The Philosophy of Beauty


Beauty is the result of the process by which art gives pleasure to the senses. It includes both physical objects and abstract ideas. Some theories of beauty, though, focus on the objective qualities of the object. Others consider beauty to be subjective. This article outlines the major approaches to the question of what is beautiful.

The question of beauty is often one of the most contentious topics in literature. In the past, philosophers have debated whether it is an objective quality or is merely an experience. While some philosophers believe that beauty is only subjective, others believe that it is both.

Aristotle, for example, disagreed with Plato on the nature of beauty. He believed that beauty is an idea that reflects the glory of God. Plotinus, a Neo-Platonist, argued that beauty is an aspect of love and participation in the realm of Forms. His writings include such phrases as “delicious trouble” and “all delight.”

Kant’s treatment of beauty, in terms of disinterested pleasure, has obvious elements of hedonism. But he does not explain why it inspires a sense of purpose.

Aristotle said that living things must display order in their arrangement of parts. If an object has an abundance of order, it is aesthetically attractive. For Locke, color is a subjective response. However, the same object may be seen as various colors at different times of day.

Aquinas, in his exposition of a unified theory of beauty, gives three qualifications: that a thing has an integrity; that it has an adequacy of use; and that it presents the Second Person of the Trinity as a model. He gives the example of a sculpture called ‘The Canon.’

According to Aquinas, an ideal object has the form and function that a good designer would choose. Similarly, the rules of aesthetics are a by-product of good design. These rules allow beauty to exist empirically in the physical world.

Another definition of beauty, given by Berkeley, links it to pleasure. A good designer will consider the needs of the intended audience and create something that satisfies their wants and expectations. Thus, Berkeley defines beauty as a combination of pleasure and intellection.

Most philosophical accounts of beauty treat it as an objective quality. Although most scholars agree that beauty is an idea that is manifest in a particular object, some believe that it is only an experience. Because of this, they argue that it should not be regarded as the final word on what is beautiful.

Some contemporary aesthetic philosophers, however, suggest that beauty is both an objective and a subjective concept. In this view, the idea of a work of art is more complex than it seems at first. As such, the work of art should not be considered as an ultimate standard for what is beautiful. Instead, it should be a matter of personal discernment.

There are many other philosophers who have associated beauty with a sense of purpose. Many of them, for instance, think that beauty is simply an aptly suited object to be used.