Interesting Literature

A Summary and Analysis of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s ‘Nature’

By Dr Oliver Tearle (Loughborough University)

‘Nature’ is an 1836 essay by the American writer and thinker Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-82). In this essay, Emerson explores the relationship between nature and humankind, arguing that if we approach nature with a poet’s eye, and a pure spirit, we will find the wonders of nature revealed to us.

You can read ‘Nature’ in full here . Below, we summarise Emerson’s argument and offer an analysis of its meaning and context.

Emerson begins his essay by defining nature, in philosophical terms, as anything that is not our individual souls. So our bodies, as well as all of the natural world, but also all of the world of art and technology, too, are ‘nature’ in this philosophical sense of the world. He urges his readers not to rely on tradition or history to help them to understand the world: instead, they should look to nature and the world around them.

In the first chapter, Emerson argues that nature is never ‘used up’ when the right mind examines it: it is a source of boundless curiosity. No man can own the landscape: it belongs, if it belongs to anyone at all, to ‘the poet’. Emerson argues that when a man returns to nature he can rediscover his lost youth, that wide-eyed innocence he had when he went among nature as a boy.

Emerson states that when he goes among nature, he becomes a ‘transparent eyeball’ because he sees nature but is himself nothing: he has been absorbed or subsumed into nature and, because God made nature, God himself. He feels a deep kinship and communion with all of nature. He acknowledges that our view of nature depends on our own mood, and that the natural world reflects the mood we are feeling at the time.

In the second chapter, Emerson focuses on ‘commodity’: the name he gives to all of the advantages which our senses owe to nature. Emerson draws a parallel with the ‘useful arts’ which have built houses and steamships and whole towns: these are the man-made equivalents of the natural world, in that both nature and the ‘arts’ are designed to provide benefit and use to mankind.

The third chapter then turns to ‘beauty’, and the beauty of nature comprises several aspects, which Emerson outlines. First, the beauty of nature is a restorative : seeing the sky when we emerge from a day’s work can restore us to ourselves and make us happy again. The human eye is the best ‘artist’ because it perceives and appreciates this beauty so keenly. Even the countryside in winter possesses its own beauty.

The second aspect of beauty Emerson considers is the spiritual element. Great actions in history are often accompanied by a beautiful backdrop provided by nature. The third aspect in which nature should be viewed is its value to the human intellect . Nature can help to inspire people to create and invent new things. Everything in nature is a representation of a universal harmony and perfection, something greater than itself.

In his fourth chapter, Emerson considers the relationship between nature and language. Our language is often a reflection of some natural state: for instance, the word right literally means ‘straight’, while wrong originally denoted something ‘twisted’. But we also turn to nature when we wish to use language to reflect a ‘spiritual fact’: for example, that a lamb symbolises innocence, or a fox represents cunning. Language represents nature, therefore, and nature in turn represents some spiritual truth.

Emerson argues that ‘the whole of nature is a metaphor of the human mind.’ Many great principles of the physical world are also ethical or moral axioms: for example, ‘the whole is greater than its part’.

In the fifth chapter, Emerson turns his attention to nature as a discipline . Its order can teach us spiritual and moral truths, but it also puts itself at the service of mankind, who can distinguish and separate (for instance, using water for drinking but wool for weaving, and so on). There is a unity in nature which means that every part of it corresponds to all of the other parts, much as an individual art – such as architecture – is related to the others, such as music or religion.

The sixth chapter is devoted to idealism . How can we sure nature does actually exist, and is not a mere product within ‘the apocalypse of the mind’, as Emerson puts it? He believes it doesn’t make any practical difference either way (but for his part, Emerson states that he believes God ‘never jests with us’, so nature almost certainly does have an external existence and reality).

Indeed, we can determine that we are separate from nature by changing out perspective in relation to it: for example, by bending down and looking between our legs, observing the landscape upside down rather than the way we usually view it. Emerson quotes from Shakespeare to illustrate how poets can draw upon nature to create symbols which reflect the emotions of the human soul. Religion and ethics, by contrast, degrade nature by viewing it as lesser than divine or moral truth.

Next, in the seventh chapter, Emerson considers nature and the spirit . Spirit, specifically the spirit of God, is present throughout nature. In his eighth and final chapter, ‘Prospects’, Emerson argues that we need to contemplate nature as a whole entity, arguing that ‘a dream may let us deeper into the secret of nature than a hundred concerted experiments’ which focus on more local details within nature.

