What Is Beauty?


Beauty is a complex concept, whose meanings vary from person to person and even from culture to culture. It is a label we attach to certain kinds of experiences, including music, visual art, performance, and physical attributes, that are found attractive by people around the world.

Historically, the idea of beauty influenced western philosophy from Plato and Aristotle onwards. The classical conception of beauty is a matter of instantiating definite proportions or relations among parts (see, for example, the ‘golden section’ in sculpture). It was held that this was not merely a’moral’ or’spiritual’ quality but an objective quality which could be reliably reproduced by people.

The philosophers of the eighteenth century began to perceive that while beauty is an objective quality, it is a property that is also subjective in the sense that its existence is based on an observer’s response to it. The reason is that, for example, the color red may appear to be beautiful in one person’s eyes but not in another. This is because the object has a different sensory sensitivity in each person’s eyes, and it is not a good idea to treat an object as if it were a separate thing.

It is therefore necessary to consider the subject-object relationship in order to develop a unified theory of beauty. Thomas Aquinas offered an interesting and logically rigorous account of the nature of beauty in his Summa theologica I, 39, 8: It must be perfection (integritas sive perfectio), harmony (debita proportion sive consonantia) and clarity (claritas).

Aquinas’ formulation of beauty satisfied a number of criteria for a unified theory of beauty, but it was later abandoned by many philosophers. Nevertheless, it has been revived in a few philosophical circles since the 1980s, particularly within feminist philosophy.

There are a variety of ways to approach the question of what beauty is, and many of them rely on an understanding of the way the brain responds to objects. For instance, researchers have discovered that the amygdala in the brain is activated when something is perceived as ugly. The amygdala is responsible for the emotional responses of the body, and it helps us to feel fear, anger, or other emotions when we see something that is viewed as ugly.

The importance of a thorough and careful understanding of the subject-object relationship in the study of beauty is that it allows us to develop a more sophisticated theory of how we judge the value of things, as opposed to relying on a single subjective response. We can then more easily explain why we are impressed by particular objects or works of art, as well as why they have a special appeal to us. It also helps to determine what we want from art and what we do not.