Concept of Beauty According to the Western Philosophers Essay
Concept of Beauty According to the Western Philosophers
Beauty is an emotional element, a pleasure of ours, which nevertheless we regard as a quality of thing. The ideas of beauty is found in almost every culture and at almost every time in human history, with many similarities. Beauty was and still is a term of great esteem linking human beings and nature with artistic practices and works since the early civilizations. From the early cultures, beauty, goodness and truth are customarily related. Beauty here carries a double meaning, inclusive and exclusive.
In the inclusive sense, beauty pertains to anything worthy of approbation, to human virtues and characters, to nobility and goodness, to hidden things and truth, to the natural and divine worlds. In the exclusive, restricted sense, it pertains to how things appear, their manifestations, and to the joys human beings experience when presented with beautiful things, human bodies, artifacts, natural creatures and things. When we talk about the beauty in works of art, we are talking about this latter beauty, and experiencing this beauty refers to the aesthetic experience.
Such beauty is the higher degree of it and the experience of it last in us beyond the time and space. The nature of beauty and its role in philosophy and aesthetics was explained from the early periods and its evolution as described by the philosophers and writers as follows: ~PLATO~ ( 428 or 427 – 348 or 347 B. C ) Plato had a love-hate relationship with the arts. He must have had some love for the arts, because he talks about them often, and his remarks show that he paid close attention to what he saw and heard.
He was also a fine literary stylist and a great story-teller; in fact he is said to have been a poet before he encountered Socrates and became a philosopher. Some of his dialogues are real literary masterpieces. On the other hand, he found the arts threatening. He proposed sending the poets and playwrights out of his ideal Republic, or at least censoring what they wrote; and he wanted music and painting severely censored. The arts, he thought, are powerful shapers of character. Thus, to train and protect ideal citizens for an ideal society, the arts must be strictly controlled.
Plato had two theories of art. One may be found in his dialogue The Republic, and seems to be the theory that Plato himself believed. According to this theory, since art imitates physical things, which in turn imitate the Forms, art is always a copy of a copy, and leads us even further from truth and toward illusion. For this reason, as well as because of its power to stir the emotions, art is dangerous. Plato’s other theory is hinted at in his shorter dialogue Ion, and in his exquisitely crafted Symposium.
According to this theory the artist, perhaps by divine inspiration, makes a better copy of the True than may be found in ordinary experience. Thus the artist is a kind of prophet. Here are some features of the two theories: 1. Art is imitation This is a feature of both of Plato’s theories. Of course he was not the first or the last person to think that art imitates reality. The idea was still very strong in the Renaissance, when most people thought that a picture must be a picture of something, and that an artist is someone who can make a picture that “looks just like the real thing”.
It wasn’t until late in the nineteenth century that the idea of art as imitation began to fade from western aesthetics, to be replaced by theories about art as expression, art as communication, art as pure form, art as whatever elicits an “aesthetic” response, and a number of other theories. So art is imitation. But what does it imitate? In the Republic, Plato says that art imitates the objects and events of ordinary life. In other words, a work of art is a copy of a copy of a Form. It is even more of an illusion than is ordinary experience. On this theory, works of art are at best entertainment and at worst a dangerous delusion.
Whereas in the Symposium, he talks of art as imitation of the divine beauty and eternal truth. 2. Art is powerful, and therefore dangerous Poetry, drama, music, painting, dance, all stir up our emotions. All of the arts move people powerfully. They can strongly influence our behavior, and even our character. For that reason Plato insisted that music (especially music), along with poetry and drama and the other arts, should be part of the education of young citizens in his ideal republic, but should be strictly censored to present, at first, only the good.
Plato’s influence came into the medieval European tradition through the filter of Neoplatonism, a much later modification of Platonic teachings that flourished in the centuries just before and after the time of Jesus. The most famous neo-Platonist was Plotinus. Plotinus and the other neo-Platonists made much of the idea of Beauty, and the soul’s quest for it, as described in the Symposium. Through neoplatonism, Plato’s second theory (art as imitation of eternal Beauty and eternal Truth) became the channel of his influence on the western middle ages and the renaissance.
