Whether you think of it as an abstract idea or something more concrete, beauty is the way we experience a world. We find it in a beautiful sunset, a stunning landscape, a human, or a work of art.
In this course, we will explore various concepts and theories of beauty and how they have developed within Western philosophical and artistic traditions. We will also consider what this concept entails for our individual worldview and the way we perceive reality.
Beauty is a fundamental part of philosophy, and one of the main subjects in aesthetics. It is the quality that makes objects pleasing to the eye and that is often contrasted with ugliness, which is typically regarded as a bad quality.
The nature of beauty is a perennial question and the subject has been treated in many different ways throughout time. Some philosophers have argued that beauty is objective and others that it is subjective. The debate over whether it is objective or subjective remains perhaps the most contentious and contested in the literature.
Historically, Western philosophers have used a variety of conceptions to describe beauty, including the classical approach that it is the arrangement of integral parts into a coherent whole, according to proportion, harmony and symmetry. This conception is a primordial Western understanding that is still present in classical and neo-classical architecture, sculpture, music and literature.
However, this approach is not without its critics. It can lead to a reduction in the value of art, because it suggests that art should be objective rather than an expression of our own personal tastes and preferences. It can also be the basis for controversies in art, as when works of art that are considered beautiful are questioned in terms of what they do and how they are created.
Ancient treatments of beauty were largely concerned with the pleasures it evoked, often in ecstatic terms. Plotinus, for instance, argues that beauty calls out a spirit of love or adoration.
Some modern approaches to beauty have moved away from this classical orthodoxy and have incorporated a variety of more contemporary perspectives. For example, feminist philosophers such as G.E. Santayana have argued that the experience of beauty should remain a matter for the individual to determine.
Other approaches to beauty have tended to emphasize the importance of ambiguity and the difficulty of defining it. They have also tried to explain why certain kinds of beauty are more appealing to some people than others.
For example, many people would describe a snowy mountain scene as more beautiful than an oil painting of the same landscape. They might also say that a particular piece of music has more beauty than another because of the instrument used to create it.
The question of how to define beauty has been a hot topic in contemporary art theory and criticism. Some artists, for example, have attempted to argue that the definition of beauty should not be limited to a fixed number of characteristics such as color or texture, but that it should also consider other factors, such as the emotional response of the viewer. These approaches have been criticized by other artists, such as those who suggest that the definition of beauty should be more objective and reflect our shared cultural experiences, not just the individual’s own tastes.