In its most basic sense, beauty is an experience that elicits pleasure. It can be found in the sight of a stunning sunset, the feeling of happiness when holding hands with someone special, or even in the taste of a delicious chocolate cake. But beauty is more than an experience, it is a feeling that encompasses the mind, body and soul and is deeply rooted in who we are as human beings.
Throughout the history of philosophy, many philosophers have attempted to define beauty in different ways. For example, some have seen beauty as a property of objects that can be objectively observed, while others have believed it to be subjective and dependent on the individual’s emotions.
One of the most significant developments in the philosophical theory of beauty occurred in the eighteenth century with the rise of neo-classical philosophy. Neo-classical philosophers believed that the laws of beauty can be discovered and articulated by the application of the principles of science and mathematics to art, which was often viewed as a reflection of the divine.
The idea of beauty in this context was to create a kind of order in the world that could be perceived by human beings. This unified the objectivity and subjectivity of beauty in a way that was both logical and practical. It also allowed for the concept of beauty to transcend time and space.
More recently, the twentieth century abandoned beauty as a dominant goal of art because of its trivialization in theory and the belief that artists should pursue more urgent and serious projects. Yet, as a concept, beauty continues to be a powerful force in our lives. We see it in the popularity of certain types of music and fashion, in our desire to look younger or fit into a particular body type, and even in the way that we judge the merits of political candidates.
There is no single definition of beauty, but some common characteristics include integrity, proportion and harmony, and clarity. The philosopher Aquinas, for instance, argues that beautiful things must have an essential quality (integrity or perfection), be well proportioned, and have a clear appearance. Another philosopher, Kant, argued that beauty is an emotion that inspires a sense of purpose and that the most beautiful things are those that make us feel good when we see them.
But beauty can be defined in many ways and is largely based on how we see ourselves, and by our culture’s ideals. For example, it may be the unrealistic airbrushed pictures of size ‘0’ models that leads women to hate their bodies or go on sunbeds which can cause skin cancer, or it could be the constant messages we receive about what men should look like or how women should behave. Feminist philosophers, such as Naomi Wolf, argue that a real overturning of cultural norms will require a deep and radical re-construction of the notion of beauty.