The Question of Beauty


Beauty is a complex concept that has influenced and shaped many fields of philosophy. It has also been subject to criticism as a double-edged sword that can either be a force of liberation or oppression.

There are many ways to define and understand beauty, though one of the most debated issues is whether it is objective or subjective. This debate is often referred to as the “question of beauty”.

A common view holds that beauty is an objective quality; it is something that is inherent in things. This is the position taken by Plato in the Symposium and Plotinus in the Enneads, as well as Augustine in De Veritate Religione.

This approach, however, is insufficient to account for the complexity of aesthetics. Aquinas (c.1225-1274), for example, distinguished between beauty and good. He argued that both were aspects of the same thing, which was God. He outlined various elements of beauty, including harmony and clarity.

Another common view is that beauty is a subjective state of mind. It is a feeling that an object or experience induces pleasure in the observer.

The most prominent twentieth-century philosophers to take this line were Schopenhauer (1818), Hanslick (1891), Bullough (1912), and Croce (1928). Others have criticized the subjectivist approach in more detail.

Some philosophers have argued that beauty is not an objective quality at all. They have pointed out that a variety of different people can have different experiences of the same object, and that the same object can have different colors to different people under certain conditions.

This argument is criticized on the grounds that it is not logical to claim that all people have the same experience of an object. It also fails to explain why some people will find an object beautiful and others not.

Several other philosophical views hold that beauty is a combination of an objective quality and a subjective feeling. These include hedonism, ecstatic neo-Platonism, and Kant’s theory of disinterested pleasure.

A number of these ideas have had significant influence on the development of Western philosophical aesthetics. They are sketched below and have some important implications for the nature of beauty, as well as for our understanding of aesthetics more generally.

The subjectivist line is a powerful and influential approach to the question of beauty. It can be useful to consider the views of such figures as Santayana and Eric Newton.

Santayana argued that beauty is the response to a certain type of pleasure. He believed that this pleasure could be a profound experience or even the meaning of life.

He was not a fan of the idealist conception of beauty, which is commonly associated with Plato and Plotinus. Instead, he believed that beauty was the result of an aspiration toward perfect unity.

In addition to being a unified theory, Aquinas’s approach actually satisfies a number of other criteria for a successful theory. For instance, it answers Kant’s humanism: it focuses on the goodness and well-being of mankind.