The transformation of the beautiful soul
by Andrew Taggart
The beautiful soul is a person who exhibits beauty in his general appreciation of beauty. I asked my friend, the philosopher David E. Cooper, the following question:
Is there an ‘education’ of the beautiful soul, a path one might follow in hopes of becoming one and, if so, what might this involve?
In our conversation, David proposes that the ‘un-selfing’ of the individual is key to the process of transformation. He invites me to offer my own, much fuller account. Here I offer first thoughts that are getting worked up into a publishable form.
For now, I think I want to make two claims. First, I believe the beautiful soul comes into being only when he shifts his table of virtues from the ‘virtues of the market’ (to coin a phrase) to the ‘virtues of nature.’ I am drawing this conclusion from the claim of my lover and from the general observations I have made in my philosophy practice. My lover suggested that the virtues of discipline and commitment used to count highly in her table of virtues but they do no longer. Second, I want to show that a harmony of the virtues of nature must be the conclusion of this unfolding.
Especially with regard to the first claim, I am put in mind of Ben Franklin’s Autobiography, a work that accompanies the rise of commercial society. In the middle of his recounting, Franklin shares with the reader his scheme of self-improvement. He says that 13 virtues were most important to the prospect of his self-development. Two struck my eye immediately. He writes,
4. RESOLUTION. Resolve to perform what you ought; perform without fail what you resolve.
6. INDUSTRY. Lose no time; be always employ’d in something useful; cut off all unnecessary actions.
Let’s say that resolution (equivalent, I believe, to my lover’s use of commitment) holds us to a task no matter the costs. Discipline, meanwhile, demands that we repeat these tasks indefinitely until we have achieved perfection. And industry ensures that we are always employed in tasks and hence have no time for leisurely contemplation, for idleness or reverie.
The person who exercises the ‘virtues of the market’ is bound to lead a disappointing, myopic life of bustle. He will be frustrated at various turns; he will stick to tasks and projects that do not work; he will always aim to ‘be productive.’ His life will be unsatisfying, strife-ridden, disharmonious, pointless.
Now, the beautiful soul has learned to let go of these virtues of the market. He is not resolved, disciplined (on this narrow construal), or ever industrious. Perhaps he sees in them an exemplification of futility? Perhaps he comes to regard them as hubristic, sternly so? Perhaps a nod to the conquering spirit? Whatever the reason, the beautiful soul has come to exercise the ‘virtues of nature’ instead: supreme among others, patience, courage, good judgment, and compassion. Like nature, the beautiful soul is patient, allowing events to unfold during the right season. He is courageous, persisting in his inquiry, going along with the Way. He exercises good judgment, knowing when to let be and when to press on. And, crucially, he shows compassion toward those who do not understand him or his life or the Way.
It would be necessary to show–and here I only gesture toward the second claim–that these virtues are harmonious with respect to the state of the beautiful soul’s soul and are in concord with the natural world. The conclusion would be that the beautiful soul just is a beautiful soul once he sees himself, as if for the first time, as being a part of the beautiful world.