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What is the genus and differentia of beauty?
When we say "X is beautiful" what are we objectively identifying about X, where X could be a woman, a mathematical theorem, a flower, a panther in the jungle, a sunset, some lines of code, a fractal, etc?

asked Nov 13 '10 at 18:19

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Francisco ♦
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edited Nov 13 '10 at 18:40

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Greg Perkins ♦♦
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Determination of "beauty" is a subjective assessment of some outside feature. As such, different observers will find different assessments of what is beautiful to them. For example: if I find Mozart's Requiem to be beautiful because I find its structure and musicality to be pleasing to me, that is an assessment of value on my part. If I find it "beautiful" because my high school band teacher told me it was so while I find it boring, then my determination in that case is irrational and meaningless because I have assigned value to something from which I find no value.

(Nov 13 '10 at 19:00) ethwc ♦ ethwc's gravatar image

ethwc: If you're going to post an answer, go ahead and post it in the answer section, not just in the comments. That way people can vote it up or down, comment on it, etc. Thanks!

(Nov 14 '10 at 02:13) jasoncrawford ♦ jasoncrawford's gravatar image

What ARE the differentia and genus of beauty.

(Nov 19 '10 at 22:11) Mindy Newton ♦ Mindy%20Newton's gravatar image
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Merriam-Webster defines it as:

the quality or aggregate of qualities in a person or thing that gives pleasure to the senses or pleasurably exalts the mind or spirit.

That seems reasonable to me. (American Heritage Dictionary and Dictionary.com have similar, but less concise and essentiallized, definitions.)

Leonard Peikoff, speaking extemporaneously in a Q&A, said:

Beauty is a sense of harmony. Whether it’s an image, a human face, a body, or a sunset, take the object which you call beautiful, as a unit [and ask yourself]: what parts is it made up of, what are its constituent elements, and are they all harmonious? If they are, the result is beautiful. If there are contradictions and clashes, the result is marred or positively ugly. . . .

By the way, on the issue of whether beauty is subjective, he also adds:

Now since this is an objective definition of beauty, there of course can be universal standards of beauty—provided you define the terms of what objects you are going to classify as beautiful and what you take as the ideal harmonious relationship of the elements of that particular object. To say, “It’s in the eyes of the beholder”—that, of course, would be pure subjectivism, if taken literally. It isn’t [a matter of] what you, for unknown reasons, decide to regard as beautiful. It is true, of course, that if there were no valuers, then nothing could be valued as beautiful or ugly, because values are created by the observing consciousness—but they are created by a standard based on reality. So here the issue is: values, including beauty, have to be judged as objective, not subjective or intrinsic.

(From the entry on "Beauty" in The Ayn Rand Lexicon.)

answered Nov 14 '10 at 02:22

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jasoncrawford ♦
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Thanks Jason! So would you say from the dictionary definition that the genus is evaluation, and the differentia pleasurable to the senses or the spirit? Seems too broad to me... Also I have heard the harmony explanation before, but what does it mean for something to be harmonious?

(Nov 14 '10 at 02:51) Francisco ♦ Francisco's gravatar image

I'd say the genus is "quality" (as in "attribute" or "property"). That's broad, but it makes sense to me that "beauty" would have a broad genus.

The differentia is something like "pleasurable to the mind or to contemplation." I don't think I would say "to the senses", because that would include purely sensual pleasures as beautiful.

(Nov 14 '10 at 03:10) jasoncrawford ♦ jasoncrawford's gravatar image

I can't say I understand the "harmony" idea very well; I posted it just because it was relevant and interesting. But I think harmony means that all the pieces fit together somehow—they are consistent with each other, work together, form an integrated whole, as opposed to having "contradictions and clashes".

(Nov 14 '10 at 03:11) jasoncrawford ♦ jasoncrawford's gravatar image
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"Aesthetic quality is apprehended by the aesthetically-minded observer as a quality which presents itself to him with compelling power; which characterizes different objects in different degrees and in conformity to certain basic principles; which he can rediscover on different occasions and explore as he explores other objective qualities; and which other aesthetically sensitive observers can also discover and investigate." (pp4-5 of The Arts and The Art of Criticism, T.M. Greene, 1940, Oxford Univ. Press, London.) This is a painstaking definition by a serious and sensible scholar who values objectivity, and frequently discusses objectivity in his lengthy and excellent book. He discusses perception, concept-formation, essences, individual and categorical character. etc. He says of aesthetic response: "It therefore presupposes the objective reality of what is thus discovered with aesthetic delight." (pg. 9)

As this "question" is very broad, a reference to an acceptable text is hopefully not inappropriate. That beauty is as simple as color, and as profound as a symphony are both dealt with, and this approach is applied to dance, music, painting, sculpture, architecture, and literature in detail. There are discussions of the cognitive specifics of artistic creation and artistic contemplation. This author comments, for example, "...if his own philosophy of life is shoddy and unintegrated, he cannot hope to recognize the expression in art of any type of spiritual integrity in others." And, "...for the typical modern man has in large measure lost his sense of objective values..."

The role of cognitive principles, of philosophical precepts, and objectivity in art are subjects that may be explored further through this book.

answered Nov 19 '10 at 22:30

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Mindy Newton ♦
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Asked: Nov 13 '10 at 18:19

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Last updated: Nov 19 '10 at 22:30