The Meaning and Philosophy of Beauty
Beauty is widely defined as a subjective quality of things that makes these things pleasant to see. These things can include sunsets, landscapes, beautiful humans and beautiful works of art. Beauty, along with beauty and art, is possibly the most important area of aesthetic philosophy, at least one of the main branches of such philosophy. The area is so broad and varied that it is difficult to settle on any one philosophy or school of thought that encompasses it all.
Philosophy generally divides aesthetic beauty into two main categories. One such category is beauty as a subjective attribute of the self, such as beauty in nature, the beauty found in human works of art, beauty found in nature and so forth. Another, an essential characteristic of beauty is that it is a necessary attribute of reality. This means that there is an objective definition of beauty that has both subjective and necessary characteristics.
For the sake of simplicity, we will consider beauty to be merely a subjective aspect of an objective, necessary experience. Thus, beauty can only be a subjective aspect of an essential experience, where in the experience must also have a subjective aspect. Aesthetic value then, can only be a subjective preference for aesthetic experience.
There are many different theories of beauty. These theories fall under three separate umbrella classifications: instinctive, academic, and cultural. Let’s examine each of these theories to explore their applicability to beauty.
Most physical critics and aestheticians believe that beauty is purely subjective, arising from the individual’s aesthetic experience. However, this is not entirely true. The aesthetic experience, like all experiences, consists of elements from the environment outside the body. It is through the eyes that we see the beauty in the world. So the beholder is not an abstract object to be judged according to his or her own taste.
The second theory, which is by far the most important, is that beauty is an object that can be objectively measured. The beauty standards set by the twentieth century have been agreed upon by the majority of scholars, psychologists, and sociologists. They all agree that beauty exists on a spectrum. Beauty varies across the spectrum, while composition, color, and mental attitude all vary along specific curves. Beauty therefore, exists as a definite curve on a continuum.
According to the third theory, beauty lies in the observer’s perspective. When a person looks at something beautiful, she says to herself “This is beautiful”. Therefore, beauty is something that an individual experiences as a subjective idea independent of the individual who sees it. And this idea of beauty can be objective, meaning that it can be measured, tested, and observed in any situation.
In all three theories, beauty has different connotations for each and every person who believe in them. Beauty is considered by many to be an essential characteristic of the soul, thus the idea that it can be objectively measured. On the other hand, beauty is not seen as having an essential character that cannot be changed. It is also believed that the definition of beauty varies among cultures and nations, because each culture values different aspects of beauty differently. Beauty, therefore, is considered to be a particular, essential characteristics of each and every one who believe in it.