The Philosophy of Beauty


The nature of beauty is one of the most enduring and controversial themes in Western philosophy. It is a primary theme in ancient Greek, Hellenistic, and medieval philosophy; it was a central theme in eighteenth-century thought; and it has continued to be a major issue in the history of philosophical aesthetics until the end of the twentieth century.

Aesthetics is the study of the relationship between art and the human mind. As such, it has a strong connection to psychology and neuroscience. Studies show that we have a natural reward system in our brains that is tied to the recognition of beauty, whether it is a beautiful person or a gorgeous sunset.

Historically, the main goal of art was to create works that were beautiful and therefore pleasing to the eye and ear. However, this was gradually eroded by twentieth-century thinking in art theory and criticism. The problem was that beauty had become a relic of classical times and could no longer be seen as the ultimate goal of art.

There are two main views of beauty, both of which have been explored by philosophers. The first is the classical conception, which identifies beauty with harmonious proportions or relations among parts. The second is the subjective view, which sees beauty as a function of the observer’s reaction.

This distinction between the objective and subjective aspects of beauty leads to a number of difficulties. Essentially, it is a matter of interpretation. Some people see beauty as a property of the object and others as a response to emotion. The former is the dominant view in most of the philosophy of aesthetics, although there are still a few people who believe that beauty is simply a matter of taste.

The ‘classical conception’ defines beauty as a matter of instantiating definite proportions or relations among parts (sometimes expressed in mathematical ratios). This was the standard account for most of Western thinking from ancient Greece to the sixteenth century. It also shaped the aesthetics of the Renaissance, and the works of many artists of that period.

Plato’s philosophy of beauty, on the other hand, is based on the theory of forms. He believes that the physical world is only a shadow of another realm called the ‘world of forms’. He believes that this realm is perfect and untouched, whereas the physical world is only a reflection of this realm.

In Plato’s philosophy, beauty is not a property of the object or a result of the respondent, but is an abstract concept that depends on its underlying structure. This makes it impossible for an artist to produce a piece of art that is aesthetically beautiful and does not reflect his or her own personal taste.

A different approach to beauty was taken by the nineteenth-century hedonists Aristippus of Cyrene, who believed that everything in the world is beautiful from the point of view of its use, as long as it is suited to that use. He used the example of a dung-basket, saying that it is beautiful in that it has a design to make it useful.