Beauty is a quality or combination of qualities that gives pleasure to the senses. It is often associated with properties such as harmony of form or color, proportion, authenticity, and originality.
Definitions of Beauty
The idea of beauty has long been a topic of interest for philosophers and artists alike. In the past two millennia, many different definitions have been proposed. Some have been classical, others transcendental, and some have been subjective.
Classical Definitions of Beauty
Until the eighteenth century, most philosophical accounts of beauty treated it as an objective quality: they located it in the beautiful object itself or in the qualities of that object. For example, Aristotle saw beauty in symmetry and proportion, with mathematical ratios such as the golden section used to express it.
These accounts were very popular and influenced later philosophy. Nevertheless, they also left the question open as to how to account for an experience of beauty that is entirely subjective and is not limited to the physical object in view.
In the nineteenth century, George Santayana offered a very interesting and provocative treatment of this topic in The Sense of Beauty (Santayana 1896). He argued that it is not merely a matter of aesthetic pleasure but also an ethical one. He argued that, if it is not a pleasure based on an external attribute of the thing observed, then it is a kind of mistake or accident, and that such an error should not be considered as a basis for any kind of criterion of aesthetics.