Monday, June 9, 2008
The Naturalists’ Explanation for Beauty
Naturalists tend to explain beauty in terms of pragmatic function. What we call beauty in living creatures, they see as features that evolved to protect and propagate the various species. To them the brilliant color of a flower has nothing to do with our joy and delight in it; it is merely nature’s signal to attract butterflies and bees for the purpose of cross-pollination. Naturalists would say that the feminine physical features we call beautiful were not designed for their aesthetic effect; they attract men because they display a woman’s capacity to bear and nurture children. A man’s broad shoulders and bulging biceps attract females simply because they display his ability to protect and provide. A peacock spreads its gorgeous plumage to attract a peahen. The splendid stripes of a tiger merely camouflage the animal as it stalks its prey in tall grass. To naturalists, what we call beauty is no mystery at all. It is the by-product of nature’s practical means for propagating and preserving life on the planet.