What Is Beauty?


Beauty is a value that has been recognized across history and in diverse cultural traditions. It is often defined as the aesthetic experience of a work of art, but can also be used to describe physical features or objects.

Various philosophers have considered what beauty is and how it might be experienced by humans. Some views are more objective than others, though all view beauty as a property of things or experiences.

One conception of beauty is the classical one, which emphasizes definite proportions and relations between parts. It is based on the idea that a whole object should be harmoniously proportioned to its parts and that this should create a beautiful composition, often expressed in mathematical ratios (such as ‘the golden section’).

Another conception of beauty is a kind of neo-Platonism, which holds that everything is made up of beautiful symmetrical components that together make up an aesthetic whole. This conception is reminiscent of the earlier classical one, but it is more closely connected to the concept of design than the classic aesthetic.

A third view of beauty is hedonism, which holds that things are beautiful because they appeal to our feelings. This type of philosophy arose in the eighteenth century, as many philosophers questioned whether there was anything to beauty at all.

Some philosophers, such as Kant, saw that treating beauty as a mere subjective state could lead to misunderstandings and controversies. They believed that if something was only beautiful for its individual experiencers, it would lose some of the qualities that made it important and recognizable as a value at all.

This is because beauty might not have any meaning to its own experiencers and might not appeal to any of the emotions that human beings typically ascribe to it. Rather, it might have a meaning only to the judge of its beauty or ‘expert’, and that judgment may be completely unreliable.

The hedonistic accounts of pleasure, including those of Santayana and Nietzsche, suggest that beauty might have an important role to play in pleasure, but this can be difficult to establish. This approach has some merit, as it can account for why an experience of pleasure might be accompanied by a sense of ecstasy or ‘beauty.’

It can also account for why we might find certain works of art to be beautiful, even if they do not appeal to our emotions. These are examples of what Kant called “aesthetic reasons” for liking or adoring certain objects or works of art.

In the twentieth century, a wide range of philosophers reformulated or re-appropriated the notion of beauty as a pleasure-related state. These theorists were generally influenced by the work of G.E. and some of them had a feminist bent, such as Brand 2000 and Irigaray 1993.

A woman who is confident about her appearance will appear more attractive to a man than one who is not. This is because a woman who is comfortable with her appearance is not self-conscious about what she looks like, and she will be able to show off all of the aspects of her personality that make her attractive.