Aesthetics and Philosophy


Beauty is one of the most basic, essential and important human values, a value that is cherished and celebrated in both religions and philosophy. It is a positive aesthetic value, contrasting with ugliness as its negative counterpart.

It is a quality that pleases the eye, the ear and the intellect. It gives pleasure and satisfaction to the mind, a sense that is often used as an index for morality (see Hume 1758).

In the West, classical philosophers and later writers, in particular, developed a wide range of conceptions of beauty. Some views are hedonistic, others ecstatic, while others seek to make sense of the experience of beauty as something that ‘calls out’ love and adoration.

Aesthetics is a branch of philosophy that deals with the nature of things and how we think about them. In general, it examines how people perceive and appreciate the world around them, including works of art, landscapes, sunsets, and other natural or cultural objects.

The classical conception of beauty focuses on the relation of parts to each other and how they fit together to produce an object with a harmonious whole. A beautiful object, therefore, must consist of many parts that are arranged in a proper proportion and are related to each other in a symmetrical manner. This conception of beauty, rooted in the philosophy of the ancient Greeks and articulated through the Renaissance, has many implications for the way we understand works of art, craft, and other practical activities.

Some of the most influential philosophical treatments of beauty are based on this conception: David Hume’s Essays, Moral, Political and Literary (1758) and Plotinus’ Ecstatic Neo-Platonism are examples. The former emphasises the relationship of part to whole, while the latter sees beauty as the rebirth of nature and of humanity.

Another important conception of beauty, found in the writings of Plato, is that of harmony between parts. This concept is closely associated with the idea of justice, sketched in the Republic and the Symposium, that justice consists in ‘the good order of the parts.’ This account of beauty is a crucial tenet of classical and idealist neo-Platonism, but it also has its own problems.

This view of beauty is problematic in that it places a subjective quality on an objectively perfect object. For example, the sun’s light can be seen as beautiful in its symmetry, but it cannot be perceived as being perfectly beautiful, even if we are able to imagine it to be that way.

However, some of these problems can be remedied by seeking to define beauty in terms of a numerical law. For example, the golden ratio, which has been cited as a key law of beauty, expresses a mathematical rule that explains the way certain kinds of objects are organized.

In addition, there is a growing interest in the concept of beauty as a feminist concept that reconceives it as a way to challenge sexist norms and practices. Feminists such as Naomi Wolf have drawn on this idea to critique the ways in which women are portrayed in Western culture, especially high art. They have criticized the representation of “beautiful” women as constrained and unrepresentative, particularly in advertising and popular culture.