What Is Beauty?

Beauty is no quality in things themselves: It exists merely in the mind which contemplates them; and each mind perceives a different beauty.

- David Hume, Of The Standard of Taste

Podcast of the Day

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss beauty and its qualities. "Beauty is truth, truth beauty, - that is all Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know." That was John Keats' emphatic finale to his Ode on a Grecian Urn. It seems to express Plato's theory of aesthetics, his idea that an apprehension of beauty is an apprehension of perfection and that all things in our shadowy realm are botched representations of perfect 'forms' that exist elsewhere. Beauty is goodness and, for Plato, the ultimate of all the forms is 'The Good'. But does beauty really have a moral quality? And is it inherent in things, or in the mind of the observer? How much influence have Plato's ideas had on the history of aesthetics and what has been said to counter or develop them?

Listen to the In Our Time episode on Beauty

Video of the Day

Short Article of the Day

The only popular thought about beauty today, the one that has the widest currency in the world, is the idea that beauty lies in the eye of the beholder. It’s a kindly notion. It seeks to make peace between people who have very different tastes. People are delighted by wildly variant things and that’s how it should be, the thinking goes – so don’t get worked up trying to figure out which things are beautiful.

Yet the success of this generous approach keeps attention away from deeper, more important questions. Whether it is a Baroque Cathedral, the face of a child, or the coast of Sweden seen from a plane window, we have all had the mysterious experience of finding something beautiful. But what is actually going on when we find these things beautiful?...

Continue reading John Armstrong's article: Can beauty help us to become better people?

Further Reading

The nature of beauty is one of the most enduring and controversial themes in Western philosophy, and is—with the nature of art—one of the two fundamental issues in philosophical aesthetics. Beauty has traditionally been counted among the ultimate values, with goodness, truth, and justice. It is a primary theme among ancient Greek, Hellenistic, and medieval philosophers, and was central to eighteenth and nineteenth-century thought, as represented in treatments by such thinkers as Shaftesbury, Hutcheson, Hume, Burke, Kant, Schiller, Hegel, Schopenhauer, Hanslick, and Santayana. By the beginning of the twentieth century, beauty was in decline as a subject of philosophical inquiry, and also as a primary goal of the arts. However, there were signs of revived interest by the early 2000s...

Continue reading the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy article on Beauty by Crispin Sartwell

Bonus Webcomic

Beauty - xkcd

Related Topics

If you’re interested in beauty, check out some of the following related topics for more resources:

 AestheticsImagination | Music | Poetry

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