Beauty, in philosophy and aesthetics, is a quality which gives a perceptual experience to the senses. Usually, it is thought to be a subjective stance. The criteria for beauty may be in the form of a work of art or a particular concept. In the case of art, this can be a painting, music, dance, film, TV advertisement, etc. It may also be a mathematical ratio such as the golden ratio.
Beauty is also a measure of a thing’s magnitude. For example, the human body is beautiful when the proportion of its parts is correct. If a person’s limbs are too short or too long, then the whole can seem devoid of beauty. Another example is a painting of a beautiful woman, but if her features are three-dimensional, the integrity of her image is questionable.
Several early philosophical thinkers sought to explain the nature of beauty. They considered it to be the result of a process that combines the intellect with the emotions. Other philosophers interpreted beauty as an object of measurement. During the classical period, the most influential treatments of beauty were often ecstatic in nature. Ancient thinkers such as Plotinus, Plato, and Aristotle emphasized the pleasures of beauty.
While most ancient treatments of beauty focused on the pleasures of beauty, the most important thing to understand is that beauty is a real and objective concept. Though there is a great deal of debate over the definition of beauty, there are several qualities that give a perceptual experience and provide meaning to our lives. Among these are integrity and symmetry.
Historically, the word “beautiful” has been associated with a pejorative. For example, Bellus is a term used to describe women in classical times. However, Bellus may have come from the Indo-European word DW-EYE, which means charming or charmingly attractive.
Aristotle’s account of the beautiful was more dispassionate than that of his friend Plato. Unlike Plato, Aristotle considered beauty to be a matter of ratio and proportion. Moreover, he viewed beauty as the product of a practical situation.
Thomas Aquinas, another Christian thinker, further interpreted Aristotle’s aesthetics. He attributed the creation of beauty to the Second Person of the Trinity. Furthermore, he gave three qualifications to describe beauty.
David Hume, another eighteenth-century philosopher, wrote about the beautiful in a similar fashion. In his Essays, Moral, Political and Literary, he described the beauty as an object of perceptual experience, but was skeptical about its tyrannical qualities. As a result, Hume was willing to allow a range of meanings.
In the twentieth century, thinkers were still unsure of how to reconcile beauty with a post-World War II age of wars, genocide, and wastelands. One way to look at it is that there were a number of game changers who broke the mold and challenged the norms of beauty. Examples of this include Picasso, who created a sculpture in opposition to conventional beauty standards, and composer Robert Schoenberg, who composed music that could be regarded as both beautiful and anti-traditional.