Beauty is the quality of being pleasing, attractive, or admirable. It is a combination of qualities, such as symmetry, colour, and weight. In classical philosophy, beauty is understood as the harmonious and coherent arrangement of parts into a whole. This is often embodied in classical and neo-classical architecture, sculpture, and music.
Early conceptions of beauty were associated with aristocracy and pleasure. The Romantic conception of beauty grew from the philosopher Immanuel Kant’s philosophy. He argued that the human mind has an intuitive capacity for perception. As a result, the ability to see beauty is a kind of “sense of taste”.
Although beauty is objectively true, it depends on the emotional response of an observer. An object that is perceived as beautiful can be different colors at different times and under different circumstances. For example, the same object can be perceived as green and yellow at noon and as red and orange at midnight. Similarly, people with a color blindness may not be able to perceive the colours of an object.
In ancient philosophy, the concept of beauty was interpreted as a manifestation of the order of nature. Aristotle defined beauty as a quality that must be present in the arrangement of parts in living things. However, he also emphasized that the nature of the beautiful is not the quality of the thing itself. Thus, he argued that the human will should be recognized as an important part of aesthetics.
Plotinus also saw the relationship between beauty and pleasure. His account of beauty was distinguished from other accounts in that it made the beauty of an object an expression of Forms. These Forms were a realm of delight, longing, love, and wonderment. By placing beauty in this domain, Plotinus rejected the traditional view that beauty could be reduced to physical attributes.
Until the eighteenth century, most philosophical accounts of beauty treated beauty as an objective quality. But by the beginning of the seventeenth century, the concept of beauty became subject to criticism as it became clear that people experienced beauty differently.
Early twentieth-century social justice movements often addressed political associations of beauty. Nevertheless, they have been problematic in other areas, including the connection between gender and beauty. Many of these problems have been resolved in later twentieth-century social justice movements. Nonetheless, beauty is still important in the twenty-first century, especially in the context of climate change and political turmoil.
Aristotle also acknowledged that beauty is a kind of “splendour” that is dimly apprehended. Consequently, he believed that the concept of beauty is a form of divine grace. Later, David Hume argued that the concept of beauty should be given a more gentle interpretation. Despite his opposition to the tyrannical notions of taste and value, Hume agreed that individual sentiment should be allowed to influence the choice of the beautiful.
Finally, modern writers have made a distinction between the “sense of taste” and the actual experience of beauty. George Santayana eloquently argues that the experience of beauty can be profound and pleasurable. And he suggests that it can be a way to understand the meaning of life.