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With grace and charm - a better way to live,
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This review is from: Beauty (Hardcover)
Small in size, brief in length, but with great density of content, this book is itself a physical realisation of the values it propounds. In many ways it serves as the introduction to aesthetics that I was expecting, and which would have perhaps shallowed the learning curve that I had to negotiate, with his far more demanding The Aesthetics of Music. As ever, the clarity of Scruton's arguments matches the precision and elegance of his prose. The main bulk of the book is a presentation of the broad history of aesthetic ideas arranged according to themes that assess our responses to beauty in nature, everyday life and our fellow beings. This culminates in the discussion of beauty in Art where some hint of the intensification of the vexatiousness and technical difficulties of the attendant issues is given. The final two chapters are social commentary dealing with themes that will be familiar to those who have read other Scruton titles; the proper role of the erotic in Art, and the apparent 'retreat from beauty' that would seem to characterise much of modern life. Along the way new ways of seeing, thinking and feeling about familiar things are suggested to us, and we are assisted in giving explicit rational form to our inchoate intuitions, and perhaps most importantly we are asked to consider how they contribute to a life well lived. Scruton is a rare and marvellous example of a modern philosopher who is determined to tackle those questions that define its most venerable traditions, and which most modern philosophy has abandoned, namely those that pertain to the right way to live. Questions that have no right answer but that must be asked afresh by each new generation, especially in times such as ours of rapid and radical change. As one reads more of his works one starts to sense the emergence of an overriding systemicity to his thought that starts to bind together questions that would seem to be superficially unrelated, the political ramifications of aesthetic value being just one obvious example. In that light it would seem that this little book is as close as we get to a foundation to this system.
I by no means agree with all of Scruton's views. I can't dismiss the sense that some of his ideas are a bit too deeply rooted in privilege for my 'taste'. Nonetheless, there is an undeniable sense of seeing the world with a clear and steady eye, that is informed by the deepest sources of Western history and tradition, that makes so much of modern cultural and social criticism, from both left and right, seem childishly hysterical in comparison. Thus, even when I disagree with Scruton I find myself grateful to him for giving me an intellectual framework within which to think clearly about the issues and their interrelations that he brings to light. My only regret with regards the book is that I cannot discuss some of those issues and seek verbal clarification, particularly in relation to some of the subtler aspects of the chapter on Beauty in Art, from the man himself.