Beauty has been recognized as a core value throughout history and in many diverse cultural traditions. It is also the subject of a number of theories within Western philosophical and artistic traditions.
One of the earliest and most-prosecuted disagreements in the literature concerns whether beauty is objective or subjective. It may sound like a simple question, but it can have profound implications for the way we think about and experience art, music, landscapes, and even physical appearance.
The word ‘beauty’ comes from the Greek term ”, which means ‘a state of perfection’ or ‘the good condition of something.’ The idea of beauty is central to aesthetic philosophy, which is the study of how we experience and understand things, both tangible and abstract.
While we often assume that beauty is purely objective, it is not: it depends on the perceiver and how they feel about what they see or hear. A study conducted at Tsinghua University, for example, found that people’s brain-imaging responses to visual art and faces were correlated with their feelings of being beautiful.
This is in part because the human mind can be hard-wired to respond to certain objects with feelings of attraction and awe, so that the brain’s amygdala – which is activated when we see things that are ugly – becomes active when we see something beautiful.
That is the basis for some of the theories of beauty that have been developed over the centuries, such as Kant’s view that aesthetic judgments are ‘disinterested pleasures,’ and Plotinus’s ecstatic neo-Platonism.
In the nineteenth century, a line of thought emerged that sought to disentangle beauty from ‘objective’ qualities and focus instead on the’subjective’ aspects of an object’s meaning or pleasure. This line was influenced by Locke, who distinguished between primary and secondary qualities.
Despite the influence of Locke and other empiricists, many people were still at odds with his views about the nature of reality. Santayana, for instance, argued that beauty was not the ‘objective’ state of an object but was rather a’subjective’ response to it.
Another view of beauty is that it is a universal quality shared by different objects and experiences, such as watching an oil painting or swimming in the ocean. However, this approach has serious problems because it is impossible to determine a common essence that defines the experience of beauty across all cultures and times.
The most common theory of beauty is that it is the result of a combination of perception, emotional response, and objective factors, such as the natural environment. This view has been supported by some of the most influential philosophers, including Schopenhauer, Hanslick, Bullough, and Croce.