for without them there would be no standard by which to determine whether any movement is progressive or retrogressive. The expectation of the progress of man, which is so powerful in modern Christian civilization, would have no significance if man could not in the light of reason project his vision to an ideal to be realized in the future beyond all that man has ever been or has ever attained in the past. What science tells us of higher and lower orders of plants and animals is meaningless, except as man is able to form ideals with which to measure them as lower and higher. The theory of evolution involves in its very essence the doctrine of progress in the past and the expectation of progress in the future. But the theory itself is meaningless, unless man is endowed with reason that rises above all the trailing sequences of nature and furnishes a standard by which evolutionary progress from lower to higher becomes intelligible; and its realization through the ages past is incredible and impossible, if from the beginning no reason has had in itself the ideal toward the realization of which it has advanced and guided the progress.
Ideals are essential in the practical life of every day. The foresight necessary to success in business involves an ideal construction of the course of events affecting the business and the action demanded in relation to them. Teaching and receiving instruction involves the constant exercise of imagination in grasping what is taught in its true unity and significance. Controversy goes on endlessly because each disputant fails to picture to himself the attitude of the other. Even in morals ideals play an essential part. “ Put yourself in his place;" “ Do as you would be done by;" these maxims require the exercise of imagination to picture to yourself the rights and interests of another. Kant's maxim, “So act that you would be willing the principle of your action should be a universal law,” requires, whenever it is applied, an imaginary construction of a moral system on the principle of that action and its comparison with the true ideal of a moral system accordant with reason.
8 42. Beauty as known by the Reason; or Principles of
Æsthetics. It is only from the idea of perfection that the principles of a true æsthetical philosophy can be unfolded. Some of these principles I will set forth.
I. Beauty is ideal perfection revealed to the reason in some particular concrete object or combination of objects.
1. Beauty is perfection revealed, perfection lustrous and outshining. I do not mean that the beauty exists only when observed. The flower that blushes unseen loses none of its charms in its loneliness. But I mean that the word beauty, as used, not only denotes the perfection of the object, but also suggests that the perfection, if observed, would charm the observer. It indicates the connection between the perfection of the object and the admiring appreciation of the mind to whom the perfection is revealed.
2. The perfection must also be revealed in some concrete object. The ideal must appear in the actual. The law of gravitation mathematically
stated awakens no ästhetic emotion. But the conception in the concrete, of all bodies on the earth and of the solar and all stellar systems mɔving harmoniously in conformity with this law and constituting the cosmos, awakens æsthetic emotion.
There may be beauty in a master-stroke of military genius; but it is not in the abstract thought but in the concrete combination of movements by which the commander transforms peril into victory. Beauty can be predicated of perfection only as perfection is revealed or suggested in persons or things; in action, or in some natural or artificial product of action.
3. The perfection revealed in a beautiful object of nature or art is that of a finite object which within its own limits and in the peculiarity of its own being reveals a rational ideal of the perfect. It does not reveal perfection of all kinds, but perfection in a particular object. It may be a beautiful hand without symmetry of the entire body; or a symmetrical form without intellectual expression ; some feature or lineament, some partial gleam of perfection. Hence the beautiful object must be of a kind capable of expressing a rational ideal of perfection and must reveal or suggest the perfection of its kind. A cottage may be beautiful as a cottage, though it would be ridiculous as a cathedral. Indeed the addition to anything of qualities belonging to things of another kind would make it imperfect. A dog may be beautiful as a dog; if wings or fins were added it would cease to be beautiful and become a monster. A picture of the human form with wings may be called an angel, but is a monster.
4. Objects are beautiful in different degrees. The ideals themselves are of higher or lower grades according as they express more or less of the affluence of the reason and the spirit. The ideal beauty of a rational being is of a higher order than that of a brute or inanimate being. And there are different orders of beauty in rational beings. In a European gallery a Madonna by Raphael and a Madonna by Murillo hang side by side. The ideal of the former was evidently that of the happy mother. The ideal of the latter was that of the conscious mother of the Christ, pondering in her heart the woe, the mystery and the promise of the Messianic life. Each ideal is expressed with the power of genius. The latter reveals greater riches of spiritual truth and moves the soul to proportionally greater depths. Also beautiful objects of the same kind approximate in different degrees to their ideals, and so may be said to have different degrees of beauty.
II. Beauty is the outshining of truth. Beauty is the revelation of an ideal. An ideal is an imaginative conception of an object as perfect. Perfection is predicated of an object when it is in entire accordance with the law of reason. Law is the truth of reason considered as a law