views updated May 08 2018


BEAUTY is said to be a property of an object that produces an aesthetic pleasure; this pleasure is a subjective response to a beautiful object, often, but not always, in nature. For example, the beauty of a rose produces an aesthetic pleasure. Immanuel Kant thought other objects beautiful to the degree they conform to objects in nature (Kant, 1953, paras. 4245). The question is whether this subjective response to a beautiful object can be spontaneous and universally communicable.

Certain philosophers have argued that pleasurable enjoyment of beautiful artistic creations is not originally spontaneous, but needs to be cultivated as a cognitive disposition. This cultivation involves attending to an object (or subject) to recognize its (or her) beauty. Beauty's recognition is similar to the cultivation of the moral virtues of justice and goodness. A virtue achieves truth to the degree that it acquires its distinctive form of perfection; perfection is the goal (telos ) for the cultivation of virtues. If the disposition for beauty is a human cognitive capacity, then once beauty is acquired in its true form it would be universally communicable. Ideally, beauty would produce aesthetic pleasure spontaneously in all those human subjects whose cognitive dispositions are cultivated for their own perfection.

What is the measure of this perfection? Is there a perfect form of beauty for every natural and created object? Or is this merely a subjective matter? If the latter, how can we agree about what is beautiful? Is perfection of the human form measured against an aesthetic, moral, or divine standard? Religion has concerned itself with beauty precisely because of the inability of human beings to recognize or create perfection. Despite our apparent inability, we desire beauty in fair countenance (or justice), in human relationships (or love), and in orderly action (or goodness). In various dimensions of human experience, we long for perfect order and so crave beauty. If we turn this around, evidence of beauty as perfect order in nature serves to support imperfect human beings in proving the necessity of a divine creator.

Beauty in Western Philosophy

As a concept, beauty has a history of meanings and uses. Beauty's meaning changes in relation to the variability of human conceptions of nature, as well as the variability of human values. Beauty's use in political, moral, and religious philosophy links it with the cultivation of a range of dispositions that can become settled states of character. As with the virtues of political justice, moral goodness, and religious love, the real existence of beauty may be doubted, while dispositions are fragile and corruptible. Nevertheless, human beings still seek to achieve the experience of aesthetic pleasure, as well as other forms of perfection. Although justice, goodness, and love are often lacking in our global world, we seek them. We recognize and create beauty in the sense of the French reconnaître ; that is, gratefully acquired knowledge of what is true, legitimate, or proper to one's own nature. This complex sense of recognition (of beauty) resonates with Western political, moral, and theological concerns.

For a sense of the history of the concept of beauty, consider ancient Greek philosophy. Plato recommends a deliberate ascent away from sensuous nature. The human soul aspires to be united with divine love in the apprehension of truth, to become the perfect form of love. Beauty is seen in this perfection. But a strictly Platonic account is inadequate for understanding significant conceptions of beauty, especially those built upon beauty's relation to sensuous nature.

A concrete, contemporary understanding of beauty's "exile" from human experiences of art, morality, and religion could rescue this concept (cf. Steiner, 2001). Good reasons exist for beauty's exile from (much) twentieth-century experience, including a failure of human self-understanding and spiritual development. A less obvious reason is beauty's close association with the idealized female subject who has dominated the Western imaginationwhether in the Virgin Mary, the fragile innocence of the maternal figure of femininity, or the perfect (sexualized) form of the female body. As female consciousness gained a critical edge in twentieth-century societies, so did the recognition that the female body had been objectified, even idolized, as an erotic object. The objectification of this subject of beauty became exclusive in taking on the form of a specific gender-type, as well as idealizing the qualities of a specific race, class, and religion.

The extent of this objectification, by both men and women, is evident in the degree to which women's self-image is determined by a culture's fetish of beauty. This is when women do not actually see their own selves in representations of female beauty but are seen in terms of what others think they should look like. Beauty becomes the opposite of anything natural, free, or creative. Instead it is bound up with oppressive images of the female subject. Contemporary aesthetics has not generally treated beauty as a central concern. Yet it is possible to find serious endeavors to restore beauty to what is still thought to be its rightful place in the pleasurable enjoyment of nature, artistic creations, and human love.

To write about beauty is to tell a story about values for human beings. Values, including love (caritas ), and such acquired dispositions as truth, goodness, and justice, have been portrayed in myths, in representations of relationships between men, women, and the divine. Philosophers and theologians have turned to the poets and the artists of their age to imagine in myth what is not seen but is experienced. Beauty is only truly seen when human vision (and therefore lived experiences) is not determined by oppressive ideals and images. Even ancient myths about beauty involve struggle and concealment until, ideally, the seeing that attends to an "other" achieves a revelation of truth and goodness.

One ancient myth that has been restored to prominence in contemporary discussions of love, pleasure, and beauty is the story of Psyche and Cupid. Cupid is the Latin name of the ancient figure of love, represented in this myth by a male god; Psych e is the Greek name for a human soul, represented by the female subject who appears trapped in a beautiful body, alienated from others by their envy of her beauty. Psyche's beauty does not bring happiness, but its opposite. The envy of others causes Psyche to suffer the tricks and trials of human and divine subjects. Then Cupid and Psyche become lovers, and Psyche learns to be trustworthy, face-to-face with love in the presence of beauty. In the end, Psyche becomes divine, loving freely and eternally (see Apuleius, 1998; Gilligan, 2002).

Gendering Beauty and the Sublime

An adequate historical account of the Western concept of beauty should consider the gender associated with the beautiful and the sublime at the end of the eighteenth and beginning of the nineteenth centuries. New gendered readings aligned the beautiful with feminine virtues, and the sublime with masculine ones. At this point, the sublimein place of beautybecomes associated with the divine. Why would the divine be associated with one or the other? God, as perfect, would fulfill the human desire for fairness of countenance, whether as the beautiful or the sublime. Again, turning this around, philosophical awareness of perfection in nature, including human nature, gives grounds for the existence of a (maximally) great creator of this perfect design. But why would Enlightenment-era religion replace the beautiful with the sublime? The conception of the divine must represent absolute greatness and perfection; hence, the sublime, as greater than beauty in sensuous nature or in its imitation, is taken to represent inexpressible perfection and greatness.

Jean-Jacques Rousseau's eighteenth-century account of the different moral educations of men and women in Émile (1762) maintains the above gendered distinction. Kant's Observations on the Feeling of the Beautiful and the Sublime (1764) follows Rousseau, while Mary Wollstonecraft's Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792) responds critically to this gendering of beauty. The following is disputed: "The fair sex has just as much understanding as the male, but it is a beautiful understanding whereas ours should be a deep understanding, an expression that signifies identity with the sublime" (Kant, 1960, p. 78). A positive reading of Kant's claim acknowledges a certain level of equalityin understandingbetween the male and female sexes. However, the gendered differences between beautiful and deep understandings have negative implications when read alongside Kant's assertion that "The virtue of a woman is a beautiful virtue. That of the male sex should be a noble virtue. Women will avoid the wicked not because it is un-right, but because it is ugly; and virtuous actions mean to them such as are morally beautiful. Nothing of duty, nothing of compulsion, nothing of obligation!" (Kant, 1960, p. 81). At first glance women seem freed from the constraints of dutybut this would imply excluding them from moral autonomy, i.e., from acting for the sake of duty alone. Additional gendered connotations differentiate men from women by the ability to distance themselves from sensuous nature and move closer to the divine. This crucial difference shapes later associations of women with nature. Women's beauty as a gift of nature becomes increasingly problematic as science and technology seek to dominate nature as unruly and threatening rather than orderly and nurturing.

Kant's gendering of beauty affects subsequent accounts of aesthetic education in profound ways, but it equally affects theological accounts of divine greatness as the sublime. The problematic tradition of the gendering of beauty and the sublime continues today. The nineteenth-century German idealist Friedrich Schiller passed on this tradition by reinforcing the gendered differences of Kant's moral virtues. The twentieth-century French postmodernist Jean-François Lyotard ensures that absolute beauty is unobtainable for women while men struggle for the divineby transcending the chaotic and corrupting forces of naturein the sublime.

Limits of the Human and the Divine

The upshot of Kantian aesthetics in modern and postmodern literature culminates in a monstrous sublime. When human desire and delight go beyond their proper limits, human creations become monstrous. At the extreme, the yearning connoisseur of beauty fails tragically to be worthy of this perception. Without the mutual exchange between creator and creature, between lover and beloved, monstrous forms of creativity manifest human unworthiness. Instead of harmony, integrity, and splendor, the one-sided endeavor to create human "beauty" results in the monstrous sublime of death and destruction, "where by its size it defeats the end that forms its concept" (Kant, 1952, p. 100).

In contrast, the mutual exchange of love in beauty had been lifesaving, as a new creation and a fragile intimation of the divine. Positive qualities are undermined by the monstrous (sublime), which is imaginatively represented by the Enlightenment myth of a new Prometheus in Mary Shelley's Frankenstein (1818). Shelley's story about a man-made creature explores the tragedy and distortions of a scientific "man" who replaces divine with human creations, religion with science, and love with technology; the outcome is truly horrific. The Romantic idea of human creativity cannot be sustained without mutual love and justice. These virtues, sustained by something transcendent of both men and women, ensure that creativity does not result in self-destruction by a chaotic and violent nature.

How do men and women acquire those necessary virtues that are not theirs at birth? One answer is to return to the ancient allegory of love. Its lesson is that we have to be inspired to see the beautiful as something to love; perception of beauty in the beloved that renders her or him desirable is an experience inspired by perfect(ed) love. The allegory represents Cupid with the power to transform humans from mere mortals without erotic aspirations to midwivesor philosopherswho yearn for what they perceive as good. In this allegory, love is motivated neither by desire nor by beauty perceived independent of love. Instead, the very perception of the beloved as good is dependent on, first of all, the true vision of love. The lover, then, beholds the beautiful countenance of her beloved. This vision of beauty takes the two lovers outside of themselves as subjects.

