Beauty as Subjective-Objective

“The Nature of Beauty

(1) Beauty as Objective

It has at times been held that beauty is objective in the sense that it exists in things and would continue so to exist even if there were no minds to appreciate it. This view is expressed by Richard Price, for example, in his contention or quality so “inherent in objects that it would exist in them whether any mind perceived it or not.” The locus on beauty is in the environment, and not in any sense in the mind of the one who appreciates it.

As we shall see below, there is an element of truth in this view. But there are difficulties in the way of it which forbid its unconditional acceptance. The chief of these perhaps is the fact, easily verified, that notions of beauty vary from age to age and from race to race; this is particularly evident in works of art, as a survey of different types of music, painting, or sculpture will show. It is not easy, for instance, for one trained in the traditions of European art to appreciate the beauty in the art of the Chinese and the Japanese…

Such facts as these would seem to be inconsistent with the theory of the extreme objectivity of beauty. If beauty be objective and in no sense dependent upon the mind that experiences it, why should it not universally be the same for all minds? Why these variations?

(2) Beauty as Subjective

There is another view of the locus of beauty which is the opposite extreme from that described above. This is the view that beauty exists, not in the environment, but wholly in the mind. It is a peculiar way of feeling that human beings entertain about  the world, a “light that never was on sea or land” but exists only in the heart of man.

…But granting this, there are other facts that will not permit us to say that beauty is wholly a matter of subjective feeling. On this side it must not be forgotten that, broadly speaking, beauty exists for all minds alike and that adequate training tends to bring aesthetic judgments towards a common standard.

(3) Beauty as Subjective-Objective

If, then, the locus of beauty is neither exclusively in objects nor exclusively in the mind, where may it be said to be? The most obvious answer is: In the environment and in the mind of man, in the mind as a special sort of reaction to the environment. And this would seem to be the truth of the matter. Beauty is definable only in terms of objects of a certain sort standing in a peculiar relation to perceiving minds: It is “neither totally dependent upon the person who experiences, nor upon the thing experienced; it is neither subjective nor objective, neither the result if purely intellectual activity, nor a value inherent in the object, but a relation between two variables-the human organism and the object.”

…The values of beauty are the objects of aesthetic judgment; and every judgment, we have seen, is precisely the reaciton of mind to an environmental situation. These objects are beauty which are such qualities as to arouse in an observing mind that peculiar response called ‘aesthetic’ – the judgment of beauty.

(Cunningham, The Problems of Philosophy, 360)


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