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Beauty and Ugliness

Definitions Of Beauty, The Function Of Beauty, Bibliography

Beauty is a vital and central element of human experience. It is associated with pleasure, which influences personal choices and cultural developments. Poets praise it, artists strive to capture it in their works, moralists warn against its deceiving influence, scientists seek to uncover its secrets, and philosophers reflect on its illusive nature. Expressions of the vitality of beauty in its role in everyday life are found in any culture. The attraction of beauty, the desire to be beautiful and obtain beautiful objects, is universal, although the manifestations of this desire vary across cultures and ages. Classical Western philosophy has regarded beauty as one of the three fundamental concepts of human understanding: truth (and falsehood), good (and evil), beauty (and ugliness). However, in the seventeenth century beauty was considered a marginal concept, while in the twentieth century it came to be regarded as dispensable altogether.

Beauty is typically related to the visual field, but is not limited to it. The Hebrew Bible attributes beauty mainly to human appearance and natural scenery, but also to the voice (Ezekiel, 33:32), to wisdom (Ezekiel, 28:7), and to God (Psalms, 50:2). The ancient Greeks ascribed beauty to things that are morally good, appropriate, and pleasing, be they natural objects or artifacts, tangible and concrete or abstract, personal deeds, or social institutions. In China beauty refers to wealth, longevity, talent, good reputation, and behavior. There appears to be a cross-cultural agreement that beauty is relevant to all aspects of life, but the nature of the concept and its actual applications are a matter of constant dispute. The variety of tastes and their suppleness, the difficulties in justifying judgments of beauty (and in determining their common ground) indicate that the idea of beauty is far more complicated than the way it appears in everyday experience.

Theories of beauty typically focus on two aspects: defining beauty, and determining its function and significance.

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