Iris Murdoch describes this ability to see beauty as "unselfing." Her account recalls aspects of Plato's and Kant's accounts of beauty, yet it also reflects Murdoch's unique vision of attentiveness to the reality of love and beauty:

It is important too that great art teaches us how real things can be looked at and loved without being seized and used, without being appropriated into the greedy organism of the self. This exercise of detachment is difficult and valuable whether the thing contemplated is a human being or the root of a tree or the vibration of a color or a sound. Unsentimental contemplation of nature exhibits the same quality of detachment: selfish concerns vanish, nothing exists except the things which are seen. Beauty is that which attracts this particular sort of unselfish attention (Murdoch, 1970, p. 65).

"What counteracts [blinding self-centered aims and images]is attention to reality inspired by, consisting of, love" (Murdoch, 1970, p. 67, italics added). And "the most obvious thing in our surroundings which is an occasion for 'unselfing'is beauty" (Murdoch, 1970, p. 84). This occasion for unselfing generates an attitude for seeing beauty in all its colors, shapes, and sizes. Although Murdoch's writing predates the postmodern challenges to the racial and ethnic biases of Anglo-American philosophy, her attitude for seeing beauty resonates with the more contemporary words of the African American cultural and feminist critic bell hooks: "'We must learn to see.' Seeing is meant metaphysically as heightened awareness and understanding, the intensification of one's capacity to experience reality through the realm of the senses" (hooks, 1990, pp. 111112).

Cultivation of Beauty and a New Aesthetic

Hooks proposes "an aesthetic of blackness," picturing beauty in the eyes of those women and men who take time to see and pay attention to the racial and material locations that shape and define their perceptions, feelings, and relationships. Specifically, "a radical aesthetic acknowledges that we are constantly changing positions, locations, that our needs and concerns vary, that these diverse directions must correspond with shifts in critical thinking" (hooks, 1990, p. 111).

To stand the test of time, beauty joins justice in seeking equality in fair relationships. The allegory of love presents an ultimate vision of the human soul (Psyche) becoming divine and immortal in a marital union of equality with the god of love (Cupid) in the presence of beauty that in turn begets pleasure. In this way, beauty constitutes an opportunity for self-revelation and exchanges of power between the self and another. Yet, in reality, beauty remains dangerously bound up with oppressive ideals, images, and symbols. At the same time, world religions have generated significant contexts in which divine love can raise the human soul above the death that haunts the natural world. This tension is problematic, since a spiritual ascent to love in the presence of beauty is not an ideal to which human beings can aspire unaided. The difficulty is to see a spiritual ascent in a sensorial descent, rising towards the transcendent even in descending.

A Contemporary Theological Aesthetics

The danger in developing religious symbolism to conceive love of beauty as a form of salvation is evident in the aesthetic theology of the twentieth-century Swiss theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar. When the beauty of God radiates from every created form, the values of truth and goodness become inseparable from beauty's aesthetic value. But in placing beauty at the center of his symbolic story of salvation, von Balthasar makes the male gender central. Salvation in the form of beauty is limited by the gendered symbolism of his Christology, reinforcing the exclusion of the female body. Von Balthasar's objectification of the female body forces not beauty, but woman herself, into exile. What are the implications for his theology of beauty?

To be fair, von Balthasar has done more than other twentieth-century Christian theologians to restore beauty to a central place: he conceives Jesus Christ as the revelation of the form of God as absolute truth, goodness, and beauty. Von Balthasar gives a complex unity to this divine form; the beauty of divine revelation comes to perfection in Christ as the central form of God's glory. Beauty exists not merely for aesthetic pleasure, but as a moral and truthful challenge to conversion (von Balthasar, 19821991, vol. 1, p. 209). When beauty, truth, and goodness come together, the glory of God is revealed. The crucial question is whether the human need for spiritual perception of the form of beauty can be perfectly satisfied by von Balthasar's theological aesthetics.

Tina Beattie raises doubts about von Balthasar's Christology, exposing the danger in images of beauty that fail to represent the equality and mutuality of men and women in divine love. Beattie's critique of von Balthasar's symbolism begins by explaining how gender functions metaphorically and analogically. Next, Beattie shows how the female body in von Balthasar's complex sexual metaphysics is rendered redundant by the symbolism of Christ and the church. Only the male sex is necessary for the performance of the story of Christ, whose personae includes all variety of masculine and feminine qualities. This exclusion of the female body creates an asymmetry between men and women. On the one hand, motherhood and femininity are detached from the female body by, for instance, the symbolism of the church as mother, where both men and women can symbolize the mother church. On the other hand, their possession of a female body excludes women from performing any role associated with the essential masculinity of Christ. Due to their female bodies, women are reduced to the biological role of reproduction; men can represent both feminine and masculine qualities, while their male bodies allow men to perform roles associated exclusively with the masculinity of Christ (as in the priesthood, administration of sacraments, etc.). Thus, the symbolism of von Balthasar's Christology renders the male body essential for salvation, and the female body inessential.

Although von Balthasar's aesthetics respond to the control of the world by technological forces and masculine values of aggression, power, and war, any acknowledgment of the need for maternal feminine values, in order to avoid violence and exploitation, is undermined by the Catholic Church (of which von Balthasar plays a prominent part) being resolutely committed to the exclusion of women from positions of visibility and social-ethical influence. Can von Balthasar's Christology make sense of absolute beauty, goodness, and truth while his symbolism enshrines a vicious association between the female body, sex, death, and violence? If the female body represents Eve as the devil's gateway, whereby the threatening impurity of female flesh drags the male spirit into its chaotic depths of death and disintegration, then the devaluation of woman, nature, and ultimately, beauty is inevitable.


The artist Marlene Dumas captures the female body's association with deathdisplacing beautyin a dramatic reformulation of the pietà, in which a male subject holds a female corpse (see Dumas's 1993 painting, The Image as Burden ). Instead of the pietà with Mary holding the dead body of her male son Christ, a male mourner carries the dead body of the female subject. This reverses the traditional portrait of beauty. Can the female body and nature represent the source of life, not death, in a rebirth of beauty? One positive response refigures the allegory of love, offering hope for a new story of salvation for men and women.

The story of Psyche and Cupid can guide a symbolic reconfiguration of sexed and gendered subjects. Psyche is saved when, as the new Venus, (i.e., the soul of beauty), she (or he) replaces Cupid's mother and creates a new relationship as the beautiful one who is equal in love to her (or his) lover. In being transformed from human to divine, Psyche freely unites with divine love, Cupid, creating a relation of equality for love in beauty. At the same time, this love involves an unselfing in attending to the other self; hence, beauty is seen in the other's differences. The moral psychologist Carol Gilligan suggests that paying particular attention to our gendered relationships in the light of the birth of pleasure is (still) needed. Gilligan herself discovers the seeds for this new account in refiguring Psyche and Cupid.

Psyche as the soul of the (female) mortal becomes a divine subject in love. Psyche and Cupid together create a new fluidity of pleasure; this renders possible delight in the beautiful. These lovers pay attention to each other in a loving gaze. The fluidity of pleasure moves in between material differences of sex and gender, enabling beautiful interchanges. Giving birth to pleasure in the beauty of love transforms human relationships: this fairness, as another term for beauty, remains forever divine.

See Also

Aesthetics; Architecture; Art and Religion; Human Body, article on Human Bodies, Religion, and Gender; Music.


Apuleius. The Golden Ass or Metamorphoses. Translated by E. J. Kenney. Harmondsworth, U.K., 1998. An inspiring second-century story about Cupid and Psyche creates an allegory of love, beauty, and the metamorphoses of human and divine identities.

Beattie, Tina. God's Mother, Eve's Advocate: A Marian Narrative of Women's Salvation. Bristol, U.K., 1999; London, 2002. This feminist text criticizes and reconfigures the theological imagery of Eve and Mary, rewriting the story of salvation to include the integrity of the female body.

Gilligan, Carol. The Birth of Pleasure: A New Map of Love. London, 2002. The psychological study of intimate human relationships takes on new significance as it tells a story about the birth of pleasure, locating the shared feelings that shape human love.

hooks, bell. "An Aesthetic of Blackness: Strange and Oppositional." In Yearning: Race, Gender, and Cultural Politics, pp. 103113. Boston, 1990. A brief but significant article, challenging conceptions of beauty and contending that beauty's function and purpose cannot be separated from material life, metaphysical perception, or political passion.

Kant, Immanuel. The Critique of Judgement. Translated by James Creed Meredith. Oxford, 1952. This third Critique (1790) contains a historically pivotal account of beauty, separating beauty's aesthetic value from moral and metaphysical philosophy, while carving out a universal role for the delight (in the beautiful) that communicates a shared feeling of aesthetic pleasure.

Kant, Immanuel. Observations on the Feeling of the Beautiful and the Sublime. Translated by John T. Goldthwait. Berkeley, 1960. Published in 1764, this work connects femininity and beauty, masculinity and the sublime.

Murdoch, Iris. The Sovereignty of Good. London, 1970. Three philosophical lectures addressing different aspects of the concept of the good tackle the selfishness and illusions that obscure reality and present beauty as the occasion for "unselfing."

Plato. Symposium. Translated by Alexander Nehamas and Paul Woodruff. Indianapolis, 1989. The classic dialogue on love and beauty.

Scarry, Elaine. On Beauty and Being Just. Princeton, 1999. A gem that redirects discussions of beauty towards justice.

Shelley, Mary. Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus. 1818; reprint, London, 1985. A novel that portrays imaginatively and critically the excess of human (exclusively male) creativity, going beyond its limits for love and beauty, in the reproduction of a monstrous creature.

