What do we mean by Beauty or the Beautiful?

We judge the beauty of a thing or action, by whether it pleases what we call our ‘aesthetic’ sense. But this means simply by our feeling. The word ‘aesthetic’ is from a Greek word meaning ‘capable of feeling’. ‘Aesthetics’ is the science of the beautiful in the arts.

Beauty is that aspect of Reality which is apprehended by feeling and which induces in us what we call pleasure. As so many different things or activities may produce pleasure the word beauty has come to receive a very wide application. Little boys say, This marble is a beauty”. Little girls say their dolls are beautiful, engineers gaze at a complicated machine and pronounce it beautiful. Those who go “messing about in boats” call a 10 ft dinghy “a little beauty”. Dante thought Beatrice was beautiful. Mathematicians talk about “beautiful equations”. Ministers of the Gospel assure us that there is beauty in willing service to God.

All these things share the element of pleasure. It is often difficult to see what else they share, but we can say something is basic to all of them. This is the fact of the assimilation of some kind of stimulus by a living organism, a stimulus which inserts into the organism a quantity of energy characterised in such a manner that it provides sufficient assimilation exercise to hold the attention, and not so much that it induces undesirable pain.

The opposite of beauty is ugliness. What is Ugliness?

Ugliness is that which induces displeasure. Human beings differ in what they consider to be beautiful and ugly. Why is this? It is ‘because individuals are differently constituted, physically and psychically, and have undergone different experiences and so been differently conditioned in their reaction capacities – Equal causes, equal effects; unequal causes, unequal effects’. Where there are genuine differences of opinion about the beauty or ugliness of things, either the organisms of the perceivers are different, or the point of view from which they are viewed is different, or the things themselves are different. All questions of beauty and ugliness reduce to how sentience experiences the input of characterised energy into its already characterised organism. “One man’s fish is another man’s poisson”.

The three functions, Ideation, Feeling and Impulse to action are related respectively to Truth, Beauty and Goodness.