Beauty is a term often used to describe qualities of an object that please the aesthetic senses. This can include anything from an individual’s body, to a landscape, or even a piece of art. Historically, beauty has been a very complicated concept and it is no surprise that there have been many different approaches to defining the meaning of beauty over time.
First, there is a debate over whether beauty is objective or subjective. Some think that beauty is objective, while others believe that it is a subjective emotion. This has been a major debate in Western philosophical and artistic traditions for over two millennia.
One way to view this debate is as a spectrum of ideas, with the more rational, scientific understandings of beauty on one end and the less scientific definitions on the other. On this scale we can find classical, transcendental, subjective and theological approaches to beauty as well as more recent efforts to define beauty as something that is innate within us, rather than dependent on external factors or societal conventions.
Classical and Transcendental Approaches to Beauty
The most common classical and transcendental approaches to beauty are those that focus on the symmetry of parts and their relation to each other. Almost all of them define beauty by this, as they believe that the symmetrical nature of objects makes them attractive.
They also claim that beauty is a property of the object itself, rather than simply an attribute of its observable characteristics. This may seem to indicate that the object is more beautiful than it is because it has been designed by someone with a particular aesthetic sensibility, but in fact this is not necessarily the case.
Alternatively, they say that the symmetry of parts and their relation to one another is what makes things attractive, and it is only when they are harmonious that they have a chance of being considered beautiful. They then argue that harmony is a principle of the universe, or at least of all things that are able to be observed and appreciated by our senses.
This conception is a fairly popular one in science and is reflected in many art theories. The idea is that all forms of art, music, and literature are based on some sort of principle of beauty that can be seen in the composition or arrangement of the elements.
For example, a musical score is made up of notes that have been chosen for their ability to make people happy or to convey some message to the listener. A painting has a certain colour palette and is painted by an artist who uses a particular technique. A sculpture is a work of art that has been created by an artist, usually by hand and is intended to be appreciated by the viewer.
These approaches to beauty are influenced by the idea that beauty is a subjective emotion and thus relates to the experience of pleasure or joy. Some philosophers, such as Santayana, hold that a thing’s response to beauty is its own peculiar and distinct pleasure or joy. Other philosophers, such as Hume, hold that a thing’s pleasure or joy is influenced by the way that it is observed by another person.