Steiner, Wendy. Venus in Exile: The Rejection of Beauty in Twentieth-Century Art. Chicago, 2001. This study critically documents the difficulties resulting from an equation of beauty with the female subject, seeking to rescue the beautiful exile in reciprocal forms of aesthetic pleasure.

von Balthasar, Hans Urs. The Glory of the Lord: A Theological Aesthetics. 7 vols. Edited by Joseph Fessio and John Riches, and translated by Erasmo Leiva-Merikakis. Edinburgh, 19821991.

Pamela Sue Anderson (2005)


views updated May 23 2018


Until the eighteenth century, "beauty" was the single most important idea in the history of aesthetics. One of the earliest works in the literature of aesthetics, the Hippias Major (probably by Plato), was addressed to the question, "What is beauty?" Around this question most of later thought revolves. The treatment of the other major concept, art, when it is not ancillary to that of beauty, lacks comparable generality, for it is often restricted to a single artistic form or genre, or its theoretical status is equivocal, because art is taken as identical with craft or skill. The modern notion of the fine arts did not appear until the eighteenth century and, more important, it was then too that the concept of aesthetic experience was first formulated systematically. As a consequence, beauty lost its traditional centrality in aesthetic theory and has never since regained it.

Our survey of these historical developments will be selective. Specific theories will be singled out because they are paradigms of the major kinds of theory of beauty. Thus, where beauty is taken to be a property, we will be less concerned with what, on some particular proposal, this property is, more with the logical relations of beauty, so construed, to the other properties of beautiful things and to the conditions of its apprehension. Where it is not so construed, the chief alternative meanings for beauty will be illustrated. Beautiful is used to esteem or commend and therefore to make a claim that is honored in the processes of criticism. Throughout this article, accordingly, the implications of the major kinds of theory for evaluation of the object will be traced.

Classical Aesthetics

The concluding section of Plato's Philebus is the prototype of the dominant ways of thinking about beauty prior to the eighteenth century. This will be shown by unpacking its major theses, which, whether they were taken over or whether they became the focuses of dispute, made up the framework of classical theory and defined its preoccupations.

The discussion of beauty in the Philebus, as in other dialogues, arises in the course of discussion of a larger question not itself aesthetic, namely, whether pleasure or knowledge is the supreme good for humankind. Socrates wished to distinguish "pure" from "mixed" pleasures, and among the examples that he gives of the former are the pleasures evoked by objects that are "beautiful intrinsically." He cited simple geometrical shapes, single colors, and musical notes (50e52b).

The first thing to see is that Plato took beauty to be a property ingredient in things. It is nonrelational twice over, for its existence is not dependent upon, or affected by, perceiving it; and whereas "relative" beauty exists only by virtue of comparison with things that are of a lesser degree of beauty or simply ugly, "intrinsic" beauty does not. This view can be specified in two different ways, both of which appear to be suggested by Plato: Either the property of beauty is identified with, and defined by, certain properties of the object, here the determinate ordering or "measure" of the whole (64e), or beauty is itself indefinable, but supervenes upon a further, distinct property, the internal unity of the parts, which is the condition of its existence (66b).

On the former theory, whether a thing is beautiful is decided just by finding whether it does or does not possess the salient property. In the Philebus, the success of such inquiry, even on Plato's rigorous conception of knowledge, is assured by the markedly intellectualist character of measure. It is a formal or structural property and therefore cognate with the nature of intelligence (59bc, 65d), unlike matter which is opaque to mind. It is no accident that, having illustrated intrinsic beauty by objects produced by the "carpenter's rule and square," Socrates later eulogized carpentering for its cognitive exactness (55d56e). This insistence on the clarity and knowability of beauty (shared by Aristotle in Metaphysics 1078b) is also reflected in the choice of sight and hearing, the senses most appropriate to rational cognition, as the sole avenues of the perception of beauty (cf. Phaedrus 250d).

The nondefinist theory is, for the reasons to be cited in later philosophers, more plausible but considerably more complicated. This theory is that, given unity in variety in a thing, beauty is also necessarily present. It will still be true that whether a thing is beautiful can be decided by showing that it possesses internal unity ifbut this proviso is crucialwe can be certain that the two properties do, in all instances, exist together. Hence we must be able to apprehend beauty in its own right. Yet to say that beauty is indefinable is to say that what it is cannot be identified conceptually and therefore in commonly understandable terms. The cognitive assurance and stability of definist theory may be lost as a result. Plato was amply aware of the possibility of uncertainty and disagreement among judgments of beauty (Laws Bk. II). The account of intrinsic beauty in the Philebus guards against these dangers. Things are beautiful intrinsically precisely because they are "always beautiful in their very nature" (51cd). Though the objects cited by Socrates are empirical"the surfaces and solids which a lathe, or a carpenter's rule and square, produces from the straight and the round"they nevertheless enjoy the self-identity, unaffected by adventitious or contextual factors, that is also characteristic of the Platonic Ideas. Unlike objects of relative beauty, they resemble the ideal beauty described in the Symposium (211212), which cannot be "fair in one point of view and foul in another" (cf. Republic 479). Socrates held that they will necessarily arouse in the beholder a kind of pleasure that is peculiar to intrinsic beauty (51d). That the apprehension of such beauty will be veridical is further assured in the Philebus by the notion of "pure" pleasures, that is, those unmixed with pain. Pain warps or falsifies judgment (36c et seq.), but it is never present in the appreciation of intrinsic beauty. The related concepts of the intrinsic and the pure are used to guarantee the stability of the experience of beauty. They lead, however, to a severe delimitation of the class of beautiful objects. Paintings and living creatures are excluded as relative, tragedy and comedy (50ab) because they are impure. Human significances are hostile to beauty because they encourage error and diversity in our responses to it.

In its analysis of the concrete phenomena of beauty, the Philebus is distinguished from the mythic and metaphysical approaches of the Phaedrus and Symposium and the social moralism of the Republic and Laws. Even here, however, the beautiful does not constitute a distinct and autonomous subject matter. It is treated as a "form" or mode of goodness in general, and the term beautiful is used, as it was by the Greeks generally, interchangeably with excellent, perfect, and satisfying. It is also worthy of note that the concept of art enters in hardly at all. Painting and literature are mentioned only so that they may be excluded. By contrast, Aristotle's Poetics devotes itself to a single art form, tragedy, making only a casual reference to beautymeasure is a necessary condition (VII). Later treatments of beauty and art are even less congenial to our modern conception of aesthetics, which led the historian Bernard Bosanquet to speak of a centuries-long "intermission" in aesthetics between the Greco-Roman and the modern eras. The metaphysic of Plotinus, which derived from Plato, is spiritualist and Idealist; and here, as in later philosophy, the bias of such thought is to encourage regard for, and insight into, the experience of beauty. The soul is said to strive toward beauty, which is a manifestation of the spiritual force that animates all of reality. It is just because of the vitality and moving appeal of beauty that Plotinus rejected the identification of beauty with a merely formal property. The living face and the dead face are equally symmetrical, but only the former stirs us. Hence "beauty is that which irradiates symmetry rather than symmetry itself" (Enneads VI; VII, 22). Further, some simple, sensory objects lacking internal structure are beautiful, and, finally, symmetry is present in some ugly things as well (I; VI, 1). Plotinus's critique of formalism effectively made the larger point that beauty cannot be identified with any single element of the object, form or any other. It is the total object, the whole of form and expressiveness and what the form is of, that possesses beauty. If, on the other hand, beauty is thought to be a global quality that "irradiates" this object and moves us, it is difficult or impossible, in a definition, to specify conceptually the nature of this quality. Moreover, Plotinus's argument cast doubt on the possibility of finding even the conditions of beauty. A formal property such as symmetry is the most likely candidate, because it can be shared by objects that are otherwise highly diverse, artistic or natural, abstract or representational, sensory or mathematical. Yet if the negative instances cited by Plotinus show that this property is not even a universal concomitant of beauty, then a fortiori it cannot be the necessitating ground of beauty.

Still, the effort to enunciate a set of conditions for beauty is persistent in Western thought, because it answers to the desire for a criticism whose verdicts will be certifiable and authoritative. The high noon of such criticism was the neoclassical period, particularly the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, when the conditions were detailed and formalized, and endowed with the institutional sanctions of the new "Academies." A multiplicity of treatises were devoted to particular arts or genres, each of which was taken to be subject to "rules," inherent in its specific nature and function, which can be rationally known (e.g., Castelvetro, Palladio). The treatises borrowed heavily from their Greek and Roman antecedentsAristotle, Horace, Vitruvius. The "lawmakers of Parnassus" thereby invested their claims to speak on behalf of "reason" and "nature" with the authority of antiquity. Given that beauty is an objective property, attainable artistically and knowable critically, by reference to the rules, the question of the percipient's response to it was scanted. As in the Philebus, beauty can be expected to arouse the appropriate response, which was referred to briefly and loosely as "pleasure," or "delight."

The Eighteenth Century

The rebellion against the rules, in the name of the spectator's felt response"the taste is not to conform to the art, but the art to the taste" (Addison)intimates, in art criticism, the larger and more profound reconstruction of thought that took place in aesthetic theory. In the eighteenth century, indeed, aesthetics first established itself as an autonomous philosophical discipline. It defined a subject matter that is not explicable in terms of any of the other disciplines and is therefore taken out of the metaphysical and moral context of much traditional aesthetics, to be studied in its own right. The pioneer work is to be found in the prolific and assiduous writings of the British who, throughout the century, carried out the inquiry that Addison, at its beginning, justly described as "entirely new."