Emerson concludes by arguing that in order to detect the unity and perfection within nature, we must first perfect our souls. ‘He cannot be a naturalist until he satisfies all the demands of the spirit’, Emerson urges. Wisdom means finding the miraculous within the common or everyday. He then urges the reader to build their own world, using their spirit as the foundation. Then the beauty of nature will reveal itself to us.

In a number of respects, Ralph Waldo Emerson puts forward a radically new attitude towards our relationship with nature. For example, although we may consider language to be man-made and artificial, Emerson demonstrates that the words and phrases we use to describe the world are drawn from our observation of nature. Nature and the human spirit are closely related, for Emerson, because they are both part of ‘the same spirit’: namely, God. Although we are separate from nature – or rather, our souls are separate from nature, as his prefatory remarks make clear – we can rediscover the common kinship between us and the world.

Emerson wrote ‘Nature’ in 1836, not long after Romanticism became an important literary, artistic, and philosophical movement in Europe and the United States. Like Wordsworth and the Romantics before him, Emerson argues that children have a better understanding of nature than adults, and when a man returns to nature he can rediscover his lost youth, that wide-eyed innocence he had when he went among nature as a boy.

And like Wordsworth, Emerson argued that to understand the world, we should go out there and engage with it ourselves, rather than relying on books and tradition to tell us what to think about it. In this connection, one could undertake a comparative analysis of Emerson’s ‘Nature’ and Wordsworth’s pair of poems ‘ Expostulation and Reply ’ and ‘ The Tables Turned ’, the former of which begins with a schoolteacher rebuking Wordsworth for sitting among nature rather than having his nose buried in a book:

‘Why, William, on that old gray stone, ‘Thus for the length of half a day, ‘Why, William, sit you thus alone, ‘And dream your time away?

‘Where are your books?—that light bequeathed ‘To beings else forlorn and blind! ‘Up! up! and drink the spirit breathed ‘From dead men to their kind.

Similarly, for Emerson, the poet and the dreamer can get closer to the true meaning of nature than scientists because they can grasp its unity by viewing it holistically, rather than focusing on analysing its rock formations or other more local details. All of this is in keeping with the philosophy of Transcendentalism , that nineteenth-century movement which argued for a kind of spiritual thinking instead of scientific thinking based narrowly on material things.

Emerson, along with Henry David Thoreau, was the most famous writer to belong to the Transcendentalist movement, and ‘Nature’ is fundamentally a Transcendentalist essay, arguing for an intuitive and ‘poetic’ engagement with nature in the round rather than a coldly scientific or empirical analysis of its component parts.

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Ralph Waldo Emerson

This love of beauty is Taste. The creation of beauty is Art.

W as never form and never face So sweet to SEYD as only grace Which did not slumber like a stone But hovered gleaming and was gone. Beauty chased he everywhere, In flame, in storm, in clouds of air. He smote the lake to feed his eye With the beryl beam of the broken wave; He flung in pebbles well to hear The moment's music which they gave. Oft pealed for him a lofty tone From nodding pole and belting zone. He heard a voice none else could hear From centred and from errant sphere. The quaking earth did quake in rhyme, Seas ebbed and flowed in epic chime. In dens of passion, and pits of wo, He saw strong Eros struggling through, To sun the dark and solve the curse, And beam to the bounds of the universe. While thus to love he gave his days In loyal worship, scorning praise, How spread their lures for him, in vain, Thieving Ambition and paltering Gain! He thought it happier to be dead, To die for Beauty, than live for bread.

T he spiral tendency of vegetation infects education also. Our books approach very slowly the things we most wish to know. What a parade we make of our science, and how far off, and at arm's length, it is from its objects! Our botany is all names, not powers: poets and romancers talk of herbs of grace and healing; but what does the botanist know of the virtues of his weeds? The geologist lays bare the strata, and can tell them all on his fingers: but does he know what effect passes into the man who builds his house in them? what effect on the race that inhabits a granite shelf? what on the inhabitants of marl and of alluvium?

