Beauty is one of the most important categories of human experience. It is also an essential part of many human cultures.
Throughout history, people have been inspired by various reflections on the nature of beauty and goodness. These reflections have ranged from the aristocratic to the pagan and the Christian.
The Ancient Greeks were especially keen on the idea of beauty. Their culture was deeply rooted in aesthetics, and the ancient philosopher Aristotle was at the forefront of the debate.
Aristotle saw beauty as a collection of parts that must have a certain order and magnitude, which were necessary for them to function together effectively.
This view of beauty was embodied in art, music, architecture, and literature. It influenced the way we think about the human body and our relationships to it.
It also became a basis for defining the nature of beauty in other disciplines, including medicine and psychology. For example, a study by Zeki in the 1980s found that certain areas of the brain are stimulated when people look at things that are beautiful. This means that when you see something beautiful, your body is ready to respond with feelings of love, joy, and happiness.
These feelings are often interpreted as an emotional response to the object that is beautiful, rather than a rational or conceptual evaluation of the thing itself.
Until the eighteenth century, most philosophical accounts of beauty treated it as an objective quality: they located it in the beautiful object itself or in the qualities of that object.
For example, Plato’s account in the Symposium and Plotinus’s account in the Enneads connect beauty to a response of love and desire, but locate beauty itself in the realm of the Forms, and the beauty of particular objects in their participation in the Form.
Another influential theory of beauty is the classical conception, which emphasizes proportion, harmony, and symmetry. This view is embodied in neo-classical architecture, sculpture, and literature.
Aristotle’s treatment of beauty makes it less dangerous than Plato’s because he looks at it as a matter of arranging the parts of a body in the right proportion to each other, not as a metaphysical aspiration toward an abstract and ultimate Form of Beauty.
Kant’s treatment of beauty, on the other hand, tries to rescue the category from subjectivism by eschewing the emotional side of aesthetics and replacing it with an objective judgment of its aesthetic value.
However, this approach does not solve the problem of subjectivity and it doesn’t save the category from the skepticism of Hume.
It also makes the experience of beauty much more difficult to understand than it might otherwise be, because it is essentially tied to pleasure. In contrast to the satisfaction of a song that gives an immediate emotional response, an aesthetic judgment requires a great deal of intellectual work to be evaluated properly.
In the twentieth century, most philosophers abandoned beauty as a serious question and began to treat it as an empirical and non-conceptual experience. Thus, when someone said, ‘That song is beautiful,’ they were expressing an immediate response to the song that arose in their mind and heart without any conceptual or empirical content.