The century was a Copernican revolution, for instead of looking outward to the properties of beauty or the art object, it first examined the experience of the percipient, to determine the conditions under which beauty and art are appreciated. The decisive condition is disinterestedness, that is, perception directed upon an object without, as in practical or cognitive activity, any purpose ulterior to the act of perception itself. In aesthetic theory so conceived, beauty is no longer the central concept. It now stands for just one kind of aesthetic experience among others, and it can be defined and analyzed only by reference to the logically more basic concept of aesthetic perception.

The introspective examination of our "ideas," stimulated by John Locke's Essay, discloses experiences that differ significantly, in their felt quality, from that of beauty. This century distinguished a great many other "species" of aesthetic response, but the most important was that of sublimity. Sublimity is profoundly unlike beauty, for whereas the latter arouses "joy" and "cheerfulness," the feeling of the sublime is "amazement" and awe. Still, most of the British hold that the two can coexist and that the experience of both is pleasurable. The most drastic distinction was drawn by Edmund Burke (1757), who argued that beauty and sublimity are, conceptually, mutually exclusive and, existentially, antithetical. He at the same time limited the range of beauty severely and pushed back the boundaries of the aesthetic to include a radically different kind of experience, which cannot be accommodated in the traditional category. Indeed Burke clearly considered the experience of sublimity to be the more valuable of the two. Both Moses Mendelssohn and Immanuel Kant read Burke and were greatly affected by him, and through their influence Burke's critique of beauty made a lasting impression on Continental thought.

Burke granted that a beautiful object arouses pleasure, but he argued that a sublime object, that is, one that is "terrible," even though it is apprehended disinterestedly, arouses "some degree of horror." Beauty "relaxes," but the experience of sublimity is of great emotional intensity. The two experiences are therefore incompatible with each other. Moreover, the properties that Burke attributed to sublime objects are just the opposites of those that the Philebus had enshrined in the classical conception of aesthetic value. Against clarity and lucidity, Burke urged that we are moved most greatly by what is "dark, uncertain, confused." In place of formal ordering, Burke eulogized what is "vast" and "infinite." The sublime therefore renders beauty "dead and unoperative." When beauty had been taken as the sole value category, ugliness, its contradictory, had necessarily been excluded from aesthetic value. Burke went so far as to suggest that even the ugly can be an object of aesthetic appreciation. In all this, he is pointing the way to the nineteenth-century and twentieth-century concept of expression, which, more catholic by far than classical beauty, admits a limitless diversity of subject matter, treatment, and form, if only the work of art be moving and powerful.

A comparable challenge to the classical values of order and serenity came from another direction. The historical study of art, pioneered by Johann Joachim Winckelmann (1764), disclosed that these values are found only in relatively limited epochs and styles, even, indeed, of Greek art itself. Later research emboldened the protest against the once unchallenged arbiters of classical and neoclassical criticism that they had identified selected stylistic properties of Greek and High Renaissance art with what is beautiful "naturally" and universally.

In the eighteenth century, also, the "logic" of beauty underwent a profound sea change. Francis Hutcheson (1725) announced a new locus for beauty: "Let it be observed, that in the following papers, the word beauty is taken for the idea raised in us. " It follows that any object whatever that does in fact excite this idea must be judged to be beautiful. But this invites the possibility of diverse and conflicting judgments that, if subjective response is the sole and decisive test, must all be accepted as equally valid. Are there, however, any properties peculiar to beautiful objects, which can be pointed to, to legitimate certain judgments and whose absence will show others to be mistaken? Hutcheson thought that there wasthe classical property of "uniformity in variety." Yet to be consistent with the definition of beauty with which he began, he had to guarantee that things possessing this property would uniquely and universally arouse the appropriate idea. It can be said summarily that he failed to do so, and his failure is instructive. It points up the tension between the old and the new ways of thinking, between taking beauty to be an inherent, nonrelational property and using beauty to refer to the capacity of things to evoke a certain experience. A capacity is not, however, an observable property in things like uniformity. It must be interpreted as either a very different sort of property or else it is not a property at all. David Hume drew out the radical implications of Hutcheson's initial meaning for beauty with the acute remark that Euclid described all of the properties of a circle, but beauty is not among them ("The Sceptic").

In general, the later British aestheticians did not take beautiful to denote a property. Necessarily, therefore, the logical status of the properties that they attribute to beautiful objectsproportion, utility, and so onis correspondingly altered. Such properties are no longer, as in the Philebus, either identical with, or the conditions of, a property of beauty. They are, rather, causes of the experience of beauty. Even so considered, however, the traditional formulas of beauty were brought under fire throughout the eighteenth century. Since the attribution of causes can be justified only by the evidence of their effects in experience, the British, arguing from the things that people do in fact find beautiful, showed that none of these properties are shared by all these things. There was also the more subtle and damning criticism that the traditional formula of "unity in variety" is simply devoid of meaning, because it applies indiscriminately to any object whatever. By the close of the century, Alison (1790) concluded that any attempt to find properties common and peculiar to beautiful objects is "altogether impossible." Finally it was suggested that "beautiful" is just "a general term of approbation" (Payne Knight, 1805).

The British thereby generated the problem that is central to Kant's Critique of Judgment (1790): How, if the aesthetic judgment arises from subjective feeling and predicates nothing of the object, can it claim to be more than an autobiographical report and can, indeed, claim to be universally binding?

The Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries

The most novel development in this period has been the attempt at a scientific approach to aesthetics. This has taken two forms, generally, and the status of beauty in each is worth noting. Psychological aesthetics applies experimental methods to aesthetic experience in an effort to work out "laws" of appreciation. These are to be derived from the consensus of pleasure and displeasure reported by the laboratory subject in the face of various objects. When beauty is used at all in speaking of these objects, as it was by Gustav Theodor Fechner (1876), it is a loose, omnium-gatherum term. The objectivist-formalist connotations of the word have made it increasingly unsatisfactory to later psychologists. Either they have stipulated that it refers to certain psychological responses (e.g., O. Külpe, 1921), or they have abandoned it in favor of the more apt "liberal and comprehensive" (E. Bullough, 1907) concept of "aesthetic value." The last decades of the nineteenth century also saw the rise of Kunstwissenschaft, which may be rendered as "the sciences of art," for it comprises historical, anthropological, and other empirical studies of art as a cultural product. One of the impulses to the development of this field was a pervasive dissatisfaction with beauty, either because it is too limited, if interpreted on the classical model, and cannot therefore encompass, for example, primitive art, or too vague, if it is not. Art, by contrast, is a concrete, institutional phenomenon that is tractable to science. Thus Kunstwissenschaft, which is at present one of the most thriving and fruitful branches of aesthetics, defines itself by opposition to the concept of beauty.

The distinction between the meaning of beauty when it is synonymous with aesthetic value generally and when it stands for one class or kind of such value has been commonly remarked in recent aesthetics. In the former sense, it is often used to signalize the characteristic excellence of a work of art or an aesthetic object. Thus beautiful does not denote a property such as symmetry but also it is more than just a "term of approbation." It makes a claim on behalf of the object, which must be supported by appealing to the relevant value criteria. These criteria need not, however, be the same for two different artistic media or even for two works in the same medium. They are, perhaps indefinitely, plural; they are of different weight in different cases, and no one of them can be said to be a necessary condition for the use of beautiful. Their relevance is determined by the unique character of each work. In its second meaning, beauty generally connotes a relatively high degree of value, in contrast to, for example, the pretty, a fairly orthodox style or genre, pleasure unmixed with pain and the absence of bizarre or discordant elements. But this is just why so much of recent aesthetics and ordinary discourse finds the word awkward or even irrelevant for evaluation. It will do for Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, but not the later Ludwig van Beethoven, for Raphael, but not Francisco de Goya. In the Philebus, Socrates had, for his own purposes, narrowed the range of beauty severely, but it was just this narrowness that made it impossible for later thought to preserve beauty as the sole, or perhaps even the major, concept of aesthetic value.

See also Addison, Joseph; Aesthetic Experience; Aesthetic Judgment; Aesthetic Qualities; Aesthetics, History of; Aesthetics, Problems of; Aristotle; Art, Value in; Burke, Edmund; Fechner, Gustav Theodor; Feminist Aesthetics and Criticism; Hume, David; Hutcheson, Francis; Kant, Immanuel; Locke, John; Mendelssohn, Moses; Plato; Plotinus; Properties; Tragedy; Ugliness; Winckelmann, Johann Joachim.


Bosanquet, Bernard. A History of Aesthetic. New York: Meridian, 1957. Fairly difficult but thoughtful and acute; sees the history of aesthetics as a movement from the concept of "unity in variety" to "significance, expressiveness."

Bullough, Edward. "The Modern Conception of Aesthetics." In Aesthetics, edited by E. Wilkinson. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1957. A vigorous polemic, by an able psychologist-philosopher, against the "sterile" effort to find a definition of "beauty"; the "modern conception" is the "study of aesthetic consciousness."

Carritt, E. F. The Theory of Beauty. London, 1931. A readable account, by a leading Crocean, of many of the major historical theories.

Kainz, Friedrich. Vorlesungen über Ästhetik. Vienna, 1948. Translated by Herbert Schueller as Aesthetics the Science. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1962. A valuable conspectus of the major tendencies in more recent Continental aesthetics; examines the relation between beauty and the aesthetic attitude.

Morpurgo-Tagliabue, Guido. L'esthétique contemporaine. Milan, 1960. An extremely comprehensive and well-documented study of aesthetics since 1800, weighted heavily on the twentieth century. Stresses the distinction between the theories of art and beauty.

Osborne, H. Theory of Beauty: An Introduction to Ethics. New York: Philosophical Library, 1953. Lucid and informed criticism of some of the major historical theories.

Stolnitz, Jerome. "'Beauty': Some Stages in the History of an Idea." Journal of the History of Ideas 22 (2) (AprilJune 1961): 185204. An analysis of the history of the concept in eighteenth-century British aesthetics. An extensive bibliography includes works by authors referred to above.

other recommended works

Brand, Peg Zeglin, ed. Beauty Matters. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2000.

