Beauty is a concept that has fascinated philosophers, poets, and artists for centuries. It can be difficult to define, but it is an experience that arouses and triggers reactions in the mind and soul of every human being.
It is a feeling, an emotional response that evokes wonder in a viewer and brings about an intense sense of pleasure. It is the ultimate goal of art and of life, and it has a powerful effect on our emotions.
The word “beauty” has been interpreted in different ways by philosophers, from Plato to modern neuro-psychological studies. In a recent article on the website BoingBoing, writer Alan Moore argues that “there is no single definition of beauty that is true for all people.”
One way of defining beauty is to look at it objectively. This is an idea that has been around since the time of Plato, who wrote about it in the Symposium.
In this conception, something is beautiful if it is symmetrical, has harmonious proportions, and is attractive to the eye. This idea is a variant of the classical conception of aesthetics (see below) that emphasizes harmony between parts, often expressed in mathematical ratios, for example the golden section.
This idea was later criticized by some empiricists, such as John Locke (1732-1704), who maintained that beauty is dependent on the subjective response of a perceiving mind rather than on external circumstances. The philosopher David Hume (1711-1776) also argued that beauty is a “phantasm of the mind,” that is, it does not actually exist in the real world.
Another theory, developed by Aristotle and Christianized by Thomas Aquinas, explains beauty in terms of integrity: something is beautiful if it follows its own internal logic, unless it violates that logic. A realistic portrait of a woman, for instance, will not have integrity if it depicts her with three eyes; a cubist painting, however, will have integrity even if it violates the rules of realism.
Augustine, a Christian thinker who lived in the fourth century, also gave a Christian account of beauty. He believed that it comes from God, and that recognition of it was a station on the way to spiritual ascent. He was also a strong believer in Platonic unity of beauty, goodness, and being.
Aristotle’s aesthetics were later developed by the Christian thinker Thomas Aquinas, who connected the quality of beauty to the Second Person of the Trinity. This connection, he said, made possible “a theory of beauty which is unified and possesses the criterion of perfect and genuine harmony, and the criteria of good design”.
Aquinas’ explanation of beauty has become popular as it satisfies several important criteria for a unified theory of beauty: a theory that can explain its empirical existence in the world; an explanation of how form and function can be simultaneous and unified; and an answer to Kant’s argument for the existence of God. In addition, Aquinas’s theory explains why a work of art inspires a sense of purpose in its viewers.