What is beauty?

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What is beauty?

Postby Gnaeus Dionysius Draco on Sun Sep 29, 2002 8:36 pm

Okay, plain and simple topic (at first sight ;)) to warm this new Forum of the ColPhi up: what, according to you, *is* beauty? How would you define it? And why? Can you give examples? Are there "gradations" in beauty? Can one equal it to attraction?

Gentlemen and ladies, speak!

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Beauty, the nature of, etc

Postby Curio Agelastus on Sun Sep 29, 2002 9:40 pm

Salvete omnes,

Well, despite my pragmatic nature, Socrates has already demolished the theory that "beauty is that which is useful". However, there is no common thread uniting beautiful objects - a beautiful person looks very different to a beautiful painting, or a beautiful landscape.

Therefore, beauty cannot be defined in terms of simple physical characters, at least a classification system cannot be created for it. For instance, you cannot say that beauty equates to blue eyes, fair hair, etc, because 1) other people may disagree, 2) since when did a beautiful landscape have fair hair?

Therefore, the only idea I can come up with is:
Beauty is that which is pleasing to the eye.

Sorry if such a simple premise is disappointing!

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Postby Horatius Piscinus on Mon Sep 30, 2002 1:55 pm

Salvete philosophi

Or pleasing to the ear, mi Curio?

Beauty is not held in any single feature, or a collection of disparate features, but how disparate parts come together into a single whole. It is a symphony of sounds. It is a composition of colours. Or, to move into a different area, a beautiful game of chess is where every move can be seen to bring about a single moment of design. In Greek art there were certain standards of beauty based in theories of proportion. A statue of a human figure was made so that each part of the human form was in a Golden mean proportion to another part, just as in Greek music the various notes were in mathematical proportions to one another. There is beauty in mathematics as well. I would not attempt to offer a definition of what beauty is, but for me it lies in this area, of how different things are related to one another, and so we can also say that "Beauty is the eye of the beholder" because of a relationship between the object and its perceiver.

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beauty

Postby Xantippe Helia Allegra on Mon Sep 30, 2002 10:16 pm

Salvete omnes,

Beauty is both subjective as well as a reflection of cultural standards.


Our perception of what is beautiful, what is "ideal", involves all of the senses, past experiences, emotions--and becomes a reflection of how we feel spiritually and psychologically as well as what pleases us. An object of beauty, be it a photograph, a dance, a mountain, or an idea, has the power to evoke strong feelings in its admirer, to elevate a mood, to transport the viewer (or listener, be it an aural experience) to a heightening state of awareness or sensitivity.

A personal example is my intense love for the countryside. It is a reflection of time spent as a child with my grandparents on their farm. Flowers, vegetable and herb gardens, rolling hills that undulate into infinity...this pastoral setting is my idea of the most beautiful, serene environment in which to live, to create art, and to raise children. Although my visits to the countryside/mountains are not as frequent as I would like, the vision in my mind is enough to offer me sanctuary until the next journey.

On to cutural standards for beauty: Although cultural pluralism is a wonderful idea, it would be very diffiicult /impossible to establish universal principles regarding beauty given the wondrous variety in human taste and diversity. To speak of physical beauty(and because I am a woman who appreciates the art of fashion design, please bear with me): Currently, the (ongoing) trend in western fashion and culture involves a strong favor for models with body types who are slender and tall. Compare this to women in the Baroque era, who were revered for their Rubenesque figures...quite a difference.
I wonder what the next physical trend will be? Many people nowadays are aware of the benefits of exercise and proper diet, but does this neatly explain our fascination for/obsession with the super-slender body type? Sure, the flapper girls from the 1920's were slender, as was Twiggy in the 60's, but what is it?
Are men as concerned about their appearance and body image as women are?
Sure,many other cultures with different standards of beauty exist, but we remain unaware or unable to appreciate them because of the rose-tinted, western ethnocentric glasses we wear when we look at the rest of the world. Perhaps we (westerners) need to spend some time abroad, immersed in the culture of another country far different from our own to appreciate the deliciousness of diversity?I apologize for the digression, and know that my questions may seem superfluous, if not rhetorical, but I will step off my soapbox now. Please don't reprimand me, Scorpio, for straying too far off-topic. ;o)


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Postby Gnaeus Dionysius Draco on Tue Oct 01, 2002 4:00 pm

Interesting reactions all...