~ARISTOTLE~ ( 384-322 BC ) In The School of Athens, the fresco by Raphael, Plato and Aristotle stand side by side. Plato points to the heavens, to the ideal world of the Forms. Aristotle is shown with his hand open toward the earth. The painting shows how passionate Renaissance intellectuals were about the views and achievements of the ancient Greeks and Romans. It also accurately portrays the difference between Plato and Aristotle. It’s a difference that shows up in their approaches to the arts. Aristotle took time and change more seriously than did Plato.
Not surprisingly, he was also somewhat friendlier to the passions than was Plato; though he, too, thought that the moral virtues were various habits of rational control over the passions. Like Plato, Aristotle thought that art involved imitation (mimesis), though on this point as on many others he was flexible and allowed for exceptions. He also thought harder than Plato about what art imitated. For example, he says that Tragedy is an imitation “not of persons but of action and life, of happiness and misery” (Poetics 1451b). Thus he leans toward the “art as imitation of the ideal” theory that Plato might have developed, but never did.
Aristotle’s Poetics is largely devoted to drama, in particular to tragedy. Aristotle provides both a history of the development of poetry and drama, and a critical framework for evaluating tragic drama. The Poetics is the first systematic essay in literary theory, full of insight, and showing a high degree of flexibility in the application of its general rules. Like many of Aristotle’s other attempts to systematize knowledge about an area, this framework has had a strong influence up to the present day, and was particularly influential during the Renaissance and the early modern European periods.
Aristotle stresses the need for a work to be unified. The plot should be unified, portraying, in effect, one extended action which is set up, develops, and comes to a climactic conclusion. The character of the protagonists should be consistent, and the action should be the sort of action those characters would produce under those circumstances. The time of the action should also be unified, so that the plot can be held in memory as one action. Aristotle thought this would usually imply that the action would occur within one day.
These “Unities” of action, character, and time were developed and added to by Renaissance writers to produce a code of “decorum” for dramatic productions, and failure to observe the “Unities” was often taken to mean failure of a work. Of course this brought a rebellion against Aristotle, who was not in fact responsible for the excesses of this code, and no doubt had no intention of producing a set of rules for dramatists in the first place. His critical standards no longer rule the evaluation of plays and novels, let alone other works.
But the Poetics remains an impressive accomplishment, and many of its insights continue to ring true. It still seems a good general rule that a plot should be unified; that in a drama character should be revealed by action; that surprising turns are a great help to a plot, as long as they are not implausible; that one should not try to cover too great a length of actual time within the time of the play. The idea of catharsis is a potent one; and so is the idea that art portrays the universal, “not a thing that has been, but a kind of thing that might be.
” ~RENE DESCARTES~ (1596-1650) He described the beauty and perfection of god’s works and the divine light. As late as the eighteenth century, beauty retained its relation to divinity and perfection, expressed in art. Even so, with Descartes and his time a transformation of the world began that included alterations in the practice and understanding of art and in the thought of beauty and beautiful things. In a universe made by god, the beauty and perfection of the world are immediate and infinitely important. ~GEORGE BERKELEY~ (1685-1753)
“A man needs no argument to make him discern and approve what is beautiful; it strikes as first sight, and attracts without a reason. And as this beauty is found in shape and form of corporeal thins, so is there analogous to it, which is a beauty of another kind; an order, a symmetry, and comeliness in the moral world. And as the eyes perceive, so do by a certain interior sense perceive the other, which sense, talent or faculty is ever quickest and purest in the noble mind. ” George Berkeley (1685-1753) is Irish philosopher and critics.
He had moral sense theory of ethical judgment, which eliminates the traditional conception of moral rules as divine commands known by revelation as a main target of Berkeley’s attack. Francis Hutcheson offered his account of the sense of beauty as an introduction to his theory of the moral sense, Berkeley extended his attack to Hutcheson’s aesthetics. He exclaimed his response to beauty need not always be a response to the appearance of usefulness; e. g. Greek columns are tapered to look stable even though they would actually be stable with being tapered.