Danto, Arthur C. The Abuse of Beauty: Aesthetics and the Concept of Art (Paul Carus Lectures). Chicago and LaSalle: Open Court, 2002.

Devereaux, Mary. "Beauty and Evil: The Case of Leni Riefenstahl's 'Triumph of the Will.'" In Aesthetics and Ethics: Essays at the Intersection, edited by Jerrold Levinson. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1998, pp. 227256.

Donoghue, Denis. Speaking of Beauty. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2004.

Eco, Umberto, et al. History of Beauty. Rizzoli International, 2004.

Guyer, Paul. Values of Beauty: Historical Essays in Aesthetics. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2005.

Hickey, Dave. The Invisible Dragon: Four Essays on Beauty. Los Angeles: Art Issues Press, 1993.

"Beauty" (several entries). In Encyclopedia of Aesthetics, edited by Michael Kelly. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998, pp. 237251.

Kieran, Matthew. Revealing Art. New York: Routledge, 2004.

Lorand, Ruth. Aesthetic Theory, Vol. 5: A Philosophy of Beauty and Art. New York: Routledge 2000.

Mattick, Paul. "Beautiful and Sublime: 'Gender Totemism" in the Constitution of Art." In Feminism and Tradition in Aesthetics, edited by Peggy Zeglin Brand and Carolyn Korsmeyer. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1995, pp. 2748.

Mothersill, Mary. Beauty Restored. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1984.

Prettejohn, Elizabeth. Beauty and Art. New York: Oxford University Press, 2005.

Sartwell, Crispin. Six Names of Beauty. New York: Routledge 2004.

Scarry, Elaine. On Beauty and Being Just. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1999.

Zangwell, Nick. "Beauty." In The Oxford Handbook of Aesthetics, edited by Jerrold Levinson. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003, pp. 323343.

Jerome Stolnitz (1967)

Bibliography updated by Mary Devereaux (2005)


views updated May 18 2018


Beauty as A Transcendental

The theory of the transcendental properties of being was formally expounded by Aristotle. Yet even before him thinkers had indicated the transcendentality of beauty, and later philosophers through the centuries have held the same view.

Ancient and Early Medieval Views. At least three pre-Aristotelian thinkers speak, more or less clearly, of the transcendentality of beauty, viz, Heraclitus, Socrates, and Plato. Of the three, heraclitus (H. Diels, Die Fragmente der Vorwokratiker: Griechisch und Deutsch, ed.W. Kranz, 22 B 102, 1:173) and socrates (Xenophon., Mem. 3.8.5, 7) assert that everything is both good and beautiful. plato teaches the same doctrine in two ways: indirectly, by teaching that whatever is good is beautiful (Lysis 216D, Tim. 87C) and that everything participates in the good (Rep. 517C); and directly, by holding that everything is made both good and beautiful (Tim. 53B).

Expounding his theory, Aristotle lists unity (Meta. 1003b 2223, 1054a 1319), truth (ibid. 993b 31), and goodness (Eth. Nic. 1096a 2324) as transcendental properties, but not beautya feature that has become just as characteristic of the Aristotelian tradition as the inclusion of beauty among the transcendentals is characteristic of the Platonic tradition. Among the Platonists, plotinus (Enn. 5.8.9, 6.6.18, 6.7.3132) adds beauty to the Aristotelian list of transcendentals, as do St. augustine (Civ. 11.4.2; Ver. relig. 20.40) and Pseudo-Dionysius, all of them maintaining that every being is both good and beautiful. In contrast, the more Aristotelian thinkers, such as boethius and the medieval Arabian philosophers, give lists of transcendentals that do not contain beauty. This procedure is the more conspicuous because Avicenna adds two new transcendentals (res and aliquid ) to those mentioned by Aristotle.

In two typically Platonic ways, pseudo-dionysius is an enduring model for medieval thought on transcendental beauty: indirectly, by stressing the real identity of beauty and goodness (De div. nom. 4.10, 7; Patrologia Graeca, ed. J. P. Migne, 3:705CD, 704AB) together with the goodness of God and all creatures; and directly, by teaching that God is beautiful by essence and every creature by participation (ibid. 4.7, 701C704B; 4.10, 708A; De cael. hier. 2.3, 141C). See also John Scotus Erigena, De div. nat., 4.16 and Hier. coel. 1.2 (Patrologia Latina, ed. J. P. Migne, 122:827D, 828C; 134), and hugh of saint-victor, In hier. coel. 2.1, and Didasc. 7.4 (Patrologia Latina 175:943944, 176:96061,815A).

High and Late Scholastic Theories. The influence of Pseudo-Dionysius continued long after the turn of the 13th century. For instance, the De bono et malo (1228) of william of auvergne stresses the identity of beauty and goodness at the level of both the divine and the creature, whereas thomas gallus of vercelli, in his commentary on De divinis nominibus (1242), teaches both this identity and the participation of all creatures in God's beauty. On the other hand, one finds St. anselm of can terbury considering truth and goodness as fundamental notions (De ver. 7, 10, 13; Patrologia Latina 158:475BC, 479A, 486BC) and dominic gundisalvi, a late 12th-century thinker strongly influenced by Boethius and by Arabian Aristotelianism, writing a treatise on unity, the third of Aristotle's transcendentals (De unitate et uno ). Even philip the chancellor omits beauty from his Summa de bono (c. 1230), which lists all three Aristotelian transcendentals.

Compromise Solution. There existed in this period, then, an age-old Neoplatonic and a revived Aristotelian line of thought on the transcendentals. The meeting of the two by way of a genial compromise is to be found in the so-called Summa fratris Alexandri a joint effort of al exander of hales, john of la rochelle, and other Franciscans. Their compromise consists of two seemingly clashing doctrines: an initial list of transcendentals containing only unity, truth, and goodness (Summa theologiae 1.1.2) and the proposal of a real identity and a merely conceptual difference between beauty and goodness (ibid. sol.). The latter part of this Franciscan compromise clearly conformed to and continued the old Neoplatonic (i.e., Augustinian and Dionysian) position, whereas the omission of beauty from the list of transcendentals and its treatment only as related to goodness were a concession to the ever-growing Aristotelianism of the times. And, as if to symbolize the relative strength of Neoplatonism over the Aristotelianism then current, the compromise itself was made in the spirit of Plato's Philebus, where the idea of beauty is treated as a mere component of the idea of goodness (65A).

This compromise was eventually adopted by Alexander's contemporaries, such as robert grosseteste (unpub. commentary on De div. nom.; see Pouillon, 28788), as well as by the leading thinkers within high scholasticism. Thus, both St. albert the great (Opusc. de pulchro et bono 11; Summa theologiae; sol.; Summa de bono 1.2.2 sol. 8, 9) and St. thomas aquinas (In Dion. de div. nom. 4.5; Summa theologiae 1a, 5.4 ad 1; 1a2ae, 27.1 ad 3) hold the real identity and virtual distinction of beauty and goodness, and imply thereby the transcendental coextension of beauty with being, although both (St. Albert in Summa theologiae 1.6 and St. Thomas in De ver. 1.1) omit beauty from their formal list of transcendental properties. St. Albert's disciple ulric of strassburg holds a similar position (Summa de bono 2.3.4).

Only a small group of Franciscans rejected the compromise formula. thomas of york (unpub. Sapientiale, c. 1260) and St. bonaventure unhesitatingly list beauty together with the other transcendentals (unpub. comm.; see Pouillon, 281), while also using traditional expressions for transcendental beauty (In 2 sent.; Itin. 2.10). Thus their philosophies represent the culmination of high scholasticism's concern with transcendental beauty; they were to find an isolated follower a century later in denis the carthusian (Tr. de venustate mundi et pulchritudine Dei 1, 3).

Status as a Transcendental. In this light no one can contest that Thomas of York and St. Bonaventure held the transcendentality of beauty. But whether the users of the above-described compromise, i.e., Alexander of Hales, St. Albert, and even St. Thomas, really regarded beauty as a transcendental has been both denied (G. Sanseverino, J. J. Urráburu, D. J. Mercier, P. M. de Munninck, C. Boyer, etc.) and defended (J. Jungmann, J. Maritain, É. H. Gilson, G. B. Phelan, T. C. Donlan, C.A. Hart, J. Owens, etc.). What, then, is the truth?

The Aristotelian and high scholastic criteria for a transcendental property are three: predicability of every being; logical posteriority to being, i.e., by the addition of a logical note, or general mode, to being; and coextension and convertibility. Now, the Summa fratris Alexandri ( ad 3;, St. Albert (Summa theologiae ad 8; sol.), and St. Thomas (In Dion. de div. nom. 4.5; Summa theologiae 1a, 36.2) agree that both God and creatures are beautiful. They all hold also that the beautiful is cognitively delightful and, as such, directly subsequent to the good (Summa theologiae; sol.; St. Albert, Summa theologiae and sol.; St. Thomas, Summa theologiae 1a2ae, 27.1 ad 3; 1a, 5.4 ad 1; De ver. 21.3). Finally, they hold coextension and convertibility either implicitly, through the real identity and virtual distinction of beauty and goodness, or explicitly (St. Thomas, In Dion. de div. nom. 4.22; De ver. 22.1 ad 12; Summa theologiae 1a, 5.4 ad 1). Therefore, the only difference between them and Bonaventure is that they do not, whereas Bonaventure does, explicitly list beauty among the transcendentals. Some hold that this reasoning establishes that these thinkers held beauty to be a transcendental notion only and not a transcendental property of being (see thing). Yet any such distinction is of much later origin and is doctrinally difficult to maintain, since nothing but being itself can be the sufficient reason for any transcendental predicability.

