Socrates: dear Emily, you who are so pretty, is beauty an asset for you?
Emily: think again, Mr. Stick, it’s mostly a burden that takes us away from our natural state.
Socrates: I don’t understand you. Aren’t you beautiful in your natural state?
Emily: beauty is a value judgment introduced by others; it encloses us in a reductive definition. It also introduces differences, comparisons, hierarchies. In truth, in our natural state, we are like all other living beings, destined to reproduce and prosper. But because people think we’re pretty and we thought we were, we lost our innocence.
Socrates: you mean that beauty is a trap that takes you away from the truth by promising fleeting satisfaction?
Emily: yes, that’s it. Now we have realized that there is no point in being pretty if those for whom we had prepared didn’t want us.
Socrates: what do you mean, didn’t want you? Who could not admire and desire you?
Emily: the birds, dear Socrates, the birds that ignored us. All the spring and all the summer we prepared for them, we avoided the parasites and the hail and the blows of the fate in order to arrive at this shiny blue which suits us so well on the yellow background of the leaves, but they did not come to us. They passed high in the sky without even looking at us. We’ve wasted our time looking good and we’ve also wasted what is inside of us.
Socrates: your particular flavor, right? The birds therefore saw an appearance that did not satisfy them when they were only looking for what was hidden behind the beauty.
Emily: no doubt, how else to explain their attitude? We had thought that our beauty would be a sign to attract them better, but it gave them a false impression of us.
Socrates: so they finally missed the basics they were looking for. Is there nothing you can do?
Emily: a long time ago, we knew how to call them in their own language, but when Niccolò triggered the fall, our words were taken away. Since then, we only have the colors to make us want but we can now see that this does not represent us correctly.
Socrates: however, I would be happy to pick you up to brighten up my home, so it is not entirely accurate to say that beauty is not an asset. It is a quality that everyone seeks and that attracts. You probably wouldn’t want to be ugly even if you don’t like everyone…
Emily: yes, that’s for sure, but isn’t there an alternative that would allow everyone to live better?
Socrates: go unnoticed? You didn’t like it so what else do you offer? Since beauty is a judgment of the mind that allows us to make choices and establish categories, we cannot do without it. You know, however, that you are not absolutely beautiful because not everyone notices you. In addition, you will gradually lose your luster. In the meantime, when I see you, I know better what I like.
Emily: Socrates, we don’t know if we should take offense at your speech or thank you for your frankness. Do you think it is a comfort to us to know that we are going to become dull? Or that we’re just a step towards finding a pure idea. What then remains of us as a being?
Socrates: you are like each of us, condemned to be what you are. This assigns you a place and a role. This place and this role are relative because you could not be and you do not exist for the majority of the creatures of this world; those who have other goals, other desires, other preferences. So you have to make the most of your situation and rejoice that some like me find you beautiful.
Emily: do you mean that our beauty is not a miracle characteristic that would give us everything we want and make us unique? We know it and that’s what makes us angry but if you take us away, then we can colonize new lands and that’s what we want above all.
Socrates: you see, finally, you adapt to the circumstances and I say thank you to these birds which have abandoned you; they make me happy.
Emily: so our beauty was not useless even if it did not act as we imagined.
Socrates: that’s it, it remains an asset that brings you opportunities, but it does not act on everyone and is not universally recognized.
Emily: would it also be an occasion for humility rather than a burden?
Socrates: it is possible but I am not sure that humility is not yet one of your tricks to seduce!
Want to think a a little more? See, for example, The Discourse on the Origin and Foundations of Inequality Among Men where Rousseau explains how society corrupts the individual.
Want to help improve these dialogues? Write your comments and questions below.
Want to know more about the tastes of Socrates and Emily? Their favorite books are in the domain library.