Summary: A brief introduction to what beauty is, why it is important and why we need to understand it.
I listened to this on audiobook, which was fine, but may not have been the best choice. While this is part of the Very Short Introduction series, it is still a book that is ultimately philosophy. About 2/3 of the way through I picked up the kindle edition, both because I know I need to re-read the book, but also because Scruton was referencing a number of paintings and many of those are in the Kindle edition.
The pictures are black and white even in the kindle version, so the reader cannot really get a full sense of what is being shown, which does matter for a discussion of the artistry and beauty of the paintings, but it at least is a reference.
I have been wanting to read more about beauty for a while and consistently when I look around, Scruton’s book Beauty is recommended as one of the best introductions. The Very Short Introduction series is very uneven, but Beauty is an example of what all of the books should be like. He is not avoiding discussion of the academics, but the point of the book is to talk about the actual subject. A number of the other Very Short Introduction books I have read have been about the academic study of the subject, not the actual subject. I do not really want to read about what academics have argued about over African History, I actually wanted to understand something about African History.
Beauty is a philosophical account of beauty written for the layperson. It is still philosophy and I need to reread it. I have been introduced to a number of the ideas previously in the work of Makoto Fujimura, Brian Zahnd, NT Wright and others. But much of my reading has only briefly touched on the role of beauty, and mostly thought about it from a theological perspective. Scruton talks a surprising amount about the Christian conception of beauty historically and how that developed in the Western world, but he is not writing about theology.
This is still a mostly aesthetic conception, thinking about how we perceive beauty, how we think about beauty with regard to the human form, how erotic beauty is different from pornography, how beauty exists in form and nature, etc. I want to know that, but I also want to understand how beauty works in ideas, and functions, and community. But I do think that Scruton is right that we think of beauty first as visual pleasure and then we expand that idea to other subjects. Understanding how aesthetic beauty works allows us to understand how an idea might be beautiful.