Charles De Koninck on Beauty as a Transcendental

July 15, 2009

A passage in The Writings of Charles De Koninck asserts that, as opposed to animals, “in man taken purely as such, there is coextension between the object of intelligence and the object of love, since intellect grasps the mark (ratio) of the good. Indeed, the domain of intellect extends beyond the domain of love, for we can think of objects to which the will cannot tend as proper objects–mathematical entities, for example. . . In intellectual being, the inclination which follows on apprehension is under the command of intelligence.”

The endnote (112) to this passage reads as follows on page 352 of the hardcover edition:

The intelligence as such is a certain concrete nature, it is a natural appetite of its proper object, the intelligible. Being, considered as a term of this appetite, has beauty as a transcendental property. That is to say that every being, as an object of intelligence, is beautiful. Consequently, although mathematical being, being only a being of reason, does not at all participate in goodness, and cannot be an object of will, nevertheless it participates in beauty. And thus, like every object of intelligence, mathematical being can be indirectly an object of will insofar as will desires the concrete good of intelligence. In effect, one can distinguish a twofold good of intelligence: the good of the object considered as term of the desire to know for the sake of knowing, which is beauty–pulchrum proprie pertinet ad rationem causae formalis–but it is also the good of the concrete act which entails knowledge in intelligence taken as nature, and this act is an object of will and causes in it this characteristic joy which is as a complement to contemplation. Without being essential to the beauty which is formally in contemplation, delight is a quasi per se accidens. The enjoyment proper to beatitude which consists in contemplation is consequently an enjoyment of the object of intelligence as object of intelligence; this enjoyment, which one can call aesthetic, is the most noble of all pleasures.

If I understand this passage correctly it partly confirms a central portion of my senior thesis at Thomas Aquinas College entitled, “In Defense of Beauty,” but it also challenges and clarifies much of what I tried to say.

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