The Debate About Beauty


During the eighteenth century, a debate about the nature of beauty began to develop. This debate focused on whether beauty was a subjective feeling or an objective fact. It also involved how beauty is characterized and the relationship between art and beauty.

In the early twentieth century, beauty became associated with capitalism and right-wing politics. It was also the subject of a moral critique. Ultimately, the twentieth century saw the abandonment of beauty as a major goal of the arts. But interest in beauty revived in the 1980s. During this period, feminist reconstruals of beauty were also popular.

The debate over whether beauty is subjective or objective is one of the most important debates in literature. Though it is often difficult to see why a particular point of view is right or wrong, a variety of factors help make this a debate that can be convincing at times.

Early philosophers attempted to quantify and understand the nature of beauty. They used such measurements as the golden ratio. For example, Euclid identified beauty with the symmetry of a line divided into two unequal parts.

Later, the philosophers David Hume and Immanuel Kant took the position that beauty is an inherently subjective state. Hume argued that beauty is not the quality of things but the gentleness of the human spirit. Similarly, Kant attempted to answer the question of why beauty inspires a feeling of purpose. Both theorists stressed the importance of subjectivity.

Aquinas also attempted to define beauty. He gave three qualifications for it: integrity, proportion, and consonance. According to Aquinas, beauty is the result of a good design.

Beauty can be described as a manifestation of God’s goodness. However, this does not mean that it is an objective thing. Rather, it is a concept that has an infinite variety of forms. Some examples include: symmetry, whiteness, proportion, and a sense of order.

Another approach to the question of beauty is provided by George Santayana. Unlike the first two approaches, he identifies beauty with pleasure. When he says that a thing is beautiful, he gestures toward an object that causes us pleasure. As Santayana states, “Beauty is the thing in itself, the feeling of pleasure, and the good that it brings.”

Finally, another approach to the question of beauty is provided by Berkeley. In his book Berkeley 1732, 174-75, he provides a definition for beauty that ties it to pleasure and activity. For a work of art to be beautiful, it must possess: intelligence, knowledge of its use, and the suitedness of its use.

These definitions are not perfect, but they represent the major approaches to the question of beauty. In addition, they can provide insight into why some works of art are considered beautiful and others are not.

Aquinas’ explanation of beauty is particularly interesting, for it allows it to exist empirically in the physical world. At the same time, it satisfies the criteria for a unified theory of beauty.

Throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, thinkers struggled to reconcile beauty with the era of wars, genocide, and wastelands. During this period, the debate over beauty was characterized by a sense of disbelief. Nevertheless, there has been a resurgence in interest in beauty in the 1990s.