Beauty is often defined as the aesthetic quality of certain objects, which makes these objects aesthetically pleasant to see. Such objects may include sunsets, landscapes, beautiful humans and beautiful works of art. Beauty, along with beauty and art, is perhaps the most important theme of aesthetics, among the various branches of modern philosophy. Philosophy in general usually has three different theories on beauty: instinct, reason and culture. According to Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution, beauty is necessary for the survival of man in the face of increased competition from other species.
According to the current understanding of the twentieth century, however, beauty is nothing but subjective experience. Although aesthetics appears to be an objective reality in the face of scientific observation, it is in fact a complex series of subjective tendencies, which depend upon culture, education and nationality, to some extent. Beauty, according to this current view, exists only on the aesthetic level. However, the beauty-hating crowd has tried to deny this fact by appealing to an objectivist idealism. On this account, beauty depends entirely on the aesthetic sense of each person and is not determined by anything else.
Still, it must be admitted that beauty is largely dependent on the aesthetic sense of a person. If an object lacks attractiveness it fails to meet the criteria of beauty. Beauty in a word therefore signifies that which satisfies the aesthetic sense of each person. In fact, for many philosophers the concept of beauty corresponds precisely to the idea of goodness, since it is something that we find attractive in nature.
Thus, beauty has both an empirical and a Platonic meaning. Descartes, in his treatise ‘The Principles of Beauty’, distinguished three sorts of aesthetic appreciation: sensual, imaginative and intellectual. He also claimed that beauty was nothing other than a quality inherent in all things. According to him, beauty consisted in the harmony between form and matter, between the contrast and balance of colors, and between the amelioration and deterioration of each thing. According to him, the idea of beauty reflected truth and the reality that could be appreciated in the world. In fact, he maintained that beauty was the only virtue that could stand against the truth, since object and subject were free to corrupt or destroy each other through perversion of their nature.
Furthermore, Descartes goes beyond Descartes’ purely aesthetic sense of beauty. According to him, beauty comprises the conformity of all the rational principles of knowledge to the real concrete world. Beauty includes the harmony of all the parts of a structure, including the connections among the different members of a structure. Beauty also includes the harmony of all the parts of the soul and mind of a person – a mind that is guided by reason.
According to some philosophers, beauty consists of certain proportions, lines and shapes that obey certain laws of universal gravitation. Others say that beauty is the harmony of the parts of a structure with respect to each other and, in this way, beauty resembles a sort of optical illusion or a visual computer generated by an aesthetic mind. Still others maintain that beauty consists of certain qualities, such as an inner aesthetic sense and an ability to adjust oneself with respect to the changes of circumstances. Some philosophers say that beauty consists of certain psychological qualities that are not essential to the physical being of a human body but which may affect the emotional reaction of a person towards a certain physical aspect. Beauty therefore, according to these philosophers, may be either the satisfaction of need or the satisfaction of desire.