I'll start by replying to the last one first. Well Xantippe, of all places in SVR ColPhi is the one you should be least ashamed to digress or to use rhetorics. It's a philosopher's way to digress while giving the impression of being relevant. Or no, wait, that was a sophist's. I want no remark on that Atticus 8).

Research has pointed out that beauty in the narrow sense (id est, human beauty) in fact is quite universal. People from different cultures were given a set of faces and they had to arrange them according to their taste, the most attractive face coming first and the ugliest down the bottom. The results were astounding: everyone agreed on the most attractive face! (I believe there were 20 or so, and no, the 19 others weren't butt ugly :D).

Also, Piscinus has been talking about the Golden Mean: research similar to the one above has shown that we find faces composed according to the Golden Mean more attractive, and that this is also true in the animal world. People with symmetric, smooth features will be considered more attractive too, by the way. So I'm not too sure if the social climate plays such a great role that it can sway public opinion entirely.

I would disagree that beauty lies in harmony or a composition of many facets. In much 20th century art, chaos and disharmony is present. Compositions like Picasso's famous "Guernica" are good examples of this. Perhaps perceiving beauty also has to do with education? Just a random thought.

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what

Postby Q. C. Locatus Barbatus on Tue Oct 01, 2002 7:38 pm

Salvete omnes,


Beauty is something very personal...

I think you find a person beautiful when you discover connections between him/her and yourself. You can discover a similarity, or something you always wanted to have/be in someone else and find that attractive.

When you think of an object as beautiful it means that it is in accordance with some of your thoughts. I, for example, like 'das BAUHAUS'. I think this is because I like to be straight on, and I like that all things are in accordance with each other.

Although there is no physical law to determine when somebody is going to find something beautiful, there can be seen accordances.

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Postby Curio Agelastus on Tue Oct 01, 2002 8:42 pm

Salvete omnes,

Horati, you make a good point which I missed completely - beauty is not confined simply to sight. It is a property that can be recognised by all the senses, and also by the mind. Not only can a combination or a brilliant sacrifice be appreciated by a chessplayer, but a mathematician can appreciate a particularly clever idea, and a logician can appreciate the final synthesis produced from two opposite arguments.

Scorpio, with that experiment you mentioned, did they make sure to take care of the points Xantippe mentioned? They took people of different cultures, different classes, different upbringings, different areas - people with nothing in common? I'm impressed if they all considered the same woman attractive. Lucky girl. :wink:


Locate, I think I would consider what you're taling about to be a close relationship and connection, rather than beauty. There are many people who I consider to be good people, with beautiful characters, and I am proud to call these people friend. But I feel the connection that you mentioned with only a very few people - beauty can be appreciated without loving that beauty.

Hmmm... I think I've digressed as well. I only hope my ramblings are comprehensible. Oh well, c'est la vie.

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Postby Gnaeus Dionysius Draco on Sat Oct 05, 2002 9:28 am

Locate, I agree with you that finding something beautiful (and by extension making any aesthetic judgement) is derived from your relation/association with the object beheld.

Curio, yes, as far as I know the people tested had different cultural and racial backgrounds. The tv programme was presented by John Cleese and Liz Hurley, by the way.

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What is beauty

Postby Quintus Pomponius Atticus on Sun Oct 20, 2002 7:07 pm

Salvete,

Beauty is one of those subjects in which "the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life." (2 Cor.3.6 - KJV). Perhaps I have something of a romantic but if you try to put "beauty" into a categorical cage, it dies.

There's a lovely anecdote about another romantic, John Keats, on this subject.

Keats was appalled when Newton showed that a prism could separate white light into its constituent colors. He felt that what Newton had done was to unweave the rainbow, fragmenting it and diminishing its wonder and beauty.

Keats, of course, was one of the poets of the Romantic age, a contemporary of Byron and Shelley, who died in Rome at a very early age. In their view, the world was not to be analyzed, but appreciated. One does not dissect a flower, but beholds its beauty and smells its fragrance. Keats said in his poem Lamia :

"philosophy (science) will clip an angel's wings, conquer all mysteries by rule and line, empty the haunted air..."

Hoping I will not halt the discussion by putting a :?: next to it...

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