Kalon : the neuter of the Greek adjective kalos, beautiful, fine, also admirable, noble; accompanied by the definite article (to kalon ), for example, the beautiful (or beauty). In Greek culture, what is kalon is typically the object of erôs, passionate or romantic love, and in (male-dominated) literature (and art), the term is predominantly applied to males around the age of puberty. Plato appropriates the kalon (along with the good and the just) as a key object for human striving and understanding in general, discovering in it, along with the good, one of the properties of the universe and of existence; erôs itself, in Plato, is transformed from a species of love into love or desire tout court, for whatever is truly desirable—and good (for the human agent). See especially his Symposium, Phaedrus (Hippias Major, possibly not by Plato, represents an unsuccessful attempt to define the kalon ). The truly beautiful, or fine, is identical with the truly good, and also with the truly pleasant, as it is for Aristotle (Eudemian Ethics I.1, 1214a1–8). The Aristotelian good man acts "for the sake of the fine (to kalon )" (Nicomachean Ethics IV.2, 1122b6–7), an idea which is sometimes used as a basis for attributing to Aristotle a quasi-Kantian view of the ideal agent as acting morally, even—if occasion arises—altruistically, as opposed to acting out of a concern for his or her own good or pleasure. Against this, we need to take account of Aristotle's treatment of his good person as a self-lover, someone who seeks a disproportionate share of the fine for himself or herself (NE IX.8, 1169a35–b1), though he or she may willingly concede his or her share to a friend (NE IX.8, 1169a32–34). This is consistent with Aristotle's wanting to treat the fine (or the admirable) as itself part—the most important part—of the human good; and indeed, he ultimately seems to recognize only two objects of desire, the good and the pleasant (NE VIII.2, 1155b18–21; cf. e.g. EE VII.2, 1235b18–23). In this context the pleasant will include only those pleasures that are not fine and good. For this move we may compare Plato's Gorgias (474C–475D), where Socrates actually reduces fine to good, pleasant, or both. Later Greek philosophy trades on, while sometimes modifying, this complex of ideas, which also forms the basis for the analysis of beauty in literature or in the visual arts.
Aristotle. Eudemian Ethics. In The Complete Works of Aristotle, edited by Jonathan Barnes. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1984.
Aristotle. Nicomachean Ethics. Translated by Christopher Rowe. In Aristotle: Nicomachean Ethics, edited by Sarah Broadie and Christopher Rowe. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002.
Plato. Gorgias. In Plato, Complete Works, edited by John M. Cooper. Indianapolis: Hackett, 1997.
Plato. Hippias Major. In Plato, Complete Works, edited by John M. Cooper. Indianapolis: Hackett, 1997.
Plato. Lysis. Translated by Christopher Rowe. In Plato's Lysis, edited by Terry Penner and Christopher Rowe. Cambridge Studies in the Dialogues of Plato. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2005.
Plato. Phaedrus. Translated by Christopher Rowe. Harmonds-worth: Penguin Books, 2005.
Plato. Symposium. Translated by Christopher Rowe. In his Plato: Symposium. Warminster/Oxford: Aris & Phillips/Oxbow Books, 1998.
Christopher Rowe (2005)