Thursday, 4 October 2012

Inherent Beauty

Is ‘beauty’ inherent in, the objects to which it is ascribed?

Plato could be described as one of the first philosophical realists. Realists or objectivists (in the broadest sense) believe that entities (physical objects, mathematical properties or ethical facts) exist independently, regardless of our knowledge or experience of them.

Those opposed to this view are known as anti-realists or subjectivists (in the broadest sense). Anti-realists tend to deny an objective or true reality, based on or represented by facts. In terms of aesthetics, anti-realists believe aesthetic value is tied to human judgement. For example, ‘beauty is in the eye of the beholder’ literally means that the perception of beauty is subjective. A realist would consider beauty to be a property possessed by an object, regardless of a person’s belief or response to it. So, for example, if no human existed to judge Michelangelo’s David, it would still exist as a beautiful piece of work.

In Janaway’s ‘Images of Excellence: Plato’s Critique of the Arts’, we are considering ‘the role Plato assigns to beauty, and whether for him beauty is connected with what we now call ‘aesthetic pleasure’.’1 Aesthetic pleasure could be more easily described as aesthetic enjoyment, the emotional response felt when looking at a particular object, work of art or something possessing ‘natural’ beauty. Such a response could create a desire in us to look at the subject for longer periods of time or to repeat the experience in future. In Chapter 3: The Fine and the Beautiful, we are encouraged to consider our own definition of beauty before questioning or attempting to understand Plato’s concept of beauty.

1. Janaway, C. 1995, Images of Excellence, Chapter 3 “The Fine and the Beautiful”