What Is Beauty?


Beauty is a combination of qualities, such as shape, colour or form, that pleases the aesthetic senses.

It could be something that you see in a work of art or a piece of clothing, a natural scene or the way an object looks when it is being used by someone else. It could even be a specific moment in your life or a memory that you have.

We can define beauty in different ways depending on the philosophy or mindset we are judging it from. Some philosophers/mindsets have a clear understanding of what ‘beautiful’ means and how to describe it.

Aristotle and Thomas Aquinas both connect beauty with the Second Person of the Trinity, defining it as “a quality in which the whole is more than the individual parts, that is, a good is beautiful when it conforms to its own interior logic” (Summa theologica I). There are three requirements for a thing to be considered beautiful: integrity, due proportion or consonance, and clarity.

The ancient Greeks regarded beauty as a matter of symmetry and harmony; Aristotle, in particular, emphasized the importance of the objective proportions of the parts of a sculpture. A symmetrical face or a graceful figure, for example, was seen as an expression of “sympathy” that was attractive.

Early eighteenth-century thinkers, however, saw a problem with this approach to beauty: it was not necessarily objective or universal in its effects. The philosophers Hume and Kant, for instance, saw that if beauty was only relative to the experiencer, it would not be a primary value or one that was recognized across cultures.

Despite the objections of some, a number of philosophers have argued that beauty does exist as an objective quality. In the eighteenth century, for example, John Locke argued that a symmetrical face was a good, whereas an unsymmetrical one was not. He also argued that the eyes of the person viewing a painting are more likely to respond positively to a smiling face than a neutral face.

Another philosopher, William James, argued that the pleasures a beautiful person experiences are objectively related to what they perceive as good about an object. He argued that “the most important things about a thing are the pleasures it induces.”

A more modern philosopher, George Santayana, argued that beauty was a kind of objectified pleasure. He attributed a ‘pleasant experience’ to the person observing the beauty, and he saw this pleasure as ‘objectified.’

Then there is a more recent movement, called neuroaesthetics, which attempts to understand how we perceive beauty and why it affects us. According to Semir Zeki, professor of neuroscience at University College London, beauty is a process in which the area of the brain that responds to visual stimuli is activated whenever we enjoy an image or a work of art.

As a result of these arguments, some people have come to believe that beauty is not an objective value, but rather a subjective one, and that it has no importance beyond the pleasure it gives the perceiver. Nevertheless, some researchers still believe that beauty is an important and valuable quality in the world.