The arguing issue raised remained a live one for aesthetics theory entities radical transformation in the post- Kantian period. ~IMMANUEL KANT~ (1724-1804) Immanuel Kant (1724-1804), German Enlightenment philosopher whose original and powerful philosophy has shaped most subsequent western thought. He was a popular lecturer, and was capable of a lively, readable style; although his major works are as dense and difficult as they are influential. (Kant defended this as a deliberate choice, since he wanted to examine what could be known about the mind in itself, or a priori, without depending on particular examples.)
Kant produced an early treatise on aesthetics, Observations on the Feeling of the Beautiful and Sublime (1763), and did not write on the subject again until the end of his career, in the Critique of Judgment (1790). In between the two works came the development of his influential critical philosophy. Although Kant saw the Critique of Judgment as the key work which connected his writings on epistemology (the theory of knowledge) in the Critique of Pure Reason with his writings on ethics in the Critique of Practical Reason, it is not necessary to know these other works in order to understand the most influential parts of Kant’s aesthetics.
Like many other writers on aesthetics before him, Kant’s main interest was not in art per se, but in Beauty (and along with other eighteenth century writers, in the Sublime). Thus most of his remarks are as relevant to the beautiful or sublime in nature as in art. Like other Enlightenment writers, (e. g. , Hutcheson and Hume), Kant also thought that Beauty or Sublimity were not really properties of objects, but ways in which we respond to objects.
And like these other writers, Kant was concerned to show that this focus on the subjective aesthetic response did not make aesthetic value a mere function of individual or personal taste. Kant’s way of working out these problems is what makes his aesthetics original and influential. He claimed that judgments of taste are both subjective and universal. They are subjective; because they are responses of pleasure, and do not essentially involve any claims about the properties of the object itself. (What matters is not the picture I see; rather it is the pleasing effect of the picture on me.)
On the other hand, aesthetic judgments are universal and not merely personal. That’s because in a crucial way they must be disinterested. When I am appreciating a painting aesthetically, I am not thinking about how much money it’s worth, or whether it is a portrait of a family member, or even about who painted it, except in so far as knowing the painter helps me see what’s in the work. These non-aesthetic interests are extraneous to my appreciation of the painting. Rather I am pleased by the painting just for what it is, apart from anything I may get out of it.
In fact I do not even take an ethical interest in the painting’s subject (that is, any ethical interest is separate from this disinterested pleasure I take in the painting). “Taste that requires an added element of charm and emotion for its delight, not to speak of adopting this as the measure of its approval, has not emerged from barbarism”. Kant thought that for aesthetic judgments to be both subjective and universal, they had to be about form.
Beauty should be “a question merely of the form”. More specifically, the object being contemplated (e. g. , a work of art, or an actual landscape) must display a kind of undefined purposive ness, such that it seems to be organized with a final purpose in mind, although it is not possible to say what that purpose is. Thus a work of art, or a beautiful natural object, displays a kind of free play of forms, consistent with the presence of a purpose to which we don’t have access. So intent was Kant on emphasizing the formal properties of the objects of aesthetic attention that he was unwilling to include color among the aesthetically relevant properties of an object.
Color, in his view, is mere decoration; design and composition are what really matter . To sum up this point about form in Kant’s own words: “A judgment of taste which is uninfluenced by charm or emotion (though these may be associated with the delight in the beautiful), and whose determining ground, therefore, is simply finality of form, is a pure judgment of taste. ” Kant divided the kinds of aesthetic response into responses to the Beautiful and the Sublime. The one represents a pleasure in order, harmony, delicacy and the like. The other is a response of awe before the infinite or the overwhelming.
While the beautiful presents the appearance of form, the sublime may often seem formless. The pleasure it gives us derives from our awareness that there is something in us that transcends the overwhelming power or infinity outside us. Finally, Kant had things to say about genius. In short, he thought that genius has its own rules, and one cannot dictate to it. How Kant arrived at his conclusions is not easily shown; and it is no surprise that the philosophical reasoning that grounds those conclusions did not follow them into the cultural mainstream.
But the conclusions themselves proved quite influential. His remarks on genius, and on purposive ness in art and nature, had an impact on the development of Romantic aesthetics. Later, the idea of a disinterested appreciation of form became a watchword for philosophers and critics like Clement Greenberg who defended abstract art. In literary criticism, the New Criticism which focused on the text itself, and its philosophical defense by Beardsley and Wimsatt, were similarly inspired.