What is Beauty?

This is something that may not have an answer, so I’ve been debating with myself whether I should ask it or not - but what the heck. The worst that could happen is it gets ignored.

How is it that some things that we see all the time, are as common as muck, like sunsets, snow covered fields, a particular person, butterflies, a stream through a field etc, can be considered beautiful? I mean, why is a cold grey sky, or a muddy pond, not considered beautiful? They’re just as common, just as naturally formed - but yet it doesn’t illicit even a hint of the response that something like a field of flowers does.

How, and why, do we define beauty so specifically?

“Vyvyan! Where did you get that Howitzer?” “…I found it.”

The Legend Of PigeonMan - updates every Wed & Sat

One man’s pornography is another man’s art, my friend.

Personally, I try and find a little beauty everyplace I look. It’s not hard to find it, usually, even though so many people TRY and hide it from the world…

Yer pal,

But even so, there are some things that the majority undoubtedly consider beautiful, and some things everyone considers boring and mundane.


“Vyvyan! Where did you get that Howitzer?” “…I found it.”

The Legend Of PigeonMan - updates every Wed & Sat

beauty consists of a certain composition of color and figure, causing delight in the beholder. --Locke.

the production of beauty by a multiplicity of symmetrical parts uniting in a consistent whole. --Wordsworth.

The old definition of beauty, in the Roman school, was, ``multitude in unity;’’ and there is no doubt that such is the principle of beauty. --Coleridge.

beauty n 1: the qualities that give pleasure to the senses [ant: {ugliness}] 2: a very attractive or seductive looking woman 3: an outstanding example of its kind.


yes, we like beauty :slight_smile: in whatever form we find it.


Heres a hot hot tip. Read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. Phaedrus discusses the issue of quality much better than I could ever do.

That which a man had rather were true he more readily believes.

Beauty depends on our interaction with something. We make things beautiful, or we make them ugly. To ourselves.

To retool a worn-out expression, if a sunset happened and nobody was there to see it, would it still be beautiful? It’s hard to consider that question without seeing a sunset in your mind. THAT’s the sunset you’re talking about. The beauty comes from you.

Beauty, like God and Robert Pirsig’s Quality, cannot be defined; the definition will invariably leave out or distort the underlying truth.

It is nice to have a lot of overlap between us regarding what we find beautiful; it’s cool to have something as apparently subjective as beauty confirmed by others seeing it where we see it so often. Psychologically, it gives us hope that the same is true for truth and goodness in general.

Meanwhile, it is also nice that what is beautiful is not necessarily that which is rare and unusual!

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For human female beauty, there is a unit of measure – the “helen”, from the line in Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus, speaking of Helen of Troy, “Is this the face that launched a thousand ships/And burnt the topless towers of Illium?” Thus, we have the “millihelen”, which is the amount of female beauty required to launch a single ship.

Try watching the movie American Beauty.

Dang. I got beat to the millihelen thing. Grrrrr :slight_smile:

But it’s a good question GuanoLad. My only observation here is that it’s possible to learn to see beauty where most people do not. To use your example, I think there is some amount of beauty to a cold grey sky.

But I agree with your premise: there are some common standards of beauty shared across much of humanity. Why, I dunno. Maybe because the sunset often has lots of different colors and cloud patterns, while a grey sky usually lacks the same complexity - it seems much more monotonous. That and we associate grey skies with cold and rain, instead of with warmth and sunshine.

I bet, if one were so inclined, one could come up with a pretty good objective predictor of how beautiful a random image would be seen to be when averaged across a lot of different people. I think some studies have been done in this area on human faces in particular, but I don’t know the details. Maybe somebody else will have more info about that.

peas on earth

I believe in their studies of human faces, they found that people preferred symmetrical faces and large eyes/small chin. It’s not universal, but it’s still pretty consistent. I believe the theory advanced is that symmetrical features=good health/no deformities and large eyes/small chin=infant, so a protective/loving emotion is engendered.

I think I agree that people tend to see beauty in things that imply comfort and health; healthy children are more beautiful than sick ones, sunny days with flowers blooming are prettier than gray, cold ones, and so on. But this preference can be swayed by culture; people used to think women who looked like they were about to drop from pnuemonia were gorgeous.

As far as I can tell, I have the ability to see beauty in anything I choose. I choose not to see beauty in some things, so as to not divorce myself from humanity a la American Beauty, running around looking at dead things. But I can look at a dirty stinking alley and shift perspective so it is beautiful. It’s fun to do once in a while.

