The Different Views of Beauty

Beauty is a quality that appeals to our aesthetic senses. However, we can often disagree about whether something is beautiful. While beauty is a concept we are familiar with, there is a growing debate over whether it is objective, subjective, or both. This article will explain some of the major theories of beauty and provide a short overview of the debate.

Most philosophical accounts of beauty begin with an assumption that beauty is an objective quality. This is true until the eighteenth century, when the concept of beauty was transformed from a scientific or mathematical concept to a subjective one. The classical conception of beauty is embodied in classical and neo-classical architecture, music, and literature.

Beauty can be defined by color, weight, body shape, face symmetry, and other factors. It can be perceived as a result of our personal tastes or of a culture’s traditional standards. In the twentieth century, beauty was a political issue, which prompted thinkers to wrestle with how to reconcile it with the age of war, genocide, and wastelands. As part of the post-Enlightenment period, there was a new confidence in human capability, and there were burgeoning cultures of feeling and inalienable rights.

Aristotle explains that living things need to present order in their arrangement of parts to be considered beautiful. But Aristotle’s theory of beauty is not the only one. The Christian tradition also identifies beauty with the creation of God. In addition to its definition, Aquinas enumerates its elements.

The classical conception of beauty is embodied, among other things, in neo-classical sculpture. In the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, the idea of beauty was taken seriously, and was reflected in the art of the time. For example, the sculpture known as the ‘Canon’ was held to be a model for harmonious proportion. The French revolutionaries associated beauty with the aristocracy, and the early twentieth century saw the abandonment of beauty as the central goal of the arts.

The most common accounts of beauty, from the Renaissance to the modern era, place beauty in an object or in the mind of the observer. For instance, Plotinus writes about wonderment and longing, and the experience of beauty can be quite profound. Other accounts of beauty are based on the perception of an object’s form, or of its numerical pattern.

Aristotle’s notion that beauty can be objective, or that it has a mathematical component, was refuted by Edmund Burke. Kant’s and Hume’s treatments of beauty stress the subjectivity of the concept. In both cases, however, they do not address the heart of matter. A unified theory of beauty requires an explanation that allows beauty to exist empirically in the physical world, as well as an explanation that satisfies criteria such as those of a unified philosophy.

In the twentieth century, a variety of new treatments of beauty were developed. Some of these were reconstructed in feminist terms, while others sought to address the antinomy of taste.