John duns scotus does not adopt St. Thomas's compromise treatment of transcendental beauty, nor does he share St. Bonaventure's deep concern with the same. Instead, he stands closest to St. Albert, for both of them add new transcendentals to the traditional list (St. Albert, honestum and decorum; Scotus, the disjunctive transcendentals), and both reject at least one of the Avicennian additions on St. Thomas's list. They differ, however, in their treatment of beauty: St. Albert often and clearly speaks of beauty as a transcendental, whereas Scotus never goes beyond some cryptic remarks (e.g., Quodlib. 18.1 schol.; De prim. princ. 3.19) that are difficult to evaluate.

This antitranscendentalist tendency concerning beauty is further strengthened by the interpretation proposed by Tommaso de Vio cajetan of a crucial text in St. Thomas's philosophy of beauty (Summa theologiae 1a2ae, 27.1 ad3) as meaning that beauty is a species of goodness. Since the species is less universal than its genus, the implication is clear: St. Thomas did not hold beauty to be a transcendental. Owing to Cajetan's great authority, this view became widely accepted, although it ignored such Thomistic texts as "truth is the good of the intellect" (De ver. 1.10 ad 4 in contr.; Summa theologiae 1a2ae, 57.2 ad 3) and "truth is a kind of goodness; and goodness, a kind of truth" (De ver. 3.3 ad 9; De mal. 6.1). Thus, F. de toledo, commenting on a parallel text (Summa theologiae 1a, 5.4 ad 1), does not mention transcendental beauty as an obvious fourth conclusion of the text, and john of st. thomas treats only of the three Aristotelian transcendental properties of being. In the meantime, F. suÁrez, himself an antitranscendentalist, introduced the distinction between transcendental notions and transcendental properties of being (Disp. meta. 3.2.1)a doctrine that eventually became an additional basis for antitranscendentalist positions concerning beauty.

These, then, were the factors leading to the virtually universal rejection of transcendental beauty among the schoolmen of the Renaissance and modern times down to the rebirth of scholasticism after the encyclical Aeterni Patris (1879).

Neoscholastic Positions. Following the example of some isolated textbook authors (Sanseverino, D. Palmieri, T. Zigliara, etc.), the author of the first elaborate neoscholastic aesthetics, Josef jungmann, declared beauty to be a transcendental property [Ästhetik (Freiburg im Breisgau 1884) 161]. Although his position was moderate on the question, it elicited a strong negative reaction lead by Urráburu [Ontologia (Vallisoleti 1891) 53541]. Thus began the neoscholastic controversy over the transcendentality of beauty that divided contemporary schoolmen into the transcendentalists, the antitranscendentalists, and the undecided.

The antitranscendentalists are represented by at least three currents of thought. One version consists in explicitly rejecting transcendental beauty on historical (Urráburu, De Munninck), practical (S. Reinstadler, M. de Wulf, E. de Bruyne, C. Frick), or speculative grounds (T. Pesch, F. van Steenberghen, C. N. Bittle). A less immoderate version asserts that a list of transcendentals not including beauty is complete, without explicitly denying, however, the transcendentality of beauty (T. Harper, Mercier, J. Gredt). The most moderate version does not assert the completeness of the list of transcendentals not containing beauty, nor does it raise the question of transcendental beauty at all when treating other transcendentals or beauty itself (S. Tongiorgi, M. Liberatore, K. Gutberlet).

The second main group of modern schoolmen appreciate the arguments of both sides and, consequently, are undecided. Some of them raise the question of transcendental beauty but leave it unanswered or otherwise express their uncertainty over the true answer (J. Donat, A.G. Sertillanges, H. Carpenter, R. J. Kreyche). Others show their indecision by making statements some of which endorse, others reject, transcendental beauty (F. Egger, J. Rickaby). Others again resort to a compromise formula, referring to beauty as a quasitranscendental or something similar (E. R. Baschab, A. Dupeyrat).

The transcendentalists, who seem presently to constitute the majority, express their position either implicitly (J. S. Hickey, R. Spiazzi) or explicitly, and in the latter case, either with or without qualification. Those who qualify the transcendentality of beauty distinguish between fundamental and formal transcendentality (P. Coffey), transcendentality in the broad and strict sense (A. Rother), transcendental notion and transcendental property of being (H. Grenier, F. X. Maquart), transcendental properties not to be listed and those to be listed separately (Jungmann, H. J. Koren, Boyer, M. Vaske), essential or specific and accidental or individual (A. Stöckl, E. Hugon, L. Callahan), and metaphysical and sensible transcendentality (J. B. Lotz, R. E. McCall, Owens), and concede beauty to be a transcendental in the former but not in the latter senses. Another and much larger group of transcendentalists assert without further qualification that beauty is a transcendental property of being with a unique relation to the intellect and to the will (M. de Maria, V. Remer, L. Baur, P. J. Wébert, Maritain, Phelan, L. de Raeymaeker, E. Chapmann, J. F. McCormick, H. Renard, J. Aumann, G. Esser, G. P. Klubertanz, D. J. Sullivan, Hart, Gilson, J. A. Peter, etc.).

See Also: transcendentals.

Bibliography: l. de raeymaeker, Metaphysica generalis, 2v. (new ed. Louvain 1935). h. pouillon, "La Beauté, proprieré transcendentale chez la scholastique (12201270)," Archives d'histoire doctrinale et littéraire du moyen-âge 15 (1946) 263314. f. j. kovach, "The Transcendentality of Beauty in Thomas A.," Die Metaphysik im Mittelalter, ed. p. wilpert (Miscellanea media-evalia 2; Berlin 1963); Die Ästhetik des Thomas v. A. (Berlin 1961) 510, 2024, 182214.

[f. j. kovach]


views updated May 18 2018

beauty In Greek mythology, Paris was called to judge who of three goddesses, Aphrodite, Hera, and Pallas Athene, was the fairest. Eris, the goddess of discord, started the trouble when she appeared at a wedding, and threw a golden apple inscribed ‘For the Fairest’. The result was a disrupted wedding and later a war, as Paris abducted Helen to Troy. The gods were unable to make the decision, and Paris' task was not easy. Hera offered him wealth and power, and Athene promised honour and glory, but the ultimate bribe came from Aphrodite: with the promise of Helen, the most beautiful woman on earth, for his wife, Paris ended this beauty contest in favour of Aphrodite.

Like the ancient Greeks, we moderns ascribe high value to beauty and, like them, we have been unable to determine the concept of beauty, despite the fact that Miss Universe, Miss World, and a variety of other beauty contests are staged annually. With the contest still undecided, almost everybody is involved in the pursuit of beauty, and the huge profits of the beauty industry testify to its economic importance. Its significance for the individual can be judged by the time spent in the gym and in front of the mirror, and by the problems that arise from experiencing failure in this pursuit.

Bodily beauty can be defined as the deeply pleasurable experience of someone else's or one's own body. While the beauty of a person might include the person's character, spiritual quality, intelligence, and morals, the beauty of a person's body generally will not. Bodily beauty can be perceived through any of the five senses, and may be concerned with parts of the body, the whole body, or movements. Usually, however, beauty of the body refers to the visual impression of someone's body as a whole.

The origins of interest in bodily beauty were explained by Sigmund Freud, the founder of modern psychology, as being sexual drives: through a transformation, sexual attraction is moved away from the primary sexual characteristics (reproductive organs) and instead to the secondary sexual characteristics (e.g. women's more rounded forms and breasts; men's facial hair and deeper voices).

An anthropological explanation for the human interest in beauty has been offered by Robert Brain: human beings want to set themselves apart from non-humans, and therefore make alterations to the body that animals would not be capable of making. Admiration turns these alterations into marks of beauty. Exactly which alterations are admired depends on cultural preferences. Beautification strategies of one culture might, in another culture, be perceived as mutilations and as marks of ugliness. Body decorations can also mark the successful initiation or the identity of a person. But making a difference between humans and non-humans is, according to Brain, basic to those scarifications, tattooings, and colourings of the body that are associated with beauty.

Cultural variations in ideals

Neither the psychological nor the anthropological approaches above can explain the variety over time and between different societies as to what is considered beautiful. All in all, this variation makes a strong case against the idea of some universal components of beauty.

Ideals of beauty vary between and within societies: values, norms, and tastes differ from group to group; the different sexes are used for constituting different genders; and relations of power, e.g. between genders, ethnic groups, and classes, make one ideal of beauty dominant over others. Western cultures have attributed beauty to women to the point where it is difficult to talk of the beauty of men's bodies. The nineteenth-century term for describing a pleasant appearance in a man was neither ‘handsome’ nor ‘good-looking’, but ‘manly’, since beauty was reserved for women, and today ‘real men’ might be ‘handsome’ or ‘good-looking’, but ‘beautiful’ is considered too effeminate. The ancient Greeks were especially attentive to the beauty of young men's bodies, and the Nuba of Sudan and the Wodaabe men in Niger also have no difficulty in associating men and beauty. Indeed, the latter stage a beauty contest for men, gerewol, to express their special birthright of beauty and their true identity among African people.

The male beauties of the Wodaabe people in Niger challenge any Euro-American attempt to argue for the universality of beauty criteria, and point to the importance of ethnicity. To beautify themselves, the men apply yellow colour to their faces in order to lighten them, draw a line from the forehead to the tip of the nose to make the latter appear longer; blacken their lips; and, at the height of their striving for beauty, squint at the women. Taking the ethnic perspective further, the Nuba of Sudan found little beauty in the appearance of the English anthropologist James Faris; he had a beard, hair on his arms, and white skin. All were appalling features to a people to whom well-groomed hair, a smooth body, and a deep, rich black colour are central ingredients of the body beautiful. Indeed, to the Nuba it was shaving that distinguished humans from animals, and he appropriately got the nickname wõte — monkey.

