20 January 2022

Is there a universal beauty?


Is there a universal beauty?


Topic by Sisa/Ines

Essay by Lawrence


What do we mean by universal beauty? This is a subject that dates back to Greek philosophers and ever since; maybe even before the Greeks. For example Plato attributes beauty to an ideal of the forms maybe even beauty in symmetry and exactness. Socrates linked the beautiful to pleasure in objects. Kant defined beauty in terms of “experience of taste”.


The arguments on beauty have mainly centred on whether beauty is subjective or objective. But we do have the proverb “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” that suggests we are more inclined to think beauty is subjective. This is understandable since as the proverb implies some people find something beautiful while others don’t see what the fuss is all about.


A sense of universal beauty implies that everyone perceives the supposed beauty in an object. Thus implying that, unless everyone sees the beauty of the object then that object might not have any objective beauty. Going a step further, is the world divided into beautiful things and ugly things?


The subjective factor of beauty relies on our emotions for example something that gives us pleasure, makes us feel good, makes us feel peaceful and so on. But something must trigger our emotions to the extent that we call it or recognize it as beautiful. After all there are many things that stir our emotions but we don’t describe them as beautiful: ugly things rouse our emotions but do not convey beauty.


An alternative interpretation to universal beauty is to assume that everything has the potential property of beauty but it all depends on our epistemic background to identify that beauty. For most people a rock, is a rock, is a rock, but for a geologist a rock might reveal an interesting aspect of the history of the Earth who might describe the rock as beautiful.


We might argue that the problem of beauty and universal beauty in particular, is that beauty is not only in the eyes of the beholder but also in the intellectual mind of the beholder. A beautiful sunrise with red skies and clouds with red linings might be beautiful for us, but not necessarily for sailors. We are familiar with the saying: red skies at night a sailor’s delight, red skies in the morning a sailor’s warning.


We might argue that universal beauty should not be interpreted as everyone can see the beauty of an object but rather everyone can see the beauty of an object with the right mind set and intellectual prowess in a given context. And the proof of this approach is that there are no limits to what can give us pleasure or what we consider to be beautiful.


We must also ask: what is the function of beauty? Apart from us deriving pleasure or feeling good, although this is not a function of beauty but our sense of beauty: beauty in animals can serve as a reproductive attraction. Ideas might be beautiful, maybe because these ideas are simple (Occam's razor) and solve important problems (E=MC2). When we consider the function of beauty we might be justified in accepting that beauty is not some passive property in an object (e.g. beautiful feathers on a bird) but an active factor in an object (e.g. a beautiful idea for a birthday present).


Best Lawrence


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