The idea of beauty is an elusive concept in the modern world. As a result, many philosophers have sought to identify it and quantify it. In addition, controversies have inevitably arisen. Some reasons can be compelling, others less so.

Beauty is a concept that is fundamental to the world of politics. It is also the subject of a moral critique. For instance, in the early twentieth century, the French revolutionaries associated beauty with aristocracy, Rococo style, and capitalism. This association has been problematic throughout history, particularly in relation to gender and race. But now, with the emergence of social justice movements in the late twentieth century, these entanglements are being addressed.

One of the earliest philosophical traditions concerned itself with understanding the nature of beauty. Ancient Greek philosophers, for example, recognized the importance of beauty. Despite the fact that they were aware of beauty’s ecstatic qualities, they did not necessarily acknowledge it as the definiteness that Aristotle emphasized. Indeed, some ancient treatments of beauty were directed toward describing pleasures of beauty in ecstatic terms.

For example, in ancient Greece, hedonists such as Aristippus of Cyrene took a direct approach to examining the nature of beauty. He argued that beauty was a subjective state. Consequently, he thought that the nature of color was a function of the mind. Similarly, eighteenth-century British philosophers such as Hume and Kant posited that beauty was a matter of taste. Ultimately, however, they were unable to explain how they felt that beauty inspires a sense of purpose.

Aristotle, on the other hand, believed that the principle of unity, harmony, and symmetry were all aspects of beauty. For example, he said that living things need to show order in their arrangement of parts. However, he ascribed a lower level of danger to beauty than Plato did.

During the second half of the twentieth century, thinkers questioned whether the traditional conception of beauty was still valid. They grappled with how to reconcile the age of wars, genocide, and wastelands with the concepts of beauty. While some philosophers sought to re-conceptualize the nature of beauty in light of the recent political and social turmoil, most remained skeptical. Still, in the 1980s, an interest in beauty came back.

Traditionally, the conception of beauty has been divided into two general areas: the first, which considers beauty as the universality of symmetry and proportion; the second, which treats beauty as the relation of integral parts to a coherent whole. Both of these approaches to the concept of beauty are embodied in classical and neo-classical sculpture, architecture, and music.

In the twentieth century, a number of philosophers sought to re-conceptualize beauty in light of the recent political and social chaos. These efforts often ignored the underlying associations of beauty with gender, race, and war. Nevertheless, the entanglement of beauty with these issues is now being addressed in social justice movements, including feminists and racial justice advocates.

To re-conceptualize the concept of beauty, Thomas Aquinas gave three requirements for beauty. The first requirement is integrity. Integrity refers to the completeness of interior logic. Another requirement is proportion. Proportion, meanwhile, requires that beauty be of a definite magnitude. Finally, consonance is a third requirement. Consonance means that the object is both beautiful and appropriate to its use.