The ethnic component also emerges in the Miss America, Miss World, and Miss Universe contests, which have been strongly hampered by the fact that the finalists and winners are predominantly women with white skin and Caucasian features. Women from other ethnic groups have had little chance of winning these contests, organized by white Euro-Americans, until recently.

Spiritual significance

The importance of bodily beauty has also varied through times and across societies. In Western culture the distinction between the material and the immaterial body, body and soul, and the values that have been attached to them have been central to how beauty was regarded. To the ancient Greeks a beautiful body reflected a beautiful soul and proximity to the gods. To the Gnostics (largely covering the first three to four centuries ad) the divine psychic body was caged in a physical body made by beastly creatures from the underworld. They renounced the material body and sexual drives, and strove for asceticism. In the early Christian era, where a dualism between soul and body prevailed, beauty was considered good if its appeal was spiritual and internal, but evil if its attraction was sexual and carnal. In medieval times the body and the flesh were associated with sin and women, and the immaterial soul with the divine. Thus an ethereal body ideal prevailed for women. Today, Euro-Americans seem to have gone back to an intense interest in beauty, but with a reversal of its significance: work-outs, jogging, and body-building do not any longer reflect a healthy soul, but are assumed to produce one. Further, whereas the ancient Greeks included ethics and cosmological harmony in their beautiful soul, Euro-Americans generally assume the healthy soul to be one that is up to the task of meeting the daily requirements of productive living.

A contrast to Western ideals of beauty and the importance assigned to them can be found in the study on body ideals for women in Fiji, in the South Pacific, by anthropologist Anne E. Becker. She found that the disparity between what Fijian women themselves identified as the most attractive body shape, and their actual robust appearance, did not pose a problem to them. Most women either thought that they should maintain their present weight, or actually increase it. Anne Becker explains the difference by distinguishing between an ideal of attractiveness, mainly concerned with sexuality and youth, and an ideal based on norms for what women and society ought to be like. In Fiji a robust body indicates a woman, or a man for that matter, who is embedded in a well-functioning network of family and friendship relations. This body, taken to indicate the successful practice of caring and sharing, is more important than the body of attractiveness.

Furthermore, since the Fijian body is primarily seen as constituted through the network of social relations in which the person takes part, beauty is the result of a collective effort and not, as in Western societies, an individual achievement. As a corollary, the body in Fiji was not seen as something that could be worked on and moulded. It is almost unnecessary to mention that no cases of eating disorders, such as anorexia or bulimia, were found in Fiji.

Changing western concepts

Of course, the slim, firm, and muscular body ideal for women which prevails in the West today, along with the tall thinness of models, are only the latest in the history of Euro-American body ideals. The rise in the sixteenth century of Neoplatonism, which saw concrete forms as expressions of divine ideas, and, as a corollary, saw the body as an expression of the soul, led to higher appreciation of beauty and a change in the ideal. As intelligence and force were divine gifts of the male body, beauty was the divine gift of the female body. Thus female beauty changed from being dangerous to being divine, and the previous ethereal female was succeeded by large, opulent beauties. During the eighteenth century this majestic type was superseded by a more slender and younger ideal for women, while the former, maternal type was denigrated to the status of ‘peasant’ beauty. This sylph-like early Victorian woman was followed by the voluptuous mid Victorian woman and the Edwardian woman of the late nineteenth century. Where the Victorians stressed a curvaceous hourglass figure, with a full bosom, small waist, and wide hips, the Edwardian woman was taller, weighed more, and had a larger bosom, but somewhat slimmer hips. Thinness was out of vogue and thin women were told to cover their ‘angles’.

Shortly before World War I a slender and serpentine type with smaller breasts, slimmer hips, and long legs was fashionable. This ‘boyish’ and youthful ideal reigned during the 1920s, succeeded by a sensual and voluptuous ideal in the 1930s. The ‘boyish’ and the 1930s fuller figure persisted throughout the 1950s until the thin look of the 1960s came to dominate. Since then thinness has reigned, with no come-back of the maternal ideal. Changes have taken place within the ideal of thinness, however. Today a woman does not only have to be slim, she has to have a compact, muscular look only achievable through weekly hours of exercise.

The above outline of the changing ideals of women in Europe concentrates on dominant ideology, and suggests a linear succession of different ideals, but the situation is, in reality, more complex. At any given point in time, there will be several competing ideals of beauty. One example, also providing an opportunity to make a small note on the opposite sex, could be mid-nineteenth century North America, where a number of alternative beauty ideals for men coexisted. There was the Byronic man, sensitive and heroic — especially popular amongst young men of the 1830s and 1840s, and modelled after Lord Byron with his leonine head, fair skin, and a body which was regularly subjected to dieting. At the same time, the muscular man of height and physical prowess existed; and a third ideal developed in the 1860s with the portly, rotund man, partner of the voluptuous female beauty, signalling maturity after the dislocating experiences of the Civil War in America and displaying his success in business. By the end of the century, however, the dominant ideal again became youthful, and now associated with the well-trained bodies of sportsmen. Classifying these ideals into the Byronic, the Muscular, and the Solid Man, these models of maleness are also found today.

The changing ideals of both men's and women's beauty is linked to society's perception of appropriate gender roles. The shifts from the maternal, robust body of the mid and late Victorian ages, to the slender ideal of the 1920s, to the compact, slim body of the present reflect changes in the perception of the proper role for women: from mother and caretaker of house and home, through the independent young women of the 1920s, to the active professional and disciplined women of the present.

Beauty, however, does not only relate to the ideal roles ascribed to men and women, but is part of ongoing social identification processes: a person might strive towards a certain ideal to signal man- or motherhood, or independence, but might also be judged differently by others. Furthermore, the interpretation of a body also changes with the context: a woman's thin, muscular body might be seen as representing the disciplined, independent, and professional woman of the 1990s, but seen next to the muscular body of a man she could still represent the fragility and vulnerability of woman.

The ideals of beauty today are defined through different perspectives as the healthy body, the athletic body, the muscular body, the natural body, the aesthetically pleasing body, etc. These ideals do not necessarily overlap. Eating healthy food, getting enough sleep, and having a daily walk might result in a healthy body, but would not produce a muscular body. Doing sports and being fit might result in an athletic body, but would not necessarily produce a healthy or a muscular body. The ideals might even be contradictory, since it is questionable to what extent it is ‘natural’ to spend hours in the gym to achieve a muscular body, and since the aesthetically pleasing body might be so thin as to threaten health. This is a crucial current issue where ‘Even Thinner-ness’ has become the ideal.

Bringer of happiness, enchantress, or femme fatale? In the intricacies of beauty are promises of happiness and prospects of disruption. Politics of power, gender, ethnicity, and culture are still, millennia away from the Greek gods, part of the indulgence that beauty incites.

Claus Bossen


Banner, L. W. (1983). American beauty. Alfred Knopf, New York.
Becker, A. E. (1995). Body, self, and society. The view from Fiji University of Pennsylvania Press, Philadelphia.
Brain, R. (1979). The decorated body. Hutchinson and Co., London.
Lakoff, R. B. and and Scherr, R. L. (1984). Face value. The politics of beauty. Routledge and Kegan Paul, Boston.

See also beauty contests; body building; body decoration; eating disorders; female form.


views updated May 08 2018


Beauty, according to the ancient Greek philosopher Plato (c. 427347 b.c.e.), is the most accessible of the Forms. Forms are transcendent sources of the essential qualities of things, the qualities that make things what they are. The proper relation among these qualities, their harmony, is what makes a thing beautiful. We are naturally drawn to beautiful things, wanting to possess them and to perpetuate their beauty in creations of our own. Our love of beauty leads us to seek it in increasingly more enduring forms of enjoyment and creation: from particular physical objects to friends and children, to public institutions and societal laws, to scientific theories and philosophical systems, and finally to Beauty itself. Thus Beauty is the harmonizing structure that give things their integrity, we desire it above all else, and in its presence we are able to create things of enduring worth. It is both the measure of our good and the enkindling agent for its accomplishment. Western notions of beauty since Plato are but a series of footnotes to these linked notions.

Objective interpretations

Aristotle emphasizes the notion of structure: The beauty of a thing lies in its formal and final causes, in the imposition of appropriate ordering principles of symmetry and unity upon indeterminate matter. He argues that for a work of art, such as a tragedy, to be excellent it must adhere to proper unities of time, place, and narrative sequence. Plotinus (205270 c.e.) emphasizes the notion of beauty's lure, the ascent by its means to the timeless. Beauty is not merely symmetry and unity; it is a power irradiating them, for which we yearn and through which we can transcend that about us which is perishing. The early Christian theologian Augustine of Hippo (354430 c.e.) identifies this power as God, through the beauty of whose Word our restless selves find salvation's rest.

Hence in Christianity, as in most religions, the actions and objects associated with worship are as beautifully crafted as possible, their beauty having the power to draw believers into the presence of the holy. Islam excludes the use of images, however, as did early radical Protestantism, finding them distractions rather than inducements. Contrast, for example, the severe elegance of Islam's Dome of the Rock mosque, or a clear-windowed New England Puritan church with the sculptured figures on the facade of the Roman Catholic cathedral at Chartres, or the ballet of icons and censors at a Russian Orthodox Eucharist.

Thomas Aquinas uses the beauty people see in the world around them, their sense of how things fit together, as a proof for the existence of God. Because they act together so as to attain the best result, they must be directed by a purposive being, as the arrow is directed by the archer. The ultimate source of such purposiveness is God. In the eighteenth century, William Paley (17431805) revived Aquinas's "argument from design," adapting it to the natural order described by Newtonian science. The well-ordered mechanistic intricacy of the world results from laws that cannot be fortuitous: the precision of a watch entails a watchmaker; the precision of the universe entails a God. People were no longer brought into God's presence through beauty, but from the beauty of nature at least it could be inferred that there must be a God who had created it.

