Beauty is a general term that can refer to any combination of qualities, such as shape, colour or form, which please the aesthetic senses. It can also be applied to people and objects, such as a woman’s face or a piece of art.
The concept of beauty can be found in many different disciplines, including medicine, science, music, art, and philosophy. It can be defined as “a quality that is desired or admired” (Gordon 2009).
In the context of philosophy, the study of beauty dates back to at least the classical Greek period. Plato’s theory of forms, for example, argues that the physical world is a reflection of a realm called the “realm of forms” in which all things are perfectly consistent and unchanging.
Thomas Aquinas adapted this idea for Christian thinking by connecting the concept of beauty to the Second Person of the Trinity: He says that there are three requirements for something to be beautiful: integrity, due proportion, and clarity. Integrity means that it is complete by its own interior logic; if it does not, it will not be beautiful.
One of the earliest treatments of this concept is based on Aristotle’s axiom that every thing has to be in harmony with itself. The hedonist Aristippus of Cyrene took this axiom to its logical conclusion: everything that we use has both good and beautiful properties from the point of view of its suitability to us.
The same principle is taken by neo-Platonism, which explains that something is beautiful when it has a certain unity or harmony of parts. For example, the sun is beautiful because it has all its parts in harmony with itself. The same rule applies to gold, the stars, and lightning by night, which are all considered beautiful because they are in harmony with each other and with the sky as a whole.
Modern philosophers such as Alexander Gottlieb Baumgarten and Immanuel Kant shifted the study of beauty away from ontological considerations, such as truth and goodness, to a more human-centered approach. The concept of beauty became a subset of the field of aesthetics, which focuses on the human faculty of taste and the artistic creations that express that faculty.
Hume and Kant, for example, argued that when beauty is a matter of subjective opinion, then it ceases to be a paramount value in itself or even recognizable as a common value across persons or societies. But they saw that this view also posed problems in controversies over aesthetic judgments, since there could be no common criteria for assessing the validity of a claim about beauty.
This was a major shift in the study of beauty, and ushered in a period of widespread subjectivity that remains to this day. The most prominent contemporary defenders of beauty are, however, those who believe that it is a force for freedom and creativity.
For this reason, a new generation of feminist and anti-racist artists and designers is turning to beauty in creative ways that challenge traditional conventions of feminine identity and self-expression. They’re creating works that take on the nipple removal and other extreme body modifications of women in the media as a way to challenge dominant cultural norms.