What Is Beauty?

When you’re told you are beautiful, it makes you feel good. It’s one of those compliments that you always want to hear. However, not everyone has the same definition of beauty. Some people think that beauty is about having the perfect face, eyes, or body. Others believe that it’s about being kind and helpful to other people. Still, others believe that beauty is a feeling that comes from inside your soul.

Many philosophers have analyzed the concept of beauty and tried to define it. Most of the early treatments of beauty, however, tend to focus on describing the pleasure that beauty induces in the observer. These pleasures can include awe, wonder, and admiration; they may also include joy, happiness, or serenity. These pleasures can be experienced by the senses, such as the eyes and ears, or they can be experienced in the mind, such as in the case of a work of art or a poem.

The classical conception of beauty focuses on the arrangement of integral parts into a coherent whole, according to notions of proportion, harmony, and symmetry. This is the primordial Western concept of beauty and it is embodied in classical and neo-classical architecture, sculpture, literature, and music. Aristotle, for example, wrote that “all things that are beautiful are in some way a harmony of parts” ( Poetics 2322 [1450b34]).

Another classical treatment of beauty is to describe how a work of art or craft expresses and serves its function. This treatment avoids the suspicion of sheer philistinism by enriching the concept of ‘use’, so that beauty can include an expressive dimension as well as a functional one. Ananda Coomaraswamy, for example, writes that a musical composition or an artisan’s work of craft is beautiful when it is not only useful but expresses something special about the composer or artisan in a unique way.

In the eighteenth century, some philosophers, such as Hume and Kant, began to see that the modern theory of beauty did not adequately address a fundamental issue. They saw that, if beauty is only a subjective state, it cannot be a universal value and, even less, can be recognized as such by people from different cultures or times.

Another issue with the contemporary theory of beauty is that it tends to privilege aesthetic values over other values, such as utility and truthfulness. As a result, some have argued that this theory of beauty is morally wrong. In addition, the modern treatment of beauty tends to be influenced by popular culture and trends. For example, a person may be considered beautiful when she has a large and plump bust or when she wears short hair. This tendency to prioritize the aesthetic over other values can cause some people to reject this theory of beauty as sexist or racist. It is possible to develop a more balanced and egalitarian treatment of beauty, but it requires an extensive revision of current philosophical theories about the nature of beauty.