Speak your mind: What is Beauty? (A Survey)


Sargent - Madame Errazuriz-small

For those that might run across this post in the future, the message mentioned in this post was written, given, and walked through part-by-part on this blog.  You can see all these posts by clicking here.

So . . . I’m giving a talk in a few weeks on the topic of Beauty.  The first section of the talk will be a discussion attempting to answer the question “What is Beauty?”  To aid me in this I’d like to extend this question to the world at large.  So, I’m asking all of you out there: what do you think beauty is?

Feel free to take your time or just give me the first thing that pops into your head, or even give me more than one idea if you want. This is totally open.  Leave a comment.  Email me.  Facebook me.  Whatever you want.

Or, leave a joke if you want – but only if it’s a good one.  Here’s the dictionary definition for “Beauty” to get you started thinking:

the quality present in a thing or person that gives intense pleasure or deep satisfaction to the mind, whether arising from sensory manifestations (as shape, color, sound, etc.), a meaningful design or pattern, or something else (as a personality in which high spiritual qualities are manifest).

So, that’s what Dictionary.com thinks.  What do you think Beauty is?

(art: “Madame Errazuriz” by John Singer Sargent)

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16 thoughts on “Speak your mind: What is Beauty? (A Survey)

  1. Beauty is truth. Beauty is not always pretty, beauty can be ugly, it can not be visible and only felt. When something is beautiful it transcends time. True beauty does not expire and will not go away with the trend. Creation is beautiful.

  2. Hey Paul,
    I ran across your blog the other day due your Webb review (as I am sure many did). I am impressed with your thoughtful handling of philosophy.

    Being an architect who dabbles in philosophy and theology, I have on numerous occasions directed my thoughts towards Beauty. As succinctly as I can, here is my definition:

    Beauty is the goodness of the Creator given to and then expressed by reality. It is the Ethics of Metaphysics. It can be as objective or subjective as the one who is imparting it. Truly objective beauty is God’s taste, which sets the standard of what is good in reality. In this way, we as subjective creatures can observe and mimic a beauty that transcends our limited perspective.

  3. Jacob,

    I appreciate your handling of “beauty” in that definition. I particularly appreciate the aspect of beauty being “as objective or subjective as the one who is imparting it”. If I’m understanding your usage correctly, this would mean that while a rock or tree is beautiful, it’s “giving of beauty” is limited to it’s non-subjective state, which also limits it to a non-receptive status in “seeing beauty”. On the other hand, a highly subjective being, like humans, angels, etc., can more actively participate in giving and seeing beauty. Is this a correct application of your definition?

    I find Mike’s definition lacking. The problem I have with it is that definitions of equivocation beg the question of the need for different words. If truth IS beauty, then why even talk about beauty? Why not just collapse all conversations about beauty in to truth conversations?

    In making this observation about Mike’s definition, the question does come to mind as to what “beauty” we are talking about. Is this the visible beauty, of say a painting? Or the beauty of a proposition? Or the beauty of justice being executed? Because while on one hand (to take an example) the sinner may be beautifully given a sentence of judgment, would it not also be horrific, given the fate they are facing? (Which, of course, sets in deeper colour the “beauty” of mercy…) Am I just causing confusion here? Do my questions here make sense?

  4. i think that beauty is quite an open concept. i did my thesis in aesthetics and could not quite put it all together.
    first i leaned towards truth, that which is true is beautiful. this was instantly problematic. nazi propaganda was beautiful but rooted in evil and lies.
    i thought that maybe it was a predicate of God. this was problematic as it implied that something or a concept existed beyond God.
    i thought maybe it was God. it couldn’t be the case as if it was an identity statement then every characteristic of God is contained in beauty and vica versa.
    so i’m here thinking that perhaps when man fell in genesis, it wasn’t just him and his planet but also things such as his language and his concept of beauty. instead of having a concept of beauty that reflects only God and other Godly things (such as man being created in His image) our notion of beauty has become tarnished by the fall, hence why we can find things sinful to be beautiful.

    intuitively though i can’t help but think that this is just a typical christian answer to an unanswerable question.

    i hope this thinking somewhat explains potential problems in aesthetics that have been mentioned (e.g. jacob y’s problem of extension of beauty into language, justice, nature)

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