Elegance: Making visible the invisible


Elegance is implicit, it is an intrinsic beauty becoming visible when harmony exists. When I think of elegance, I first think of mathematical formulas that make visible the invisible, insight so pure and moving that it can only be described as genius or perhaps sublime. Simplicity lives there, and so does beauty in her most pure state. To some of us, elegance is beauty undressed. To others, elegance is beauty refined.

When I think of elegance in terms of people, I think of men and women who share a sense of internal grace, a well-developed sense of self that exudes calm and reflection in almost any situation. I see them as creative beings tapped into a universal well-spring, well-appointed and refined in action and thought. I perceive elegance in both mathematical formulas and persons as having similar sets of objective properties, slippery as they may be.

Yet, we’re all familiar with the phrase ‘beauty is in the eye of the beholder’ and since elegance is closely related to beauty, how do we go about perceiving or judging elegance? Do we bear an innate aesthetic sense? Is elegance on some level universal? Is elegance felt? Or is it perceived through an act of cognition and reflection?

Immanuel Kant, a philosopher living the Enlightenment period, asked how judgments of beauty are possible. He insists that judgments of beauty are based on feelings of pleasure in the first moment followed by a claim of universality. He also claims that judgments of the beautiful do not presuppose an end or purpose other than engagement with the imagination. His claims that not everyone will agree with the judgment of beauty, but that they ought to.

Kant’s last claim cracks me up. And prompts me to question if we are told what is beautiful or elegant? Is elegance situated? Is elegance something we perceive a posteriori (after experience or knowledge of it) or is it something we can know a priori (before being told what it is)?

What is elegant to you? And how do you know that?

About The Author

Cynthia Vale is a budding scholar and doctoral student in Transformative Inquiry at the California Institute of Integral Studies. She writes the dot429 philosophy blog. You can reach Cynthia at cynthia@valediscovery.com.

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