Throughout the twentieth century, the idea of beauty has become a controversial issue, causing many philosophers to wrestle with its meaning. This is in part due to political associations of beauty, which have been problematic at various times. During the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, these associations have been particularly troublesome in relation to gender and race. Consequently, many social justice movements have neglected these issues, focusing instead on other aspects of the concept of beauty.
The concept of beauty is generally objective, although it can also be subjective. Some philosophers define beauty in terms of value or function, while others associate it with pleasure or use. A number of ancient treatments of beauty have paid tribute to the pleasures it brings. One example is Plotinus’ ecstatic neo-Platonism. His concept of beauty includes the fact that it calls out love.
Beauty is a form of Forms that is regarded as having a symmetrical relationship between its parts and its whole. In the classical conception, beauty is defined as the harmony of the elements that make up an object. It is a term that has been used to describe a variety of art forms, such as music and sculpture, as well as the underlying architecture of buildings.
In the eighteenth century, David Hume articulated a theory of the beautiful. He wrote Essays, Moral, Political and Literary in 1758. Hume’s account of the beautiful is a sympathetic one, arguing that a person’s sentiment should be acquiesced to, even if it is not the best. However, Hume was careful to distinguish between the notion of beauty as a quality of things and the quality of the individual’s mind.
During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, many philosophical accounts of beauty sought to measure its qualities. For instance, the Greek philosopher Euclid identified beauty with the golden ratio and the idea of ratio. Similarly, the Islamic geometric designer Muhammad ibn Musa al-Ridwan describes beauty as a rhythm in a geometric composition.
Many twentieth-century thinkers were unsure of how to reconcile the idea of beauty with the era of wars, genocide, and wastelands. At the same time, some philosophers saw the concept of beauty as a distraction from more practical activities. Nonetheless, the 1980s saw the revival of interest in beauty, which led to a renewed focus on its definition.
Another way to consider the connection between beauty and pleasure is through the work of George Santayana. Santayana’s definition of beauty is that it is a feeling of pleasure. By describing beauty as a pleasure, Santayana identifies it as a feeling that is not only felt by the object itself, but by the observer as well.
Despite the controversies surrounding the idea of beauty, it has always been an important concept to many people. It serves as a reminder that the world is full of diversity. As a result, each human being experiences the world in a unique manner. Even natural objects are often considered beautiful, since nature thrives on regeneration and diversity.