For human eros is the fruit of the peculiar conjunction of and competition between two divergent aspirations within a single living body, the impulse to self-preservation and the urge to reproduce. The first is a self-regarding concern for our own personal permanence and satisfaction; the second is a self-denying aspiration for something that transcends our own finite existence, and for the sake of which we spend and even give our lives. Other animals, of course, live with these twin and opposing drives. But only the human animal is conscious of their existence and is driven to devise a life based in part by the tension between them, in part of the fact that he does not fully understand what it is that his embodied life “wants of him.” In consequence, only the human animal has explicit and conscious longings for something higher, something whole, something eternal, something that we would not have were we not the conjunction of this bodily “doubleness,” elevated and directed upwards through conscious self-awareness.
Leon R. Kass – Life, Liberty, and the Defense of Dignity: The Challenge for Bioethics p.19
What, then, does this suggest about eros and piety, about the love of women and the love of God? Love of the beautiful, this story seems to suggest, is at best a detour and a distraction, at worst a form of idolatry. Love of visible beauty is, at bottom, an attempt to make time stand still, to deny one’s own mortality and insufficiency, to attach one’s perishable self to some seemingly perfect and unchanging earthly form. Only if such love is transformed and domesticated by custom and marriage and turned toward its ever-present possibility, the generation of children, can it become, for the children of the book, a help to piety. For it is from the recognition of our own mortality and the resulting desire to give to our children not just life, but a good and righteous way of life, that men and women can open themselves to the ways and attitudes of the Bible. In the parental love of children lies the possibility of the sanctification of life – even in today’s world. Not eros as such, about which the text is at best neutral, but procreation is the biblical way by which the love of man and woman can lead to the love of God.
Leon R. Kass – The Beginning of Wisdom p.444
Throughout the animal world, nature uses superficial looks (along with every other appeal that the senses can distinguish, from mating calls to aromas to pheromones) to bring the sexes together, in order to accomplish the great work of procreation. The love of the beautiful takes on still greater importance for human beings, especially as we become mindful of death and necessary decay. The beautiful lures us into regarding it as a bulwark against death, a haven from the ugliness of disintegration. The beautiful beckons, promising permanence and happiness: the beautiful seems to us to be the skin of the good. Yet appearances are often deceiving on the side of both viewer and viewed. Imagination, colored by human hopes, often distorts what we see…
Even apart from such distortions, the pursuit of the beautiful may be altogether a dead end. Appreciation of the beautiful may inspire the soul, but efforts to capture it leave one unfulfilled – even when seemingly successful. For what do we really have if and when we “possess” the beautiful? Can a beautiful wife really satisfy our soul’s longings for the eternal or the good? Does union with a beautiful woman make us any less ugly or any less perishable?
The visibly beautiful, through its harmonious and well-proportioned appearance, always seems to promise some underlying goodness. Were it able to deliver on its promise, the love of the beautiful might bring us to the good, and hence to our felicity. But as experience teaches, the promise is only infrequently fulfilled; what strikes us as beautiful is rarely yoked to the good. Nonetheless we persist, seduced by the next beauty into believing that this time we shall gain our heart’s desire. We willingly allow ourselves to be betrayed by the testimony of our eyes; we naturally and repeatedly mis-take the beautiful for the good.
Leon Kass – The Beginning of Wisdom p.158
For one thing, the man’s origin was lower, from the dust; the woman begins from already living flesh and, moreover, from flesh taken close to the heart. Also, the man is, in the process, rendered less than hole; he suffers a permanent but invisible wound, signifying a deep and probably unfulfillable desire. Because he is incomplete and knows it, the man will always be looking for something he lacks; but as the image of a lost rib suggests, the man cannot really know what is missing or what the sought-for wholeness would really be. Male erotic desire is a conundrum: it wants and wants ardently, but it is unsure of what exactly would fully satisfy it.
Leon Kass – The Beginning of Wisdom p.101