We should go to the ornithologist with a new feeling, if he could teach us what the social birds say, when they sit in the autumn council, talking together in the trees. The want of sympathy makes his record a dull dictionary. His result is a dead bird. The bird is not in its ounces and inches, but in its relations to Nature; and the skin or skeleton you show me, is no more a heron, than a heap of ashes or a bottle of gases into which his body has been reduced, is Dante or Washington. The naturalist is led from the road by the whole distance of his fancied advance. The boy had juster views when he gazed at the shells on the beach, or the flowers in the meadow, unable to call them by their names, than the man in the pride of his nomenclature. Astrology interested us, for it tied man to the system. Instead of an isolated beggar, the farthest star felt him, and he felt the star. However rash and however falsified by pretenders and traders in it, the hint was true and divine, the soul's avowal of its large relations, and, that climate, century, remote natures, as well as near, are part of its biography. Chemistry takes to pieces, but it does not construct. Alchemy which sought to transmute one element into another, to prolong life, to arm with power, — that was in the right direction. All our science lacks a human side. The tenant is more than the house. Bugs and stamens and spores, on which we lavish so many years, are not finalities, and man, when his powers unfold in order, will take Nature along with him, and emit light into all her recesses. The human heart concerns us more than the poring into microscopes, and is larger than can be measured by the pompous figures of the astronomer.

We are just so frivolous and skeptical. Men hold themselves cheap and vile: and yet a man is a fagot of thunderbolts. All the elements pour through his system: he is the flood of the flood, and fire of the fire; he feels the antipodes and the pole, as drops of his blood: they are the extension of his personality. His duties are measured by that instrument he is; and a right and perfect man would be felt to the centre of the Copernican system. 'Tis curious that we only believe as deep as we live. We do not think heroes can exert any more awful power than that surface-play which amuses us. A deep man believes in miracles, waits for them, believes in magic, believes that the orator will decompose his adversary; believes that the evil eye can wither, that the heart's blessing can heal; that love can exalt talent; can overcome all odds. From a great heart secret magnetisms flow incessantly to draw great events. But we prize very humble utilities, a prudent husband, a good son, a voter, a citizen, and deprecate any romance of character; and perhaps reckon only his money value, — his intellect, his affection, as a sort of bill of exchange, easily convertible into fine chambers, pictures, music, and wine.

Never lose an opportunity of seeing anything beautiful

The motive of science was the extension of man, on all sides, into Nature, till his hands should touch the stars, his eyes see through the earth, his ears understand the language of beast and bird, and the sense of the wind; and, through his sympathy, heaven and earth should talk with him. But that is not our science. These geologies, chemistries, astronomies, seem to make wise, but they leave us where they found us. The invention is of use to the inventor, of questionable help to any other. The formulas of science are like the papers in your pocket-book, of no value to any but the owner. Science in England, in America, is jealous of theory, hates the name of love and moral purpose. There's a revenge for this inhumanity. What manner of man does science make? The boy is not attracted. He says, I do not wish to be such a kind of man as my professor is. The collector has dried all the plants in his herbal, but he has lost weight and humor. He has got all snakes and lizards in his phials, but science has done for him also, and has put the man into a bottle. Our reliance on the physician is a kind of despair of ourselves. The clergy have bronchitis, which does not seem a certificate of spiritual health. Macready thought it came of the falsetto of their voicing. An Indian prince, Tisso, one day riding in the forest, saw a herd of elk sporting. "See how happy," he said, "these browsing elks are! Why should not priests, lodged and fed comfortably in the temples, also amuse themselves?" Returning home, he imparted this reflection to the king. The king, on the next day, conferred the sovereignty on him, saying, "Prince, administer this empire for seven days: at the termination of that period, I shall put thee to death." At the end of the seventh day, the king inquired, "From what cause hast thou become so emaciated?" He answered, "From the horror of death." The monarch rejoined: "Live, my child, and be wise. Thou hast ceased to take recreation, saying to thyself, in seven days I shall be put to death. These priests in the temple incessantly meditate on death; how can they enter into healthful diversions?" But the men of science or the doctors or the clergy are not victims of their pursuits, more than others. The miller, the lawyer, and the merchant, dedicate themselves to their own details, and do not come out men of more force. Have they divination, grand aims, hospitality of soul, and the equality to any event, which we demand in man, or only the reactions of the mill, of the wares, of the chicane?

No object really interests us but man, and in man only his superiorities; and, though we are aware of a perfect law in Nature, it has fascination for us only through its relation to him, or, as it is rooted in the mind. At the birth of Winckelmann, more than a hundred years ago, side by side with this arid, departmental, post mortem science, rose an enthusiasm in the study of Beauty; and perhaps some sparks from it may yet light a conflagration in the other. Knowledge of men, knowledge of manners , the power of form, and our sensibility to personal influence, never go out of fashion. These are facts of a science which we study without book, whose teachers and subjects are always near us.

