What is beauty in philosophy?

Aesthetics and its object of study

We find, in the study of Aesthetics, a difficulty in defining what Art is, and what beauty is. Faced with these problems, several theories have arisen to explain the aesthetic phenomenon, along rationalist, empiricist, phenomenological lines, etc.

The study of Aesthetics must begin by seeking to define its own object. One of the most widespread conceptions states that aesthetics is a science that studies art and its various manifestations.

From this point of view, theorists explain that Aesthetics is a science about the general laws of art. This conception identifies Aesthetics with Art Theory, reducing aesthetic phenomena to the artistic realm.

Man and the necessity of art

Man is not satisfied only producing that which is useful to him, he also tries to produce something that pleases him sensitively, that is, he tries to produce something beautiful.

But what is beauty, after all? Is it possible to define it in concepts? What is its relationship with art? We will see below some conceptions of art in philosophy.

Art for Schopenhauer

Art, besides having a beautiful nature, also has, according to Schopenhauer, a vital function for man. For him, life can be taken in two senses: as will and as representation. From this distinction, the philosopher argues that life has no intrinsic meaning.

In the first part of his work called The World as Will and Representation, Schopenhauer places the world as an object in the sphere of the principle of reason that acts in the cognitive-representational faculties of the intellect. These, in turn, “adjust” the world in a way suitable to be known, however, as representation.

Besides the multiplicity of phenomena, which is nothing but an illusion, there is a fundamental unity, essence and cause of all appearance, which is the world of the thing-in-itself, understood by Schopenhauer as the will, which is a blind force that acts in the core of being and does not submit to the forms of reason.

The will, then, causes reason to act for its benefit by elaborating illusory appearances. One of the ways to free oneself from this vicious circle of deceptive and illusory appearances is through Art, or rather, artistic contemplation. According to Schopenhauer, art is:

The contemplation of things independent of the principle of reason; it is thus opposed to the mode of knowledge defined above, which leads to experience and science.

Art for Mikel Dufrenne

Phenomenology, whose goal is to return to the things themselves, without taking sides with any theory, can contribute to the discussion about artistic production, the phenomenon of aesthetic perception, etc. In this area, Merleau-Ponty and Mikel Dufrenne stand out.

Although Merleau-Ponty did not elaborate an aesthetic theory per se, his works on perception involve many aesthetic elements, since art and the aesthetic experience are phenomena of sensitive perception, in which the subject participates taking into account his sensitivity, affections, body, imagination, etc.

The aesthetic object, according to Dufrenne, relates to subjectivity in two ways:

  1. first with the subjectivity of the artist who creates the work of art;
  2. with the subjectivity of the appreciator who, by sensitively perceiving it, consecrates it as an aesthetic object;

In fact, it is the spectator who, through perception, turns an object into an aesthetic object, whether it is produced with or without an aesthetic purpose, or even a simple natural object.

Therefore, the aesthetic object is related to the experience of the perceiver, and this relationship is always socially and historically mediated. The beautiful, according to Dufrenne, is not an idea or a model, but a quality present in singular objects that are given to us for perception.

It is the immanence of a sensitive sense, without which the object would be insignificant; the beautiful does not address the intelligence, as a concept, nor the will, but first of all the beautiful solicits the sensibility in order to ravish it.

Contemporary Theories of Beauty

Certain contemporary theories related to psychology will say that Beauty is nothing more than a narcissistic response to what we appreciate in ourselves, that is, when we like something, we tend to perceive it as Beautiful. However, such a theory seems simplistic.

A work of art can, among other things, displease the subject that makes the appreciation, causing them some repugnance, and even so it still remains a work of art.

Beauty is a quality that we attribute to objects in order to express a certain state of our subjectivity.

Thus, the notion of Beauty is not subject to a simple conceptualization, on the contrary, it is something understandable through the experience of contemplating the work of art itself. For this reason, any attempt to determine beauty conceptually will be imprecise and doubtful.

Cite This Work

Vieira, S. (2021, August 23). What is beauty in philosophy?. Filosofia do Início. Retrieved from https://filosofiadoinicio.com/en/beauty-in-philosophy/.

Vieira, Sadoque. “What is beauty in philosophy?.” Filosofia do Início, August 23, 2021. https://filosofiadoinicio.com/en/beauty-in-philosophy/.

Vieira, Sadoque. “What is beauty in philosophy?.” Filosofia do Início, 23 Aug. 2021, https://filosofiadoinicio.com/en/beauty-in-philosophy/.


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