What Is Beauty?


There is no one universal definition of beauty. This topic has been debated for over two millennia and no consensus has ever emerged.

The classical conception, based on the Platonic and Aristotelian tradition, regards beauty as a matter of harmonious proportions. This is the conception that underpins the neo-classical architecture, sculpture, and literature of the Western world. It is reflected in mathematical ratios such as the golden section and in the idea that beauty is an arrangement of parts according to definite proportions.

Aristotle, in his Poetics and Metaphysics, writes that beauty consists in the arrangement of integral parts into a coherent whole. It also requires integrity or perfection, due proportion, and consonance.

Many people believe that beauty is the result of a fusion between the human mind and the object being perceived. This belief is borne out by the halo effect, where people tend to deem certain things more beautiful than others.

Some scholars argue that the concept of beauty is a mental construct that is hardwired into the brain. This makes it impossible to ignore its presence in everyday life, despite the fact that many of the things we consider to be beautiful are simply “normal” or ordinary.

Other philosophers, such as Kant, suggest that beauty is a phenomenon of the disinterested pleasure of seeing and feeling something that is pleasing. Aesthetic pleasure can be ecstatic, but it can also be more subtle, involving a sense of wonder or awe at something we have never noticed before.

Transcendental theories also attempt to define beauty as the outcome of a synthesis of truth and goodness. In the triad of transcendentals, truth is the ultimate and essential quality that corresponds to reality, while goodness is how the things we see are meant to be loved.

These theories can be useful for redefining or reappropriating the notion of beauty, although they do not offer a definitive solution to the problem. In recent years, there have been various feminist-oriented reconstruals or reappropriations of the concept (see Brand 2000 and Irigaray 1993).

Another approach to defining beauty involves examining how it can be experienced in the world outside of the eyes of an observer. This approach can be seen in the neo-Platonic treatment of beauty as unity and in Plotinus’s ecstatic account, which treats beauty as a source of intense longing and love.

A third way to think about beauty is to look at how it can be used in social or political contexts. This can be done by considering how a work of art or a photograph might be used in a social or political context, and what this suggests about the nature of the notion of beauty that is being used.

The definition of beauty is important in these contexts because it is used to categorize objects and people as desirable or undesirable. It is also often used as a tool to promote or detract from certain kinds of activities, such as advertising or social media postings that are deemed to be “beautiful” by the media.