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(the beautiful), a category of aesthetics referring to phenomena of the highest aesthetic value. As an aesthetic value, beauty differs from moral and theoretical values (the good and the true) in that it is associated with a certain sensuous form and is addressed to contemplation or the imagination. Perception of the beautiful, unlike that of the utilitarian or useful, is disinterested.
The ancient aesthetic consciousness conceived of beauty as an inherent characteristic of the world, of the universe. The Pythagoreans believed that beauty is the harmony inherent in things and that its source lies in mystically understood quantitative relationships. According to Heraclitus, “the very beautiful arrangement of the world” and “most beautiful harmony” are the result of the unity and struggle of opposites. Regarding the relativity of beauty, Heraclitus remarked: “the most beautiful ape is ugly when compared with the human species” (quoted in Plato, Hippias Major, 289A). According to Socrates, beauty is relative, since “all things are good and beautiful in relation to those purposes for which they are well adapted” (Xenophon, Memorabilia, III, 8, 5). Plato draws a precise distinction between “what is beautiful” and “what is beauty” (Hippias Major, 287E)—that is, between the essence of beauty and its manifestations. He treats the essence of beauty as an eternal, absolute, divine idea, on which the existence of all beautiful phenomena depends (Symposium, 211A-B). Man “beholds the beauty of this world [and] is reminded of true beauty” (Phaedrus, 249D).
Rejecting the theory of Platonic “ideas,” Aristotle proposes that “the beautiful and the existence of the beautiful” must be one (Metaphysics, VII, 6, 1031c). Accordingly, he regards beauty as an objective characteristic of reality itself and as a manifestation of reality’s laws: “the chief forms of the beautiful are order [in space], symmetry, and definiteness” (Metaphysics, XIII, 3, 1078a34). Aristotle associates beauty in living nature with purpose (On the Parts of Animals, 645a).
An objective idealist understanding of beauty is developed in the aesthetic doctrines of Neoplatonism and Christianity. According to Plotinus, beauty in bodies results from association with the higher beauty emanating from the One (Enneads, I, 6, 1-9). Augustine wrote that god had created “fair and varied forms, and bright and soft colors” (Confessions, X, 34). Seeing the ultimate source of beauty in god, Thomas Aquinas considered the prerequisites of beauty to be integrity or completeness, due proportion or harmony, and brilliance (Summa theologiae, 1, quarto 39, art. 8).
Renaissance thinkers were convinced of the objective character of beauty, which L. B. Alberti defined as “strict proportionate harmony among all the parts, united by that to which they belong” (Desiat’ knig o zodchestve[Ten Books on Architecture], vol. 1, Moscow, 1935, p. 178). For Leonardo da Vinci and other Renaissance theorists and artists, the highest measure of beauty was man, harmoniously and comprehensively developed.
Classicism treated beauty and its evaluation rationalistically and normatively. During the Enlightenment aesthetics emerged as a separate discipline, “the science of the beautiful” (the work of A. Baumgarten). The analysis of beauty by Enlightenment thinkers is associated with their search for harmonious social ties that would overcome the contradictions of modern civilization. Beauty was regarded as a link between reason and feelings, between abstract duty and natural inclinations, as “freedom in phenomena” (F. von Schiller), and as the unity of the true and the ideal in art (D. Diderot, G. E. Lessing). Diderot, believing that “the perception of relationships is the basis of the beautiful,” distinguished between “real beauty” and “the beauty that we perceive,” or “relative beauty” (Izbr. proizv., Moscow, 1951, pp. 382, 378).
British sensationalistic aestheticians of the 18th century made detailed studies of the psychology of the perception and experience of beauty (F. Hutcheson, H. Home, and E. Burke). The absolutization of the subjective aspect of beauty led D. Hume and I. Kant to an idealist denial of its objectivity. According to Kant, the “aesthetic quality” is “that which, in one’s conception of an object, is purely subjective” (Soch., vol. 5, Moscow, 1966, p. 188), and “the judgment of taste is not a judgment of cognition” (ibid., p. 210). An object may be considered beautiful if one’s attitude toward it is disinterested, if it is represented without concepts as an object of universal “necessary satisfaction,” and if it is perceived as possessing “the form of purposiveness,” “without any representation of a purpose” (ibid, pp. 245, 240).
