What Is Beauty?


Beauty, a term that is used in aesthetics to describe the qualities of objects, people and works of art that make them pleasurable or pleasing to perceive. This is contrasted with ugliness, which is associated with things that are unpleasant or unpleasing to see.

Many different philosophers have defined what beauty is or how it should be defined. Some have a more direct or subjective approach to beauty and consider it to be an expression of pleasure, while others have a more logical, objective view of beauty.

Some ancient philosophers, including Socrates and Plato, believed that beauty was a matter of form. This was based on their understanding of what made an object pleasing to the eye, such as its proportions or its harmony. This idea was later embodied in the golden ratio, a mathematical ratio that was popularized by Renaissance artists and used to describe aesthetically pleasing sculpture.

Another view is that beauty is a state of the soul, and that it can be experienced by everyone. For instance, the German philosopher Schiller argued that beauty or play or art (he uses these terms interchangeably) performs the process of integrating or rendering compatible the natural and the spiritual. This is similar to the ecstatic neo-Platonism of Plotinus, who says that beauty evokes the spirit of love and adoration.

A third interpretation of beauty is that it is a quality of the mind, such as a particular color or an image. For example, Locke and other empiricists considered that the perception of color is a product of the individual’s imagining processes, and that it is located in the human mind rather than the world as it is outside it.

Other modern approaches to the concept of beauty emphasize its practical nature, as a means of distinguishing between different types of things that have different functions or purposes. For example, a beautiful painting or sculpture may have some kind of practical function, such as providing a safe shelter or expressing the artist’s thoughts and feelings.

In the modern world, however, this distinction between uses and purposes is sometimes blurred. For example, in the 20th century, some feminist philosophers have argued that the beauty of women is the result of their gender, and it is a part of their nature as females.

Some philosophers have a more hedonistic or materialist view of beauty, such as the French philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau and his friend Diderot, who argued that beauty is the result of our sense of delight or joy. They also viewed beauty as a way to elevate us above our physical realities, to transcend the earthly and reach the divine or abstract.

These views were more common in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and they have been influential in philosophical aesthetics ever since. These approaches, however, do not account for all the various ways in which we can be bothered or care about what is ‘beautiful’.

One of the main reasons that philosophers have been so interested in beauty is that it can be a powerful indicator of our attitudes towards ourselves and towards other people. This can be a source of deep conflict, especially when the values of one culture are used to justify an oppressive or discriminatory behavior on the part of another. For example, in the early 20th century, black nationalist leader Marcus Garvey criticized European or white standards of beauty as a deeply oppressive system that devalues black bodies and traditional African ways of understanding human beauty.