Beauty is defined as a pleasing combination of qualities. It may be physical, abstract, or gender based. People value beauty because they enjoy the connections it makes with other people and with nature and literature.
One of the most widely debated topics in the philosophy of art is whether beauty is objective. Several major theories have been developed to answer this question, and this article will review them. We will start with a sketch of the debate, and then explore several of these theories. Then we’ll consider the relationship between beauty and social justice. As you read, be sure to keep in mind that many of these theories were written by philosophers in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and therefore bear the mark of their time.
Aristotle was an important early contributor to the study of aesthetics. In a variety of works, he discussed the ways in which different types of objects and ideas could be considered beautiful. However, his views on this subject were not always consistent, and his ideas were not necessarily orthodox. For instance, he criticized the idea that beauty could be objective.
He did, however, acknowledge that a human being has an implicit understanding of beauty at birth. And this is an important consideration. When we think of the idea of beauty, we tend to consider the symmetry of an object. But, in fact, the same object can be perceived as different colors depending on the light conditions.
Kant was another major figure in the eighteenth century. Unlike his predecessors, he believed that beauty was a subjective state. Nevertheless, he also felt that it could be an expression of goodness. Therefore, he argued that the definition of beauty must be a function of purpose.
Schiller was less concerned with transcending physical reality. Instead, he used beauty to integrate nature and spirit. Specifically, he used beauty to ascend.
The nineteenth century saw a wide range of writers whose views on beauty were not incompatible with a unified aesthetic theory. Some of these include: Gordon Graham, Nick Zangwill, and Louis Sullivan. These authors all viewed beauty as a form of connection.
In a related vein, George Santayana wrote The Sense of Beauty. His argument was that the experience of beauty can be profound. That is, it can involve the senses, and that the enjoyment of such a feeling is a central part of life. By identifying the experience of beauty with pleasure, he was asserting that it is a form of connection.
While most philosophers have agreed that happiness is the goal of life, they have disagreed about how to understand it. Throughout classical Greek culture, the various philosophers interpreted happiness in very different ways.
Ultimately, the Greeks accepted the idea of happiness as a fundamental principle of life. They were particularly concerned with how beauty could contribute to the good.
As the twentieth century came to an end, political associations of beauty were not adequately addressed in most of the major social justice movements. This has caused problems in many ways. In particular, the concept of beauty has been problematic in the ways it has been categorized as a social marker of race and gender.