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What Is Beauty? A Philosophical Quest for an Answer



What Is Beauty? A Philosophical Quest for an Answer
The nature of beauty is one of the most fascinating riddles of philosophy. Is it relative or universal? How do we know beauty?


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The Nature of Beauty

The Nature of Beauty
  • The nature of beauty is a riddle in philosophy, with great figures engaging in trying to understand it, including Plato and Aristotle.
  • An aesthetic attitude makes the engagement and appreciation of beauty using our senses, like taste, smell, vision or touch.
  • Beauty can also be accessed in other ways like intellectually and through imagination.




The Aesthetic Attitude

An aesthetic attitude is a state of contemplating a subject with no other purpose than appreciating it.

Aesthetic appreciation can be carried on by means of the senses (seeing a beautiful scenery, listening to music, etc.), but it's not restricted to just that. We can rejoice, for instance, in imagining a beautiful house that never existed



A Universal Definition of Beauty

Beauty becomes varied and subjective as people around the world have different perspectives, based on cultural and personal preferences.

The beauty of anything cannot be compared with one another using only the senses, as there can be no common elements in many things of beauty. An oil painting is beautiful and so is picking flowers in a yellow field. While one is seen through our vision, the other is a combination of vision, experience and other senses like smell.



Beauty And Pleasure

Human beings, it seems, are genetically predisposed to desire and appreciate beauty.

Philosophy delves into the fundamental question of the ethics and aesthetics of beauty, as it can be both a pleasure and something of value, due to it being dear to humans.




Defining Art

Defining Art
  • Art does not have a universal definition, though it is generally believed that it is an intentional and conscious creation of something that requires imagination and skill.
  • It can ...

Defining Art Through History

  • From the 11th century until the end of the 17th century, the definition of art was anything that was done with expertise, with the result of knowledge and practice.
  • The Romantic period of the 18th century, beauty became the main criteria for defining good art. Nature, spirituality and free expression were sought after and well received.
  • The 19th Century started the Avant-garde art movement, with art becoming real, modern, futuristic and surreal. Whatever the definitions, the originality of art stands out as a time-tested measure, with new genres and manifestations like performance art, digital art, and electronic art.

Philosophy of Art

  • Art as Representation or Mimesis. Representation of art as an imitation or copying became the mainstream meaning of art in Greece. Plato first developed the idea of art as “mimesis,” which, in Greek, means copying or imitation. How immaculately it replicated the original subject became the measure of its value.
  • Art as Expression of Emotional content. Dramatic, sublime and heartfelt art becomes a way to express oneself during the Romantic movement , with audience response becoming key to the valuation of the content. The emotions that were felt when the art was witnessed became its barometer for success.
  • Art as Form. Formal qualities of art became influential in the 18th century, with the principles of art and design, like balance, rhythm, harmony and unity became as important as the content of the work of art.

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The beautiful mess effect

The beautiful mess effect

We don't expect other people to be perfect but appreciate when people show their vulnerabilities and admit errors. Yet, we're afraid to expose our own shortcomings.

Don't waste your experiences

Things fall apart for everyone. If you're wise, you can be resourceful and use the scraps, patch yourself up, and keep going.

Professor Brené Brown states that "vulnerability is courage in you and inadequacy in me." Brown sees the imperfections in people as gifts to be worked with, not embarrassments to be hidden.

The ordinary in extraordinary

The physical evidence of a life well-lived can be a source of pride rather than shame. We don't have to hide the white hair, lined skin, scars, or extra pounds. They can be seen as signs that you persist.

When we expect perfection from everyone, including ourselves, we not only discount much of what is beautiful but create an unrealistic, restrictive, and cruel world where people's flaws are highlighted. Instead, we should highlight the beauty of what we do have, flaws and all, rather than always grasping for more.

Describing wonder

Wonder is said to be a childish emotion. However, as adults, we experience it when gaping at something unexpectedly spectacular.

Adam Smith, an 18th-century moral philosopher, describes wond...

Bodily symptoms

The bodily symptoms of this strange appearance point to three dimensions:

  • Sensory: The marvelous things take hold of our senses - we stare and widen our eyes.
  • Cognitive: We are perplexed because we don't have a past experience to understand them. It leads to a suspension of breath, similar to when we are startled.
  • Spiritual: We look upwards in veneration, which makes our heart swell.

The scale of wonder

At the mild end of this emotion, we talk about things being marvelous. More intense emotions might be described as astonishing. The extreme of this experiences is met with expressions of awe.