So inveterate is our habit of criticism, that much of our knowledge in this direction belongs to the chapter of pathology. The crowd in the street oftener furnishes degradations than angels or redeemers: but they all prove the transparency. Every spirit makes its house; and we can give a shrewd guess from the house to the inhabitant. But not less does Nature furnish us with every sign of grace and goodness. The delicious faces of children, the beauty of school-girls, "the sweet seriousness of sixteen," the lofty air of well-born, well-bred boys, the passionate histories in the looks and manners of youth and early manhood, and the varied power in all that well-known company that escort us through life, — we know how these forms thrill, paralyze, provoke, inspire, and enlarge us.

Beauty is the form under which the intellect prefers to study the world. All privilege is that of beauty; for there are many beauties; as, of general nature, of the human face and form, of manners , of brain, or method, moral beauty, or beauty of the soul.

The ancients believed that a genius or demon took possession at birth of each mortal, to guide him; that these genii were sometimes seen as a flame of fire partly immersed in the bodies which they governed; — on an evil man, resting on his head; in a good man, mixed with his substance. They thought the same genius, at the death of its ward, entered a new-born child, and they pretended to guess the pilot, by the sailing of the ship. We recognize obscurely the same fact, though we give it our own names. We say, that every man is entitled to be valued by his best moment. We measure our friends so. We know, they have intervals of folly, whereof we take no heed, but wait the reappearings of the genius, which are sure and beautiful. On the other side, everybody knows people who appear beridden, and who, with all degrees of ability, never impress us with the air of free agency. They know it too, and peep with their eyes to see if you detect their sad plight. We fancy, could we pronounce the solving word, and disenchant them, the cloud would roll up, the little rider would be discovered and unseated, and they would regain their freedom. The remedy seems never to be far off, since the first step into thought lifts this mountain of necessity. Thought is the pent air-ball which can rive the planet, and the beauty which certain objects have for him, is the friendly fire which expands the thought, and acquaints the prisoner that liberty and power await him.

Nature always wear

The question of Beauty takes us out of surfaces, to thinking of the foundations of things. Goethe said, "The beautiful is a manifestation of secret laws of Nature, which, but for this appearance, had been forever concealed from us." And the working of this deep instinct makes all the excitement — much of it superficial and absurd enough — about works of art, which leads armies of vain travellers every year to Italy, Greece, and Egypt. Every man values every acquisition he makes in the science of beauty, above his possessions. The most useful man in the most useful world, so long as only commodity was served, would remain unsatisfied. But, as fast as he sees beauty, life acquires a very high value.

I am warned by the ill fate of many philosophers not to attempt a definition of Beauty. I will rather enumerate a few of its qualities. We ascribe beauty to that which is simple; which has no superfluous parts; which exactly answers its end; which stands related to all things; which is the mean of many extremes. It is the most enduring quality, and the most ascending quality. We say, love is blind, and the figure of Cupid is drawn with a bandage round his eyes. Blind: — yes, because he does not see what he does not like; but the sharpest-sighted hunter in the universe is Love, for finding what he seeks, and only that; and the mythologists tell us, that Vulcan was painted lame, and Cupid blind, to call attention to the fact, that one was all limbs, and the other, all eyes. In the true mythology, Love is an immortal child, and Beauty leads him as a guide: nor can we express a deeper sense than when we say, Beauty is the pilot of the young soul.

Beyond their sensuous delight, the forms and colors of Nature have a new charm for us in our perception, that not one ornament was added for ornament, but is a sign of some better health, or more excellent action. Elegance of form in bird or beast, or in the human figure, marks some excellence of structure: or beauty is only an invitation from what belongs to us. 'Tis a law of botany, that in plants, the same virtues follow the same forms. It is a rule of largest application, true in a plant, true in a loaf of bread, that in the construction of any fabric or organism, any real increase of fitness to its end, is an increase of beauty.

