Beauty is a term used to describe the qualities and phenomena that give pleasure, satisfaction and enjoyment. It is also used to provide perceptual experience to the intellect, the moral sense and the aesthetic faculty. The term can also be applied to a specific object, place, event, or person.
In ancient and classical times, beauty was often associated with ecstasy. This was in contrast to the rational understanding of it, where the objective nature of beauty was the quest to boil the essence of a thing into formulae and models. During the Renaissance, beauty was ascribed to plumpness and wealth. During the early twentieth century, it was linked to capitalism.
Since the late nineteenth century, the concept of beauty has been subject to a wide range of criticism. One of the most controversial disagreements is whether beauty is objective or subjective. While some philosophers associate beauty with uselessness, others associate it with pleasure.
Plato and Aristotle disagreed on the subject. In particular, Aristotle ascribed less danger to beauty than Plato. However, he did not think that a person should try to emulate a model of beauty. Instead, he said that living things must present order in their arrangement of parts.
Beauty is an important subject in politics, especially in the context of the climate crisis. Despite the political entanglements that have been created over the past several centuries, political associations of beauty have been neglected in late twentieth-century philosophy and social justice movements.
One example of this is the ‘that song is beautiful’ statement. It expresses a positive attitude of a particular viewer, but there is no empirical content to this claim. Other examples include the ecstatic love poem written by Plotinus, which includes the fact that beauty calls out love.
Although many of these associations are problematic in certain ways, they can be productive in other ways. For instance, in the 1990s, feminist-oriented reconstruals of beauty were popular. Such reconstruals aimed to address the antinomy between taste and beauty.
Another example is George Santayana, who articulates the concept of beauty in emphatic terms. When asked if he would rather live in a house with a red roof or a house without a red roof, he replied, “If I had to choose between the two, I would choose the house without a red roof.” He argues that the red roof is not beautiful. Rather, it is a functionally necessary feature of a good thing.
Another example is the modern use of the word ‘beautiful’ to refer to a large ass, a sexy woman or a waif. These are all examples of the ‘big ass’ of today’s Kardashian-esque definition of beauty.
However, these standards are incompatible with African and other traditional ways of understanding beauty. For instance, they devalue black bodies and induce self-alienation. They also make a mockery of the aesthetic faculties.
Beauty is a powerful concept and it has been reconstructed through a number of different modalities. There are philosophical and scientific approaches, and also popular culture.