Beauty and Aesthetics reign supreme in our society today. Media personalities and advertisers shower us with societies’ idea of beauty daily. TV shows have even been hosted to show people who society deems beautiful. However, I am sure on more than one occasion, you have disagreed with the outcome of a local or international beauty pageant. Right? This begs the philosophical question: Is beauty universal or is it in the eye of the beholder? Many major philosophers have at one point spoken about these questions and their associated problems, this even includes notable characters of philosophy in ancient Greece such as Aristotle and Plato.
So far, we have used the word “beauty”, while assuming you have at one time used it and you do understand its basic meaning as used in society. We should now take a closer look and try to understand its broad aspect.
Many have tried to argue and agree on impartial standards of beauty and the role of one’s experience in the perception of beauty. For example, historian George Bancroft said, “Beauty itself is but the sensible image of the infinite.”
There is the casual term “beautiful” which is an expression of a positive opinion. This simply means that when some people say beautiful they find something to be wonderful, great or they simply like it because it is pleasurable to them.
Beauty also infers aesthetic praise on an object or someone. This brings the aspect of an object having desirable properties based on a person’s own experience. For instance, if given two objects of identical color and texture but of different shapes, there is one among them that you will automatically like. You will agree that” liking” one object and finding it appealing is based on your previous experience and our individual personalities.
Therefore, it is generally agreed that people associate beauty with things that bring enjoyment to them. While others associate beauty with a property of a person or object that offers them enduring satisfaction and pleasure; that which strikes a balance of pleasurable properties and is in harmony with nature. This, therefore, means that when we say something (or someone) is beautiful we are recommending that we find it appealing to us.
Well, one thing is clear: beauty is to be regarded dearly by human beings as a value. People value, desire and engage with beauty, simply because it is beautiful.
Is beauty based on personal criteria or on consensus?
If we are to debate on the universality of beauty, then I guess in the end we shall all agree that beauty is actually in the eye of the beholder and not based on consensus.Many of the people and things we consider beautiful, be it aesthetic beauty or any other aspect, is highly predisposed by our life encounters. If we are to rate the facial attractiveness of a particular celebrity, for example, we won’t agree 100% all the time.
Often, it is always our personal experiences that do define who we find good- looking or ugly and since they are so intimate, we can strongly disagree with someone who on a photograph resembles us.
One author once wrote, “If you relate a face with a positive information then it becomes more beautiful and all faces that resemble it will seem even more attractive. So when you establish relationships with people and friends you have more explicit ties you progress in life, they start becoming more attractive to you.” And so faces that you are not familiar with you find less attractive.
If beauty is based on consensus, is it really reasonable to embrace that we don’t know it through our senses? Precisely no. If there is something that is to be universal, then it can’t be that which is known through senses which are beauty.
We can now all agree that all the things we define and find attractive are totally inspired by experiences that are distinctive to us and there is not even one shared element between them: not even the emotions or basic concept attached to them seem compatible.
We can, therefore, conclude that we can select our own criteria for beauty and have a command over our self-image based on our personal experiences.
What does the objects and people we find to be beautiful say about us?
Would the world as we know it is a better place if everyone agreed on who or what to label as beautiful?
Since beauty is associated with pleasure, do you think happiness and beauty go together?