Random Musings: The Nature of Beauty


1)  Does beauty truly exist?

2)  Perhaps beauty is merely a feeling; an inner subjective experience; my impression of a perception . . . an emotion.  Perhaps beauty truly is in the eye of the beholder.  If this is the case, it is false to believe anything truly is beautiful.  When I look at the sunrise and exclaim in awe, “how beautiful!” I am merely expressing a feeling—I am communicating something private.  For the sunrise is not beautiful in any objective, concrete, sense; it is just an object within space and time.  Like all objects, it has no intrinsic value, no purpose, no meaning, it conforms to no pattern.  I, the observer, give it meaning . . .

3)  If beauty is simply a subjective experience, a feeling, then to speak of beauty is no different than to speak of indigestion.  In effect, the expression, “how beautiful,” is functionally equivalent to the expression, “my stomach hurts.”

4)   How wretched life would be if beauty did not exist!  I look at my wife, an angel, the radiance of the sun instantiated in human form . . . yet, this isn’t real.  The beauty of my wife is nothing but maya—an illusion.  In reality she is the endless shifting of atoms, the constant flux of matter and energy; as am I.  To say that my wife is beautiful is really to say that one shifting batch of atoms (my wife) collided with another shifting batch of atoms (my eyes) creating a chemical response in my brain and producing a particular emotion.  Her beauty is but one euphoric chemical reaction—an animal instinct, a sexual desire.

5)  In a world devoid of intrinsic value, beauty is degraded—it becomes something base.

6)   But surely beauty must exist!  Surely the sunrise is more than the endless shifting of atoms; more than the sense of awe engendered by a brute biochemical response to perception.  Surely such reactions occur in the presence of great beauty—a beauty woven into the very fabric of reality.  A form . . . an idea . . . a logos . . .

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5 thoughts on “Random Musings: The Nature of Beauty

  1. It is quite clear to me why many ideas of aesthetic beauty should be similar between members of the same species, we are so genetically similar and have the same bodily needs (shelter, warmth, food, love etc) the things our brains find attractive are likely to be equally similar.

    1. Then what is and is not beautiful is determined by democracy. If the majority of a species finds x beautiful, then hooray it’s beautiful. Thus, it’s never true to say, “My wife is beautiful” or “the painting my child drew is beautiful.” There’s no way to know if it really is or is not beautiful because the statement can only be true if we know how the majority of our species would view the object.

      So we then fall back into what Josh is writing about – we end up with a subjectivity of beauty. Likewise, what you stated means that beauty doesn’t really exist, but is simply an accident.

      1. The examples you mentioned above may be true for you but not for me, equally I often see beauty in mathmatical equations which many others do not. Beauty is abstract and arbitrary but like a measurement of time or a human emotion it does exist but only in the minds of those experiencing it.

      2. Rowan,

        Thanks for the thoughtful comments. I understand where you are coming from but I think you are confusing individual taste (which is subjective) with beauty (which is objective or concrete). Each of us has our own unique experience of reality and we all react slightly differently when exposed to different sensual experiences; this, however, doesn’t mean that there isn’t a common external reality that we are all experiencing. You mentioned your love for mathematics so let me use that as an example. When I am holding two apples I am having a particular experience of the number two. However, if I eat one of the apples, I have not just destroyed the number two because numbers are eternal, universal, “abstracta.” You see, there is a subjective side and an objective side to numbers. Likewise, some individuals are unable to enjoy the beauty and elegance of mathematical equations (this is a matter of subjective taste) but this does not mean that mathematical equations are not objectively beautiful. So, individual taste may be arbitary but beauty is not.

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