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Beauty & Aesthetics

July 22, 2019

Beauty is understood to be one of the many aesthetic properties. Beauty and aesthetic are used interchangeably and the general assumption is that one is the synonym for another which is not true. Beauty is considered as closely connected to our thinking process. Different cultures have different definition of beauty. For instance, in some cultures, pigs are considered to be beautiful, edible, used as pets etc. whereas in some other cultures they are considered as ugly, dirty, hogs, inedible, impious creatures etc. Beauty means different things in different contexts. It is important to understand the context of a thing in order to understand its beauty. We see connoisseurs’ of art observing a painting displayed at an exhibition and each of them see it differently. For some, a particular painting may be heaven like and for some it may be a work of a layman.

Beauty like aesthetic has various forms. There is beauty in sadness; this is often resembled through love stories, novels and in some motion pictures. There is beauty in pain too which is displayed in some motion pictures when they showcase gladiators fighting in colosseum.  There is beauty in death, many times death is celebrated and dying while fighting for a just cause or in a war is celebrated, whereas dying of cholera or jaundice is mourned or pitied. Beauty has a representational property.

There are different types of aesthetic properties. For instance, art-historical properties, architectural properties, visual properties, sensory properties etc. What about non-aesthetic properties or values then? Are there any such values which can be described as non-aesthetic? Bringing out a distinction between the aesthetic and non-aesthetic is difficult. Some philosophers argue that aesthetics is a metaphysical fact. It is a priori. According to Immanuel Kant, beauty is the object of judgements of beauty – also known as ‘judgements of taste’. He explains that these values are influenced depending upon the pleasure and the pain objects give. Aesthetic judgements share this with judgements of the agreeable about food and drink. For instance, some people like the flavor of Danish blue cheese whereas some cannot bare the sight or smell of it.

It may seem that beauty and aesthetic are same but there is a thick line differentiating the two from one another. Aesthetic is not about beauty only. Aesthetic is also about studying ugliness, dumpiness, daintiness and elegance. Beauty brings out a good or a positive quality of an object, structure or a person whereas aesthetic is about a value free judgement of such object, structure or a person. In aesthetic ugliness is not bad and beauty is not good. One cannot claim a universal validity in aesthetics.

1.      Zangwill, Nick. (2013). ‘Beauty’, in Levinson, Jerrold (ed.) The Oxford Handbook of Aesthetics, OUP, pp. 325-343.
2.      Kant, Immanuel. (1987). Critique of Judgment (Werner S. Pluhar, Trans.), Cambridge: Hackett Publishing Company, pp. 28-32.

Dr. Udayprakash Sharma, Assistant Professor, USLM

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