In his study of beauty, Hegel rejects the Kantian “erroneous idea of the existence of a firm opposition between subjective thinking and objective objects” (Soch., vol. 12, Moscow, 1938, p. 61). For Hegel, beauty is objectively “the sensible manifestation of the idea” (ibid., p. 115). Inasmuch as an idea is manifested only in a disorderly way in nature, beauty in nature is imperfect. Only art, according to Hegel, is capable of realizing the complete agreement between idea and image that is necessary for true beauty. In art, beauty itself is the ideal. The most valuable achievement of Hegelian aesthetics is the dialectical approach to the study of beauty and an understanding of the historical development of beauty, even if only on an objective idealist basis.
Materialist aesthetics of the 18th and 19th centuries endeavored to demonstrate the objective character of beauty, which was considered a property, quality, or relationship of material reality. For instance, in A Philosophical Inquiry Into the Origin of Our Ideas on the Sublime and Beautiful, the British philosopher E. Burke wrote: “By beauty I mean, that quality or those qualities in bodies by which they [the bodies] cause love or some passion similar to it.”
Attacking Burke’s simplified treatment of the objective character of beauty, N. G. Chernyshevskii criticized the British philosopher for defining “the beautiful and sublime as qualities of the very bodies that produce such impressions on us” (Poln. sobr. soch., vol. 2, 1949, p. 136). According to Chernyshevskii, “beauty is life” and “that being is beautiful in which we see life as it ought to be, according to our conceptions” (ibid., p. 10).
In bourgeois aesthetics of the late 19th and 20th centuries, the problem of beauty is viewed from an idealist standpoint. According to the subjective idealist theory of empathy (F. T. Vischer, T. Lipps, and Vernon Lee), beauty is the projection of human feelings onto an object. The American philosopher G. Santayana wrote: “Beauty is pleasure regarded as the quality of a thing” (The Sense of Beauty, New York, 1955, p. 51). For B. Croce, beauty is “successful expression” (Estetika kak nauka o vyra-zhenii i kak obshchaia lingvistika [Aesthetics as Science of Expression and General Linguistic], part 1, Moscow, 1920, p. 106). In the aesthetics of pragmatism, beauty is treated as a quality of “experience,” in its idealist sense. J. Dewey (USA) reduces beauty to a term “denoting a characteristic emotion” (Art as Experience, New York, 1934, p. 129). A number of ideas in bourgeois aesthetics erase the boundaries between beauty and ugliness.
Marxist aesthetics discovered a regular link between beauty and human labor, on the basis of which the human aesthetic attitude toward the world had developed. K. Marx observed that “man also shapes matter according to the laws of beauty,” inasmuch as man asserts his sociohuman essence in his practical building of the objective world and, in contrast to the animals, “produces universally, … being free of physical necessity.” Man “freely stands apart from his own product,” knows how to produce on any scale, and can always apply the scale appropriate to the object (K. Marx and F. Engels, Iz rannikh proizv., 1956, p. 566). The diverse phenomena of nature and society possess the quality of beauty to the degree to which they emerge, in their concretely sensuous integrity, as a sociohuman value, attesting to the assertion of man in the real world and objectively embodying the free development of man and society. Therefore, the perception and experience of beauty evoke disinterested love, a feeling of joy, and a sense of freedom.
Certain patterns or principles characteristic of the external appearance of phenomena (regularity, symmetry, harmony, rhythm, proportion, and gradations of sound or of tone and color) have acquired aesthetic significance, because by becoming acquainted with them and using them, man asserts himself materially and spiritually in the world. Human labor possesses the quality of beauty, as a free, creative, socially significant activity that brings satisfaction “through the play of bodily and mental powers” (K. Marx, in K. Marx and F. Engels, Soch., 2nd ed., vol. 23, p. 189). The results of human labor, which bear the “imprint” of great skill and high culture, also possess the quality of beauty. In the products of human work, beauty emerges as a manifestation and, consequently, as evidence of purposefulness and completion. Beauty has both spiritual and practical meaning for man and society. The perception of beauty is disinterested—that is, alien to any vulgar utilitarianism, but not “indifferent.” On the contrary, the experience of beauty is disinterested precisely because personal and social interests are merged in it. Man feels personally involved in the social significance of beauty. Thus, the aesthetic relationship to beauty also has an ethical aspect, corresponding to the unity of aesthetic and moral values.
Beauty in art (the artistic value of beauty) depends on a truthful reflection of life (the beauty of truth), the expression of humanistic ideals, and mastery, which creates form that corresponds harmoniously to content.
As a value expressing the objective aesthetic significance of phenomena, beauty is perceived through subjective aesthetic evaluations, through the prism of human tastes and ideals. An extremely important task of aesthetic education is the formation and development of man’s ability to apprehend the true value of beauty.
In Soviet literature on aesthetics, the problem of beauty has given rise to a debate centering on the correlation between objective and subjective beauty and between natural and social beauty.
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