What is the Nature of Beauty? Whether subjective or objective?
Nature of Beauty
There are many debates in the world which are unanswered even after centuries of arguing and reasoning over them. One of such debates is that what the nature of beauty is? Whether beauty is subjective or objective? The concept of Beauty comes under the branch of philosophy called aesthetics, which deals with questions of beauty and artistic nature. Philosophers seem to have a wide variety in their opinions regarding the concept of beauty.
The Greek philosophers Socrates and Plato are considered to be first at attempting to define beauty. They thought that objects or nature is inherently beautiful i.e. beauty is inside an object. Socrates felt that aesthetics was a form of purity. Things that are pure.
within themselves evoke pleasure, thus beauty. Plato writes that proportions constitute beauty (Philebus). Aristotle associates beauty with order and size in his book Poetics, and with symmetry and definiteness in Metaphysics.
Hutcheson, in his book, “An Inquiry into the Original of our Ideas of Beauty and Virtue”, defines beauty as a source of pleasure that indicates not only qualities found in the object. But also the character of the spectator’s sense of beauty (Hutcheson, 1725)
Hume, in his book, “A Treatise of Human Nature”, defines beauty as an expression of a subjective order that reflects our nature, customs, or capricious inclinations (Hume, 1740).
By analyzing all the viewpoints given above by different philosophers. It can be inferred that they had majorly two approaches towards the nature of beauty. One is the objective approach; when one says that beauty exists as itself in its intrinsic value, this is what we call as an objective nature of beauty i.e. beauty is in the object.
However, the other perspective is that beauty is subjective. Beauty is not the quality of the object but it is an experience of our own. i.e. “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder”, as said by Margaret Wolfe Hungerford in her book, Molly Bawn. This major distinction has been the topic of debate and discussion since centuries, in the branch of aesthetics.
In my opinion, the nature of beauty cannot be entirely subjective or entirely objective. Because if any of these absolute viewpoints are considered, the beauty will lose its beauty. It will have no importance, value, joy or delight in it. The beholder will be deprived of the beauty in his eyes, and the object of its quality.
When we look around in the world and find something beautiful. We also experience some emotions regarding it. For example, after seeing a sunset, a classic painting or a garden with bloomy flowers, a person may feel pleasant and fascinated by the beauty in it.
This association between a beaytiful object and consequent feelings shows that beauty is not merely a property of an object. But it is also related with the beholder. As Hutcheson wrote, beauty is a source of pleasure that indicates not only qualities found in the object. But also the character of the spectator’s sense of beauty (Hutcheson, 1725).
A famous philosopher of 18th century, David Hume, wrote an essay “Of the Standard of Taste” focused on subjectivity of beauty. According to him, “Beauty is no quality in things themselves. It exists merely in the mind which contemplates them; and each mind perceives a different beauty” (Hume, 1757). But if we say that beauty is entirely subjective and has nothing to do with the object, then in this case the concept of beauty will lose its charm and delight. And it will remain only a subject to individual’s interpretation, losing its intrinsic value.
Another philosopher, Immanuel Kant wrote “Critique of Judgment”, which is believed to be the first systematic analysis of the aesthetic phenomenon in modern philosophy. He believed in subjective-objective approach towards the nature of beauty. Kant pointed out that neither pure impression nor pure thinking affords an adequate aesthetic experience. Only their combined action can do so. Among the four elements of the pleasure evoked by beauty, proposed by Kant, one is:
The pleasure of the beautiful raises expectations for universal agreement. It is cognized as the object of a necessary liking (Kalar, 2006).
This shows that besides the individual differences in our judgment. There is also a standard according to which we categorize something as beautiful and seek others to agree with us and share the same delight. For example, despite the cultural and religious variations across the world. People recognize some universal values like morality, truth, honesty as good or beautiful.
In philosophy, beauty is always believe to be an aesthetic experience. This experience would be incomplete. If we focus on just one side of it. The individual’s interpretation of an object as beautiful and on the other hand. The quality lying in the object, will combine to complete this aesthetic experience.
Thus, the connection between the object and subject is necessary in the experience of beauty. As Sartwell in his book, “Six Names of Beauty”, attributes beauty neither exclusively to the subject nor to the object. But to the relation between them, and even more widely also to the situation or environment in which they are both embed.
He points out that when we attribute beauty to the night sky. For instance, we do not take ourselves simply to be reporting a state of pleasure in ourselves; we are turned outward toward it; we are celebrating the real world. On the other hand, if there were no perceivers capable of experiencing such things, there would be no beauty. Beauty, rather, emerges in situations in which subject and object are juxtaposed and connected (Startwell, 2004).
Of all the creatures in the universe, human beings have a special ability to see beauty in things and ponder upon them. As Rumi says, “Everything that is made beautiful and fair and lovely is made for the eye of one who sees.”
This ability in human beings is a gift of the Creator. He not only made the creation beautiful, but also blessed us with the sense of beauty to see and admire His creation.In conclusion, it seems that beauty has both objective and subjective nature. One aspect cannot be isolate from the other. It is a two way process. When a person says that something is beautiful, there must be some quality in that object. which has made him believe in that way. On the other hand, if we say that the object is itself beautiful. It requires to be admire and appreciate by the one who sees it, with the beauty in his eyes.