Is it true that all people are beautiful? Or is that just a white lie we tell to
My colleagues raise a number of points, some rather puzzling, which deserve more that there is space for here. But some quick reflections:
1. Love of the good, to take Charles's example, may be a fine and noble thing. But something surely can be fine and noble without being beautiful. In fact, by my reckoning, both Charles and Richard seem to be prepared to stretch "beauty" and "beautiful" in ways I don't find at all natural or helpful (I'm wickedly reminded of the old hippie all-purpose "beautiful, man!" when Richard talks of Ghandi). They both seem to think being "worthy of our deep aesthetic delight" is ipso facto sufficient for being beautiful.
Well, in so far as I understand the phrase, I would have thought that the Grosse Fuge, Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment, Titian's The Flaying of Marsyas, and King Lear are, if anything is, worthy of our deepest aesthetic delight. But it would seem a quite inept response to describe any of those as beautiful. The list could be greatly extended. Much that is worthy of great aesthetic delight is not particularly beautiful. Beauty is one (albeit it major) aesthetic virtue among many.
So even if there are indeed qualities of people other than perceptible ones (like looks, gracefulness, voice) that can be "worthy of aesthetic delight" it doesn't follow that they are qualities that make for beauty properly so called.
I suppose Charles and Richard could say that e.g. a great performance of King Lear which drains the audience doesn't engender 'delight', and want to anchor the notion of delight in ideas of aesthetic enjoyment. And making that link might indeed help them in tying the notion of the beautiful back to what is worthy of aesthetic 'delight'. But at the same time, this wouldn't seem to chime at all with their talk of e.g. finding moral character beautiful -- as contemplating someone's morals doesn't seem to give rise to aesthetic delighted enjoyment. At least, not in me.
2. Richard is right that "beautiful" is context-sensitive. But that is consistent with there being a default context in play when (like the original questioner) we ask, straight out, without special indications, whether someone is beautiful. There is a difference between asking, in a default context, whether everyone is beautiful, and asking whether for everyone there is some respect/some context in which they count as beautiful. I don't believe the latter is true either, but even if it were, it wouldn't affect one's response to the former.
3. I'm a bit baffled by Richard's "one might think that every person carries a spark of the divine … and it is hard to imagine what might be more beautiful than that". For I find it difficult to understand what it could mean to say that having such a spark makes a person beautiful. For in so far as I can understand "carries a spark of the divine" it is a claim about potentialities, about what (given the fortune of circumstance, at any rate) we are capable of becoming. But can a potentiality be beautiful? What is beautiful, or otherwise, is surely what is actual. Having a potentiality to be beautiful in God's image is not itself a way of being beautiful, any more than having a potentiality to be wise is itself a way of being wise. (Even if you want to say -- not that I would -- that the fact that a person has a divine spark is beautiful, man, that wouldn't make the person beautiful.)