Beauty is the quality of something that makes it pleasurable to see or experience. It is a common term used to describe landscapes, sunsets, humans, and works of art. It is also the primary subject of aesthetics, one of the major branches of philosophy.
The classical conception of beauty consists of an arrangement of integral parts into a coherent whole, according to proportion, harmony, symmetry, and similar notions. This is a primordial Western conception, and it is embodied in classical and neo-classical architecture, sculpture, literature, and music wherever they appear.
Aristotle’s aesthetic philosophy was focused on this concept, and he wrote about it in many of his books, such as the Poetics, Metaphysics, and Physics. In his Metaphysics, he states: “Beauty is to be a living thing, and every whole made up of parts, that presents a certain order in its arrangement of parts” (Aristotle, volume 2, 2322 [1450b34]).
Plotinus’s account of beauty, on the other hand, was more speculative. He said that the real world is a shadow of another realm called the realm of forms, and that this realm is true and unchangeable.
He says that the beautiful things in the realm of forms are those that have a form, or a definite shape. They have a particular charm of color, and are symmetrical or patterned in their appearance.
Throughout history, philosophers have struggled to define what it means to be beautiful. In the past, most philosophers viewed it as an objective property of something.
In the nineteenth century, however, there were significant changes in how people thought about the idea of beauty. It became more subjective and less objective, influenced by the aesthetic principles of various cultures and times.
George Santayana, for example, believed that the experience of beauty was a profound and potentially life-changing event. He argued that a person should strive to live a more beautiful life.
Other twentieth-century philosophers, such as Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Francis Hutcheson, believed that beauty is the result of a positive attitude towards an object or experience. This explains why a person would say, ‘That song is beautiful’: it expresses a positive attitude towards the particular object or experience that is being praised.
Nevertheless, this approach to beauty is problematic because it assumes that subjective attitudes toward an object can be expressed in terms of the object itself. It is as though someone were ascribes malice to a balky object or device and then attaches an agency or a subjective agenda to that object, causing it to have certain qualities of frustration.
Some contemporary philosophers have criticized this approach, arguing that subjective attitudes are not necessarily meaningful. A person who identifies something as beautiful does so because she likes it, or because she is satisfied by it.
A person who identifies something as ugly, on the other hand, is not necessarily interested in the object or experience; he or she may simply have an opinion about it, such as, ‘It is not beautiful’.