Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Is There Objective Beauty?

I wanted to re-post something from my own blog, along with the discussion I had with an anonymous philosopher. Feel free to read the whole thing at (shameless plug)

I believe that beauty is indeed objective, though it comes to us subjectively. Beauty is an attribute of God, and as all Divine attributes is eternal, absolute, and universal. God's other attributes (truth, goodness, justice, power, etc.) are all the source from which we draw our conceptions of these things in the world, and I think it is the same with beauty. Just as all of these other attributes have an absolute (and thus objective) reality or fulfillment in God, so absolute (and thus objective) beauty can also be found there.

We see reflections of this perfect beauty in the world, in varied and diverse places, all of which give us a glimpse of that true, perfect beauty beyond this world (forgive me for sounding Platonic), in God. So the different reflections of this attribute, each impacting us in different ways and to different degrees, are all facets of ultimate and objective beauty. So while it may seem that beauty is subjective on one level, of we "zoom out" and consider God, we can see that objective beauty exists because it finds its absolute in Him.

I'll post the comments as comments.


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  3. Actually, they're mostly about the personal vs. absolute dichotomy, and not really relevant. Nevermind.

  4. Hey Austin, thanks for re-posting this over here, and for giving me the opportunity to establish the first two ground rules for this blog:

    1. There's no shame in shameless plugs.

    2. Never apologize for sounding Platonic. Ever.

    If I could just add my two cents to the conversation about objective beauty, I'd like to make one small suggestion. Often when we ask whether something admits of "objectivity," we mean this as more or less synonymous with the question of whether it is a matter to which we can apply the concept of truth. In our ordinary use (and especially in the ordinary philosophical use) of these terms, truth is by definition confined to the realm of objectivity. Whatever cannot be considered from an objective vantage point just is that about which there cannot be any truth in the proper sense.

    In our ordinary, empirical engagement in the world, this is a perfectly defensible claim. But one of the questions which philosophers have attempted to raise by means of an interrogation of aesthetic experience, is whether there can be truth (in the sense that we can make claims that we expect others to agree with) in the absence of objectivity. Kant, for example, will understand our aesthetic judgments as containing a subjectively grounded form of truth--subjective in the sense that when I say of something, "this is beautiful," I do not imagine that I am describing a property of the object, but rather of its effect upon me; and true in the sense that I expect that anyone who encounters the same object will also find it to be beautiful.

    What Kant has in mind is something like this: it would be absurd to say of something, "This is beautiful to me." The inclusion of the qualifier "to me" contradicts precisely what we mean in calling the thing beautiful. At the same time, however, we recognize that whatever it is that makes that thing beautiful is not a measurable or empirically testable property of the object.

    We'll spend a good deal more time on this in a few weeks, but I just wanted to put the idea out there for now.