Beauty and Healing

By Dan Vaillancourt, Mirinda James, Melissa Manion and Michael Ting.

Published by The Humanities Collection

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

Beauty endures. It has survived the tooth and claw struggle of human beings in prehistoric times, the yoked helplessness of slaves during the Roman Empire, the bloody screams of holy warriors in the Middle Ages, the black lungs of proletarians digging coal for wealthy bourgeois, and the senseless slaughter of a mind-boggling 100 million people in two world wars. Beauty has survived all the evils of nature and the cruelties of human beings, not only in the West but throughout the world. Why? Intellectuals have advanced differing theories on the persistence and significance of beauty in the lives of human beings. For example, Plato described beauty in the “Symposium” (between 378-360 BCE) as an enduring immaterial form, and Immanuel Kant in “The Critique of Judgment” (1790) explained beauty as the pleasure of the mind’s free play between understanding and imagination when perceiving the form of an object; Hans Urs von Balthasar in his seven-volume theological aesthetics, “The Glory of the Lord” (Volume 1 in 1961), presented beauty as the glory of creation leading human beings to transcendence itself. These views of beauty (and many others like them), as powerful as they are, do not address the healing dimension of beauty, one of the most important functions of beauty in the lives of human beings. We will argue that advances in affective neuroscience, especially psychoneuroimmunology, suggest that beauty experiences boost the immune system and, therefore, enhance the healing process. In the end, the persistence of beauty throughout the ages and its prevalence in various cultures may be due to its healing capacity, something known intuitively by many people but needing the sophisticated studies and technology of neuroscience to explain its impact on the body. In this sense, the humanities and sciences work together to understand one of life’s most significant and enduring entities, beauty.

Keywords: Beauty, Healing, Neuroscience, Psychoneuroimmunology

The International Journal of the Humanities, Volume 5, Issue 4, pp.217-232. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 1.573MB).

Dr. Dan Vaillancourt

Professor, Philosophy Department, Loyola University Chicago, Chicago, IL, USA

Dr. Vaillancourt has served as chairman of humanities and graduate school dean, but he considers aesthetics his expertise and passion. He completed formal training in the field by majoring at the undergraduate level in philosophy and French Literature and by specializing at the doctoral level in phenomenology and existentialism, with extensive study in the intersection of philosophy and literature. He won a Fulbright grant, post-doctoral NEH grant, five other monetary awards, and 11 teacher of the year awards/commendations. He has created and taught over a dozen undergraduate and graduate courses in aesthetics, ranging from Philosophical Themes in Nobel Prize Literature to Philosophy and Theatre, and, of course, Aesthetics. His publications include two books, dozens of articles, and three translations. He also edited a national magazine, Life Beat, for four years. Currently, he is completing three books, a philosophical novel (Aania), Genius Next Door Beauty Series, and Beauty and Healing. He dances and plays the tenor recorder. Like Dostoevsky, he believes beauty changes the world.

Mirinda James

Provost Research Fellow, Philosophy, Loyola University Chicago, Chicago, IL, USA

Mirinda James is majoring in philosophy with an interdisciplinary minor in neuroscience and a minor in French language at Loyola University Chicago. She is also a Provost Research Fellow. Mirinda has a special interest in foreign language study, and her future plans include attending graduate school to study neuroscience.

Melissa Manion

Provost Research Fellow, Chemistry, Loyola University Chicago, Chicago, IL, USA

Melissa Manion is majoring in chemistry, minoring in bioethics and philosophy, and following the pre-med sequence at Loyola University Chicago. She is also a Provost Research Fellow. Her major area of interest is oncology research.

Michael Ting

Loyola University Chicago, Chicago, IL, USA

Michael Ting graduated from Loyola University Chicago in May 2007 with majors in philosophy and economics. A native of Burma, Michael immigrated to the United States at 14. He is entering medical school in 2009.

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