The Limited Role of Reason in the Appreciation of Beauty

Just as we find that reason is unable to grasp and fully understand the spiritual or religious impulse and experience, so also reason is unable to grasp and fully understand the manifestation of beauty and our reaction to it.  The arrogance of the reasoning faculty of man in attempting to take credit for being the highest manifestation of consciousness in human life is quickly and effectively challenged when it comes up against all of the powers, motives, ideas and experiences that fall outside the narrow range within which the reason acts.

Sri Aurobindo observes:  “What has been said of great creative art, that being the form in which normally our highest and intensest aesthetic satisfaction is achieved, applies to all beauty, beauty in Nature, beauty in life as well as beauty in art.  We find that in the end the place of reason and the limits of its achievement are precisely of the same kind in regard to beauty as in regard to religion.  It helps to enlighten and purify the aesthetic instincts and impulses, but it cannot give them their highest satisfaction or guide them to a complete insight.  It shapes and fulfils to a certain extent the aesthetic intelligence, but it cannot justly pretend to give the definitive law for the creation of beauty or for the appreciation and enjoyment of beauty.  It can only lead the aesthetic instinct, impulse, intelligence towards a greatest possible conscious satisfaction, but not to it; it has in the end to hand them over to a higher faculty which is in direct touch with the suprarational and in its nature and workings exceeds the intellect.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Human Cycle: The Psychology of Social Development, Chapter 14,  The Suprarational Beauty, pp. 143-144