Philosopher extols beauty


On Tuesday, Nov. 15, the philosophy department hosted Dr. Douglas Hedley of Cambridge University as a guest speaker on ethics and beauty. Hedley has interests in contemporary and early modern philosophy of religion and the history of Platonism and Neoplatonism. He is the author of over six books, most recently “The Iconic Imagination,” and was a member of the Cambridge Platonists, a group of philosophers that coined terms such as “theism,” “consciousness” and “philosophy of religion.” As Dr. Hedley comes from the United Kingdom, he was welcomed with a British parade.

Prior to the lecture, audience members enjoyed cider, cucumber sandwiches and desserts. When 4 p.m. hit, Professor of Philosophy Charles Taliaferro played “Rule Britannia” and sprinkled holy water over attendees while they sang along. Most of the students in the audience were current philosophy students.

Drawing from Plato, Aristotle, Meister Eckhart and Immanuel Kant, Hedley proposed that beauty is an innate realization rather than an aesthetically pleasing vision. In other words, beauty is an internal truth. Hedley, as a philosopher, seeks to explore this beauty. He also proposed that a person is layered, and in order to find the inner beauty, or internal truth, one must peel back the layers.

“One is not transparent to oneself,” he said. In other words, one cannot just look inside and simply find one’s inner truth.

Discovering this beauty is complicated. “Self-knowledge is a difficult task,” he said. Ethics, on the other hand, is the quest for this inner beauty.

During the lecture, Hedley spoke of Plato’s “Allegory of the Cave,” comparing the life of the philosopher to that of the man in the cave. The philosopher, like the man in the cave, turns toward the sun of knowledge and realizes the shadows have only been an illusion. In this way, when a person finds the inner beauty, he or she determines that the material aspects of the world become unimportant. Hedley emphasized that by turning outwards, even toward external virtues, the true self becomes completely hidden.

This was the third time Hedley lectured at St. Olaf. In the past, students have greatly enjoyed his discussions, and this lecture was no different.

“I only wish it could have been longer,” said Jessica Whittenburg ’19, who attended the lecture. If, like Jessica, you enjoy a good talk on beauty and ethics, this lecture just might have been your cup of tea.

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