The Meaning of Beauty


The concept of beauty has a storied history. Although it has always been recognized as a core value, its definition has varied greatly over time and across cultures. This article explores some of the most important theories about the meaning of beauty.

Beauty is one of the most popular subjects in literature and a topic that is often the subject of debate. It is also a theme of many contemporary art exhibitions, which are designed to display the diversity of forms of beauty. However, it is important to understand that there is a significant difference between the standards of beauty that apply to different cultures and traditions. For example, a cubist painting of a woman with three eyes, despite its realistic appearance, is not necessarily beautiful, because it does not have integrity.

A good definition of beauty should be able to capture the full range of what it is. While it can be defined by a variety of factors, the most common approaches tend to treat beauty as an objective quality. These accounts also tend to locate beauty in a particular object or idea.

In the classical and neo-classical eras, the most common approach to beauty was to view it as an empirically verifiable fact. The beauty of a particular object could be assessed by its shape, colour, and weight. Alternatively, a person’s own subjective feeling about an object would also be considered a factor. Other criteria that were commonly used were age, gender, and race.

Plotinus’s theory of ecstatic neo-Platonism emphasized the pleasures of beauty and connected them to the response of the mind to love. He also observed that beauty is not reducible to physical attributes, but must involve participation in Forms.

The eighteenth-century philosophers David Hume and Immanuel Kant stressed the subjective nature of beauty. Their treatments emphasized heroic attempts to temper subjectivity. But these attempts only made the idea of beauty appear more complicated.

Thomas Aquinas, on the other hand, provided an explanation for the idea of beauty that satisfied both the requirements for a unified theory and the objections that humanists like Kant raised. His explanation is an answer to the objections to humanism and humanism’s claim that God is the source of all good. Specifically, his explanation shows how form and function can be simultaneously experienced by the eye.

In order to appreciate how Plotinus’s concept of beauty differs from other theories, it is important to understand how he defines the term. Plotinus uses the term ‘formedness’, which is a synonym for a definite shape. Also, he points out that the concept of ‘possible knowledge’ is an important part of his definition.

Another major argument in the debate over the definition of beauty is whether it is objective or subjective. Plato believed that beauty is an objective fact in the world, while Aristotle disagreed. Both theories were widely accepted throughout Western culture in the centuries following their initial publication.

However, the twentieth-century revival of interest in beauty largely revolved around a work by art critic Dave Hickey, and a revival of feminist-oriented reconstruals of beauty. These reconstruals have sometimes reclaimed the idea of beauty from the realm of fine arts to that of craft.