The tendency since the rise of modern science, however, is to claim that nonsensible principles such as Beauty, although still timeless and necessary, are no longer understood as supernatural: they are the laws of nature. The Enlightenment philosophe Denis Diderot (17131784), for instance, defines beauty as the relations things possess by virtue of which we are able to understand nature in its genuine objectivity. Classicism in the arts is the claim that the timeless laws manifest in nature imply that there are rules derivable from those laws that apply to each artistic genre and that only if those rules are respected will the artist's work be beautiful. Similarly, scientists often argue that a machine works beautifully if it has been well designed, if its parts operate so that it fulfills its function smoothly and efficiently. The laws governing what works beautifully are themselves beautiful, and therefore laws that lack beauty are not likely to be adequate descriptions of what works. In this sense, a criterion of simplicity is often included in the conditions by which to assess a scientific hypothesis. For many purposes, Ptolemy's (90168 c.e.) astronomy may be descriptively and predictively accurate, but its array of circles and epicycles are unnecessarily complicated and mathematically awkward compared to Johannes Kepler's (15711630) elegant ellipses. As William of Ockham (c. 1280c. 1349) insisted, one should not multiply theoretical entities beyond necessity. Truth and Beauty, it would seem, have much in common after all.

Many thinkers, however, including most non-Western theorists, reject the notion that beauty is a universal objective reality. They argue that it is different in each of its instances. Beauty is the unique character of a thing, the way in which its specific elements are specifically related. The creation or the study of beautiful things is not a science but an art: conducting a tea ceremony, achieving inner peace through meditation or in action, freeing a statue from the marble block, telling an edifying story. For G. E. Moore (18731958), beauty is undefinable precisely because it is particular; it can only be directly experienced, like seeing the color red. Contemporary philosopher Mary Mothersill argues that a judgment of beauty is a logically singular judgment, based on radically contextual properties.

Subjective interpretations

Although there have always been those who claim that beauty is only in the eye of the beholder, modern science and the Cartesian separation of mind and body combined to reserve objectivity for physical bodies and their publicly-verifiable quantitative features. Beauty was therefore relegated to the realm of private mental things, to ideas and the sentiments. The Scottish philosopher David Hume (17111776) says that beauty is a matter of taste, a disinterested pleasure we take in certain of our sensations. The twentieth-century American poet and philosopher George Santayana (18631952) says beauty is pleasure objectified: pleasure experienced as the quality of a thing, our subjective responses projected onto their source.

The extreme version of subjectivism is found in the claim by C. K. Ogden and I. A. Richards, made in the 1950s, that aesthetic judgments have no truth functional significance: They are neither true nor false but rather emotive ejaculations akin to saying "wow." Marxist and Postmodernist forms of relativism make this subjectivism a function of race, ethnicity, religion (ideology), economic class, political power, or gender, critiquing objectivity claims as attempts to hide their self-serving character.

People often agree about what is beautiful, however, so even if beauty is a subjective feeling it can be argued that it has an objective cause. In the eighteenth century, the philosopher Francis Hutcheson (16941746), for instance, argued that on the basis of our sense perceptions we discern by a sixth sense a uniformity pervading their variety and call our pleasure in this beauty. Immanuel Kant (17241804) calls this sixth sense our common sense. As with all our other experiences, the experience of beauty involves both intuition and understanding, both sensations and concepts. But whereas for scientific and practical purposes the concepts are imposed on the sensations, ordering them meaningfully, when we experience something as beautiful we allow the free play of imagination to associate our perceptions with notions of meaning yet without their being imposed. We take what we experience as fraught with meaning but not any specifiable meaning. We take delight in this experience and so appreciate the world as involving more than what we can know about it or achieve by our actions upon it. Because these judgments involve conceptual and intuitive faculties that are the same for all human beings, they can be valid for others as well as ourselves: We have a common sense of beauty and hence our disputes about it can be rationally resolved.

Back to Plato

So Kant opens a way other than through politics, or religion, or scientific or philosophical theorizing for getting at the deeper realities underlying the world as it appears to usthrough aesthetic appreciation and through the creation of works of art. Thus in the nineteenth century, Alexander Baumgarten (17141762) claimed that beauty is the sensory recognition of a transcendent unifying perfection. In the twentieth century, Martin Heidegger (18891976) argued that the beauty of a work of art, by disclosing the workly character of things, unconceals the creative source of the world's beings, their Being. We are back once more with Plato: There is a nonsensuous Reality disclosed by sensuous beauty, toward which we are drawn because of Beauty's power to break us free from the constraints of scientific understanding and our practical endeavors, to open us to the Good they obscure.

See also Aesthetics; Kant, Immanuel; Order; Plato; Value


heidegger, martin. "the origin of the work of art." in philosophies of art and beauty, eds. albert hofstadter and richard kuhns. new york: modern library, 1964.

kant, immanuel. the critique of judgment (1790), trans. j. h. bernard. new york: haefner, 1951.

mothersill, mary. beauty restored. oxford: clarendon press, 1984.

ogden, c.k. and richards, i. a. the meaning of meaning: the influence of language upon thought and of the science of symbolism. new york: harcourt, brace, 1959.

plato. symposium, trans. alexander nehamas and paul woodruff. in plato: complete works, ed. john m. cooper. indianapolis, ind.: hackett, 1997.

plotinus. the enneads, trans. stephen mackenna. london: faber and faber, 1969.

santayana, george. the sense of beauty: being the outlines of aesthetic theory (1896). cambridge, mass.: mit press, 1988.

watts, alan. the spirit of zen: a way of life, work, and art in the far east. new york: grove press, 1960.

george allan


views updated May 18 2018

beau·ty / ˈbyoōtē/ • n. (pl. -ties) 1. a combination of qualities, such as shape, color, or form, that pleases the aesthetic senses, esp. the sight: I was struck by her beauty. ∎  a combination of qualities that pleases the intellect or moral sense. ∎  denoting something intended to make a woman more attractive: beauty products.2. a beautiful or pleasing thing or person, in particular: ∎  a beautiful woman. ∎  an excellent specimen or example of something: the fish was a beauty, around 14 pounds. ∎  [in sing.] the best feature or advantage of something: the beauty of keeping cats is that they don't tie you down. ORIGIN: Middle English: from Old French beaute, based on Latin bellus ‘beautiful, fine.’


views updated May 29 2018

61. Beauty

  1. Aglaia one of the Graces; embodiment of comeliness. [Gk. Myth.: Brewer Dictionary, 481]
  2. Blodenwedd created from oak flowers and meadowsweet. [Welsh Lit.: Mabinogion ]
  3. cowslip symbol of beauty. [Flower Symbolism: Jobes, 377]
  4. Euphrosyne one of the Graces; epitome of beauty in joy. [Gk. Myth.: Brewer Dictionary, 481]
  5. Graces three daughters of Zeus and Eurynome; goddesses of charm and beauty. [Gk. Myth.: Howe, 61]
  6. hibiscus symbol of beauty. [Flower Symbolism: Flora Symbolica, 174]
  7. Hora Quirini goddess of loveliness. [Rom. Myth.: Kravitz, 44]
  8. lilies of the field more splendidly attired than Solomon. [N.T.: Matthew 6:2829; Luke 12:2731]
  9. Mondays child fair of face. [Nurs. Rhyme: Opie, 309]
  10. peri beautiful fairylike creatures, guided way to heaven. [Pers. Myth.: Brewer Dictionary, 822]
  11. Thalia one of the Graces; bestowed charm on others. [Gk. Myth.: Brewer Dictionary, 481]
  12. Ugly Duckling scorned as unsightly, grows to be graceful swan. [Dan. Fairy Tale: Andersens Fairy Tales ]
  13. white camellia symbol of beauty. [Flower Symbolism: Jobes, 281]


views updated Jun 27 2018

38. Beauty

the beautification of a person, usually a male.
aesthetician, esthetician
1. a specialist in aesthetics.
2. a proponent of aestheticism.
aestheticism, estheticism
the doctrine that the principles of beauty are basic and that other principles (the good, the right) are derived from them, applied especially to a late 19th-century movement to bring art into daily life. See also 23. ART .
aesthetics, esthetics
a branch of philosophy dealing with beauty and the beautiful. aesthetic, n., adj. aesthetical, adj.
the art or practice of the beautification of the skin, hair, or nails. cosmetologist, n. cosmetological, adj.
a lover of beauty. philocaly, n.
physical beauty, especially that of women. pulchritudinous, adj.


views updated Jun 27 2018

beauty Beauty and the Beast a fairy story by the French writer for children Madame de Beaumont (1711–80), translated into English in 1757. In the story Beauty, the youngest daughter of a merchant, goes to live in the Beast's palace and agrees to marry him; she discovers that he is a prince who has been put under a spell, which is destroyed by her love for him, and her ability to see his true worth beneath the hideous exterior.
beauty draws with a single hair great beauty has a power of attraction often shown as outdoing physical strength; saying recorded from the late 16th century.
beauty is in the eye of the beholder beauty is not judged objectively, but according to the beholder's estimation. The proverb is recorded in English from the mid 18th century, but an earlier related saying in Greek of the 3rd century bc, ‘for in the eyes of love that which is not beautiful often seems beautiful,’ is found in the Idylls of the Hellenistic poet Theocritus (c.300–260 bc).
beauty is only skin deep physical beauty is no guarantee of a good character or temperament; saying recorded from the early 17th century.


views updated May 29 2018

beauty XIII. ME. bealte, beaute — OF. be(a)lte, biaute (mod. beauté) :- Rom. *bellitāt-, f. L. bellus; see BEAU, -TY.
Hence beautiful XV, beautify XVI.