"Human Beauty" in Beauty: A Very Short Introduction

By Sister Hilda Kleiman, OSB

And if we love him and trust him, and feel the comfort of his companionship,
then our sentiment, in these moments, is like the sentiment of beauty . . . 

Chapter one of Beauty: A Very Short Introduction (public library) by Roger Scruton focuses on judging beauty.  In chapter two, he considers human beauty.

In the section entitled "Beautiful Bodies," Scruton explains human beauty is personal, focusing our attention on those aspects of our bodies through which we relate with one another every day:

Whether it attracts contemplation or prompts desire, human beauty is seen in personal terms.  It resides especially in those features - the face, the eyes, the lips, the hands - which attract our gaze in the course of personal relations, and through which we relate to each other I to I.  Although there may be fashions in human beauty, and although different cultures may embellish the body in different ways, the eyes, mouth and hands have a universal appeal.  For they are features from which the soul of another shines on us, and makes itself known (41). 

The cover of Beauty with a studio yellow color swatch.

The individuality of the person is also key as our contemplation of her beauty moves beyond her physical traits into an experience of the morality she embodies:

As soon as another person becomes important to us, so that we feel in our lives the gravitational pull of his existence, we are to a certain extent astonished by his individuality.  From time to time we pause in his presence, and allow the incomprehensible fact of his being in the world to dawn on us.  And if we love him and trust him, and feel the comfort of his companionship, then our sentiment, in these moments, is like the sentiment of beauty - a pure endorsement of the other, whose soul shines in his face and gestures as beauty shines in a work of art.
It is unsurprising, therefore, if we so often use the word 'beautiful' to describe the moral aspect of people.  As in the case of sexual interest, the judgement of beauty has an irreducibly contemplative component.  The beautiful soul is one whose moral nature is perceivable, who is not just a moral agent but a moral presence, with the kind of virtue that shows itself to the contemplating gaze  . . . moral appreciation and the sentiment of beauty are inextricably intertwined, and both target the individuality of the person (42-43).

Scruton moves from our experience of a beautiful person to our experience of the sacred.  The sacred nature of other people moves us toward the sacred in the rest of the material world, and all things sacred need to be approached with care:

Sacred things are removed, held apart and untouchable - or touchable only after purifying rites.  They owe these features to the presence, in them, of a supernatural power - a spirit which has claimed them as its own.  In seeing places, buildings and artefacts as sacred we project on to the material world the experience that we receive from each other, when embodiment becomes a 'real presence' and we perceive the other as forbidden to us and untouchable.  Human beauty places the transcendental subject before our eyes and within our grasp.  It affects us as sacred things affect us, as something that can be more easily profaned than possessed (45).