Beauty is a value or quality that makes something pleasant to look at, such as landscapes, sunsets, humans and works of art. It is a positive aesthetic value and contrasts with ugliness, which is a negative aesthetic value.
The idea of beauty is not new and has been a subject of debate for many centuries, spanning various forms of philosophy, religion, and culture. For example, Aquinas states that beauty is “due proportion and consonance” (Summa Theologica I, 39, 8).
Aristotle and Plato also argued for the notion of beauty. Aristotle wrote in the Poetics that “to be beautiful, a living creature and every whole made up of parts, must present a certain order in its arrangement of parts” (Aristotle volume 2, 2322 [1450b34]).
In his Metaphysics, Aquinas states that beauty “consists of a certain symmetry of proportions and of the definiteness of color”. And he argues that “it is an excellent thing to aspire for things which are both beautiful and able to please, if they have a perfect integrity.”
There are several approaches to defining beauty and discussing how to determine what is and is not considered beautiful. For example, some philosophers argue that there are no specific standards of beauty, but that the concept of beauty should be understood based on an individual’s perception of it.
Another approach is that of cultural relativism. In this approach, the experience of beauty is not primarily within the head of the observer but between the observer and an object such as a work of art or literature. This is a powerful approach because it allows for the observation of beauty across a variety of cultures and times without necessarily imposing a single set of criteria.
This approach also has the advantage that it enables the concept of beauty to be viewed through a broader lens, allowing us to consider aspects such as gender, race, and sexuality. As a result, we can see how the concept of beauty can be used to support oppression and resistance against a variety of different social groups and institutions.
The political association of beauty in the past few centuries has been remarkably varied, and has been especially problematic in connection with race and gender. It has also been a subject of discussion in feminist and anti-racist movements, as well as in the field of social justice oriented philosophy.
For example, the contemporary feminist movement has embraced beauty as a source of power and resilience. It has also been used as a means of destabilizing rigid conventions and restrictive behavioral models. In addition, women have been increasingly seen as “game changers” who challenge traditional body norms and are able to dismantle them.