Beauty is a concept that is linked with our physical appearance. The word “beautiful” can be used to describe everything from the color of a sunset to a person’s smile or the way they interact with others. In this sense, it is important to take time to understand what beauty truly means.
The first conception of beauty is a classical one, which emphasizes order and harmony among integral parts (see Aristotle, volume 2, 2322 [1450b34]). The classical idea is based on the understanding that in order for something to be beautiful it must present a certain order or arrangement of its components. This idea has been embodied in classical architecture, sculpture, and literature, as well as music and other artistic forms.
This theory of beauty was embraced by eighteenth-century philosophers, such as Hume and Kant. They saw that if beauty were treated as a completely subjective state, it would lose much of its importance. The problem was that controversies about the beauty of particular things would arise, and in such controversies, it was sometimes difficult for philosophers to give convincing reasons.
Another approach is hedonism, which treats beauty as the object’s intrinsic worth and a form of pleasure. It has obvious elements of the ancient hedonist view, in which all objects have a quality of being desirable for themselves, but is also quite distinct from the more ecstatic neo-Platonic conceptions of beauty.
A third view is a kind of deist conception, which sees beauty as the result of perfect unity or harmony between the parts, and is a more contemporary conception of beauty in art. This is a more naturalistic conception than the classical notion, but it still focuses on the symmetry of individual parts to each other and the whole. It has been criticized as being insufficiently rigorous, and it is often claimed that its use of the term “perfect unity” gives a false impression of completeness.
These views of beauty have been a point of contention for philosophers and art historians alike. They all have their own characteristics and incompatible interpretations, so it is best to examine each individually and in light of what is relevant for the particular context of art and philosophy.
The hedonism of beauty may be the most common view of beauty, and its main characteristic is the value of the object itself in terms of its enjoyment. This can include a sense of adoration, as in Plato’s triad, but it also has elements of the process-oriented view that is more popular in contemporary philosophy.
Aristotle’s conception of beauty focuses on the symmetry of parts towards each other and the whole, and on other aspects of harmony, proportion and definiteness. It is a fundamental Western idea, which has been embodied in classical and neo-classical architecture, sculpture and literature.
The idea of beauty is a complex and evolving one. Some of the most prominent philosophers have tried to articulate an idea of beauty that is both suited to its use and hedonism-like in its rewards. It is also interesting to consider the ways in which beauty is linked with the sense of adoration, as in the neo-Platonic account of Plotinus. This neo-Platonic account of beauty is an interesting and controversial one, as it does not focus on the hedonism of its rewards, but on the unity of the object and its ability to bring delight and pleasure to human experience.