“Happiness is nonetheless true happiness because it must come to an end, nor do thought and love lose their value because they are not everlasting.”

  • Bertrand Russell

I had an interesting conversation with a co-worker about something along these lines.

I am from S. Calif., a desert area, she is from the Midwest. She recently visited San Diego, and thought it was ugly - it was too dry and desert-y. Being a native So Cal gal, I think that the desert is “normal” - i.e., it is what I grew up with and am used to. I love the smell of sage and desert plants, I love the look of the desert and Joshua trees - I think it is beautiful. She curled her nose up at that. She likes things more “lush” and green.

I, on the other hand, cannot reconcile myself with the non-fragrant plants of the midwest, and no amount of indoctorination will convince me that snow is good. I hate it with the white-hot intensity of a thousand suns. Snow is not pretty to me when I think about what a miserable hassle it is. (OK, I guess it is pretty when it is in Yosemite, but that’s my limit! ;)) My co-worker friend finds this hard to believe, that I find snow something to be dreaded, but it’s true.

Beauty depends on what you grow up with, are used to, and are culturally raised to appreciate.

Thanks guys! All your answers are I think true, even though they are so different.

Certainly it makes me think… which is a good thing!

I guess I will read Zen and the Art of… blah blah one day. American Beauty isn’t out here yet, though it has illicited such a response, I may go see it.


“Vyvyan! Where did you get that Howitzer?” “…I found it.”

The Legend Of PigeonMan - updates every Wed & Sat

[It] is truth, truth beauty.

That is all ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.

Read Schoppenhaur (sorry if I completely butchered his name). He had many ideas of beauty. I could recount them here but it would not be the same. This question has no real answer other than the trite statement that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. That is the only statement that can cover the whole issue. (Or other statements that say basically the same thing.) It is difficult to get to the essence of ugliness too. For myself, beauty is the essence of “good” or “goodness” that follows people around who are kind and gentle. Real beauty is something that comes from the inside, not just the physical demeanor of said object/individual.

Schoppenhaur (sp?) believed there were two main forms of beauty. Sublime beauty and the other kind (sorry I don’t remember it at the moment). Anyway, Sublime beauty is beauty that comes from nature and has the ability to kill you but you are still fascinated by it. This is like watching a tornado from a distance and knowing it won’t be able to harm you, seeing a thunderstorm, the immensity of the ocean, etc. The other type of beauty is basically physical attraction and such.

Philosophers have been debating this issue for years. I took The Philosophy of Asthetics and Beauty in college. After it was all over, we learned that there are many philosophies about what is beauty and/or beautiful but it is basically up to the individual to decide what that is. For the record, I tend to like things not considered classically beautiful (i.e. large, hairy, older men…personalities [were not really discussed in classical terms], etc)


Gasoline: As an accompaniement to cereal it made a refreshing change. Glen Baxter

Beauty is an emotion.

See that mud pond? Ugly!

See yourself in the desert with no water for 4 days? See that mud pond? Beauty!

Actually, American Beauty isn’t out on video anywhere, I downloaded it off of someone’s computer and I’m sure they did the same. Want it? E-mail me.

It hasn’t been released in Theatres here yet. When it is, I’ll see it.

I don’t like bootleg computer copies. Not to mention downloading costs me money.

“Vyvyan! Where did you get that Howitzer?” “…I found it.”

The Legend Of PigeonMan - updates every Wed & Sat

Gaudere wrote:

According to something I saw on the Discovery Channel once (and we ALL know how well-researched an objective THEIR shows are :wink: ), there were a couple of experiments done on facial preference, which had surprising results:

  1. The facial features of several people – none of whom were unusually attractive or unattractive – were averaged together, using the same kinds of computer image processing algorithms they used in Terminator 2 to morph one object into another. The resulting “composite male” and “composite female” faces were drop-dead gorgeous – total Greek God/Goddess material. This implied that the normal beauty aesthetic favors features that are the “median” for the general population. (So the next time someone calls you “average-looking”, take it as a compliment! :slight_smile: )

  2. Babies were shown pictures of supermodels side-by-side with pictures of “plain” women, in random order. Invariably, the babies’ eyes spent most of the time focused on the supermodel pictures. This implies that our standards of beauty are not merely cultural, that there is some hard-wiring of what is pretty and what isn’t.

Quick-N-Dirty Aviation: Trading altitude for airspeed since 1992.

Probably the reason babies were attracted to the supermodels was because of the bright colors. Remember, babies eyesights ain’t that good.