The Philosophy of Beauty


Beauty is a complex subject. Its definition has changed dramatically over time. Depending on the philosopher, it may be a mere aesthetic concept, an abstract principle, or a combination of the two. A number of philosophers have attempted to provide a comprehensive understanding of beauty.

The first requirement for beauty is the existence of a substance whose purpose or meaning is clear. This may be achieved by an object being beautiful in and of itself, or by the presence of a substance which produces a feeling of joy and happiness. The second requirement is the proportions of an object. For example, if an object has a large surface area and a small volume, it will be considered aesthetically pleasing.

The third requirement is consonance. The object must be in balance, so that all parts are in scale. If an object is not in scale, it will appear disproportionate and therefore unappealing. Color is an example of this. Some people are color blind, whereas others will see the same object as varying hues in different lights and weather conditions.

In the classical and neo-classical periods, beauty is usually defined in terms of the harmonious arrangement of integral parts into a coherent whole. The art of architecture, for instance, was conceived as the art of arranging integral parts into a coherent whole.

According to the ancient Greek philosopher Socrates, the most beautiful things in the world are those that are useful and profitable. Socrates was adamant that beauty is not merely appearance, but a practical state of being. He thought that beauty is not merely a quality of the individual, but a property of nature.

Another example is the ecstatic neo-Platonism of Plotinus. His ecstatic neo-Platonism includes a fact which makes a good sexy lady a good thing: it calls out love. Other neo-Platonisms, including the so-called New Testament, consider beauty to be a manifestation of the Good and a sign of its divine source.

One can also argue that beauty is a sexy function. However, such an argument does not work well with a subject-oriented view of beauty. A more sensible approach is to define beauty as a function of integrity. Similarly, one can make the case that a painting with a cubist symmetry – though not necessarily in the same way as an oil painting – has the integrity to be a piece of art.

Moreover, in order to get the most out of a treatment of beauty, we need to be able to distinguish the good from the bad. While beauty might be an objective concept, it seems to be one of the most frequently disputed subjects in the literary world. Having said that, a variety of treatments of beauty have been published over the centuries.

During the Renaissance, plumpness was considered a sign of wealth. In the early twentieth century, beauty was associated with the aristocracy and capitalism. And in the 1990s, feminist reconstruals of beauty were popular.