Beauty is a concept that has long been theorized about by a wide variety of philosophers. From the Ancient Greeks to the post-modernist Nietzche, humans throughout history have had differing perceptions of beauty. In this essay, we will examine the nature of beauty and try to formulate a working definition for it.
Among the first persons to examine the idea of beauty in writing, the Ancient Greeks had a very interesting conception of what it consisted of. Their term for beauty can perhaps best be described as connoting youthfulness. Although this correlation of beauty with youthfulness may seem wise, we can easily “poke holes” in this over-simplistic theory. In truth, a person can have an appearance that is not in the least bit aesthetically pleasing, with that same person also possessing a great deal of youthfulness. Due to this fact, we cannot say that beauty exclusively refers to youthfulness, although we must admit that youthfulness is often a component of beauty.
Other Ancient Greeks, particularly the Pythagoreans, conceived of beauty as connoting balanced ratios and proportions. Specifically, the Pythagoreans asserted that items or persons who exhibit the “golden ratio” seem to be more “beautiful.” In light of such theorizing on the Pythagoreans’ part, many Ancient Greek architects and sculptors sought to portray the golden ratio in their work. With this information in mind, we may be able to say that the presence of golden ratios connotes beauty, although this statement on our part should not be seen as being unchallengeable.
Later on in history, particularly during the era of the Enlightenment, beauty began to be more associated with metaphysical concepts. For example, several Enlightenment philosophers and artists strove to tie beauty to the idea of truth. They asserted that if something was true, then that thing was beautiful. As attractive as this philosophy may seem, we can once again find some room for error in this formulation. We can easily conceive of “ugly truths,” facts that possess a great deal of veracity but which are unpleasing to contemplate or behold. Due to this, we must come to the conclusion that “beauty as truth” may be a situational concept.
A common modern theory of beauty relates it to justice. With this viewpoint, something is beautiful if it portrays a sense of justice in ethics, academics, art, or a number of other mediums. Closely related to the idea of the golden ratio, justice can be seen as encapsulating balance, aesthetically-pleasing proportions, and moderation. In truth, it can be seen as an admonition to temperance in all things.
So we have seen some of the common theories concerning beauty. We have seen that, despite there being a general consensus that beauty exists, definitions of this concept are very different from each other. Perhaps we must conclude with the admission that beauty is one of those indefinable concepts that mankind will wrestle with for millennia to come.