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Aristotle, Plato, Santayana

Aristotle gives the definition of love as an excess of feeling, towards one person in one of the passages of Ethics. He begins his argument by categorizing love as feeling that is as much towards lifeless objects, and friendship. The latter one, friendship means mutual love, involves choice, and choice is driven from a state of character. Friends have goodwill, and wish well to each other for their sake. Motivation behind the relationship is whether the people who are involved find themselves useful, pleasant, or good. Usefulness means utility driven friendships. These types of friends get together for the sake of their own goods. States are good examples of this type. Pleasantness means pleasure driven friendships. These people get together because they find each other pleasant. The friendship of children might be a good example of this relation. These first two types can be easily dissolved in case of a cessation of utility or pleasure. The third type of friendship based on goodness. Both sides wish the goodness for each other without an expectation, or specific condition. This type of friendship, according to Aristotle, is a virtue in itself, and reflects a state of character. He finds the last one the most enduring one compared to the other two. Friendship of good is thought to be in equality, and justice. However, there are friendships of inequality as father to son, rich to poor. In these types of friendships, the superiority and inferiority of the sides are equalized with the proportion of the good.

Plato, on the other hand, perceives love in a different way. For him, love does not depend on mutuality. It is a one-way relationship. His utmost perception of reciprocity is becoming a friend of God, the holder of absolute beauty. Love for Plato is the desire to possess the beautiful. The desire is a want to be that they are not, or want to have that they do not have. For him beautiful can be interchangeable with ‘good’. It means that beautiful means good, good means beautiful. His concluding definition of love is the ‘possession of everlasting good’. People do not love objects just because of their beauty, but also for their birth in beauty. The underlying meaning in this is the ‘procreation’ instinct that people have in them. ‘birth in beauty’ can be realizes in body and soul contexts. As means of soul it is the conception, as means of body; generation. Generation is giving birth like offspring whereas conception is by virtues and wisdom. Birth in beauty helps people to be what they want to be; being immortal. Unlike Aristotle, which happiness is related to being active and taking part in activity, the reasoning of happiness in Plato is based on immortality. People are created mortal; but the only chance to immortality is the love; love and recognition of divine beauty.

Santayana, compared to Plato’s perception of divine beauty, perceives beauty in a more down to earth way. Santayana states that conception of beauty as an ideal, divine and manifestation of good can give a momentary pleasure but it misses to explain origin, place and elements of beauty as an object of human experience. This experience may have an ideal, and perfection too, but this ideal is based on consciousness of human kind. Santayana’s perfection differs from Plato’s in its reliance on human activity. His perfection with its finitude character is contrasting to Plato’s infinite perfection, because, it needs an embodiment and precision rather than abstract, and vague acceptation. The experience of beauty as an activity has material, formal and expressive qualities. It is for sure that beauty is not a perception of facts, or of a relation, it is an emotion, an affection of our wishful appreciative nature. Beauty is by definition a positive value. For Santayana, beauty is the objectified pleasure.

He unfolded his argument beginning with the nature of beauty, giving a ground with material qualities, synthesizing with the form, and finalizing with the expression of beauty. In the nature of beauty, he makes a distinction between beautiful, and good by aesthetic, and moral values. Aesthetic values are positive, based on inherent, and immediate experiences, whereas moral values are mostly negative, and based on utility. With this differentiation, he carries the interchangeability of Plato’s beautiful and good in a new dimension. When it comes to the material qualities, they are related to bodily sensations, and perception of qualities; they act as the physical ground of form. Form of the beauty is a synthesis of the mind, and a conscious activity. ‘What makes form different from material sensations is its unity and synthesis, and different from expression is its homogeneity and common presence to sense.’ The form of beauty is an activity with its imaginative and perceptive qualities. In order to have the form of the beauty, we need contemplation; which has discrimination, and precision rather than a vague emotional perfection. Plato’s understanding of form of beauty is situated in Santayana’s infinite perfection definition. For Plato, beauty has only one form, and people recognize the truth after they see many beautiful forms. The oneness of form is the path to the divine beauty. Santayana matches determinate with the form, whereas indeterminate with formlessness. It reminds me the Dewey’s pattern of inquiry; transition from indeterminate situation to determinate situation. Formation of beauty is the formation of the subject matter in an inquiry (in Dewey’s sense). In every experience of beauty, the subject matter needs to be defined. So for Santayana, it is hard to talk about oneness of the beauty. Talking about expression of beauty, Santayana emphasizes two important terms; ‘the first one is the object actually presented, the word, the image, the expressive thing; second is the object suggested, the further thought, emotion or image evoked, the thing expressed.’ Expression lies in the unity and association of these two terms. It is hard to talk about an expression if any of them is absent. Even expression, materiality, or form are elements to understand the beauty, Santayana concludes his argument that the beauty is a complete experience in itself, and indescribable.

To sum up, love according to Aristotle is a mutual activity whereas for Plato a one-side relation which is perceived by the contemplation of absolute beauty. Aristotle believes in the virtue of being active; manifestation of activity from potentiality. Regarding this, happiness springs from activity; moreover, happiness and so the love is in itself an activity. For Plato, motivation of happiness is immortality. People with their mortality find a way to be immortal with the beauty. This happens in two ways, one with possessing the beauty; the other with birth in beauty. The ‘birth in beauty’ ends up with the notion of absolute beauty. Absolute beauty is the contemplation of the ideal beauty in all forms of beauty. At this point, Santayana’s beauty conception is standing on an interesting plane. It is an expansion of Plato’s beauty with its insistence on perfection, and idealism. However Santayana differs from Plato in his analytic and materialistic approach to beauty. He tries to explain beauty as means of material, formal and expressive qualities. His distinction in these qualities lies in his prioritizing of human experience.