The lesson taught by the study of Greek and of Gothic art, of antique and of Pre-Raphaelite painting, was worth all the research, — namely, that all beauty must be organic; that outside embellishment is deformity. It is the soundness of the bones that ultimates itself in a peach-bloom complexion: health of constitution that makes the sparkle and the power of the eye. 'Tis the adjustment of the size and of the joining of the sockets of the skeleton, that gives grace of outline and the finer grace of movement. The cat and the deer cannot move or sit inelegantly. The dancing-master can never teach a badly built man to walk well. The tint of the flower proceeds from its root, and the lustres of the sea-shell begin with its existence. Hence our taste in building rejects paint, and all shifts, and shows the original grain of the wood: refuses pilasters and columns that support nothing, and allows the real supporters of the house honestly to show themselves. Every necessary or organic action pleases the beholder. A man leading a horse to water, a farmer sowing seed, the labors of haymakers in the field, the carpenter building a ship, the smith at his forge, or, whatever useful labor, is becoming to the wise eye. But if it is done to be seen, it is mean. How beautiful are ships on the sea! but ships in the theatre, — or ships kept for picturesque effect on Virginia Water, by George IV., and men hired to stand in fitting costumes at a penny an hour! — What a difference in effect between a battalion of troops marching to action, and one of our independent companies on a holiday! In the midst of a military show, and a festal procession gay with banners, I saw a boy seize an old tin pan that lay rusting under a wall, and poising it on the top of a stick, he set it turning, and made it describe the most elegant imaginable curves, and drew away attention from the decorated procession by this startling beauty.

Another text from the mythologists. The Greeks fabled that Venus was born of the foam of the sea. Nothing interests us which is stark or bounded, but only what streams with life, what is in act or endeavor to reach somewhat beyond. The pleasure a palace or a temple gives the eye, is, that an order and method has been communicated to stones, so that they speak and geometrize, become tender or sublime with expression. Beauty is the moment of transition, as if the form were just ready to flow into other forms. Any fixedness, heaping, or concentration on one feature, — a long nose, a sharp chin, a hump-back, — is the reverse of the flowing, and therefore deformed. Beautiful as is the symmetry of any form, if the form can move, we seek a more excellent symmetry. The interruption of equilibrium stimulates the eye to desire the restoration of symmetry, and to watch the steps through which it is attained. This is the charm of running water, sea-waves, the flight of birds, and the locomotion of animals. This is the theory of dancing, to recover continually in changes the lost equilibrium, not by abrupt and angular, but by gradual and curving movements. I have been told by persons of experience in matters of taste, that the fashions follow a law of gradation, and are never arbitrary. The new mode is always only a step onward in the same direction as the last mode; and a cultivated eye is prepared for and predicts the new fashion. This fact suggests the reason of all mistakes and offence in our own modes. It is necessary in music, when you strike a discord, to let down the ear by an intermediate note or two to the accord again: and many a good experiment, born of good sense, and destined to succeed, fails, only because it is offensively sudden. I suppose, the Parisian milliner who dresses the world from her imperious boudoir will know how to reconcile the Bloomer costume to the eye of mankind, and make it triumphant over Punch himself, by interposing the just gradations. I need not say, how wide the same law ranges; and how much it can be hoped to effect. All that is a little harshly claimed by progressive parties, may easily come to be conceded without question, if this rule be observed. Thus the circumstances may be easily imagined, in which woman may speak, vote, argue causes, legislate, and drive a coach, and all the most naturally in the world, if only it come by degrees. To this streaming or flowing belongs the beauty that all circular movement has; as, the circulation of waters, the circulation of the blood, the periodical motion of planets, the annual wave of vegetation, the action and reaction of Nature: and, if we follow it out, this demand in our thought for an ever-onward action, is the argument for the immortality.

One more text from the mythologists is to the same purpose, — Beauty rides on a lion . Beauty rests on necessities. The line of beauty is the result of perfect economy. The cell of the bee is built at that angle which gives the most strength with the least wax; the bone or the quill of the bird gives the most alar strength, with the least weight. "It is the purgation of superfluities," said Michel Angelo. There is not a particle to spare in natural structures. There is a compelling reason in the uses of the plant, for every novelty of color or form: and our art saves material, by more skilful arrangement, and reaches beauty by taking every superfluous ounce that can be spared from a wall, and keeping all its strength in the poetry of columns. In rhetoric, this art of omission is a chief secret of power, and, in general, it is proof of high culture, to say the greatest matters in the simplest way.

Veracity first of all, and forever. Rien de beau que le vrai . In all design, art lies in making your object prominent, but there is a prior art in choosing objects that are prominent. The fine arts have nothing casual, but spring from the instincts of the nations that created them.

Beauty is the quality which makes to endure. In a house that I know, I have noticed a block of spermaceti lying about closets and mantel-pieces, for twenty years together, simply because the tallow-man gave it the form of a rabbit; and, I suppose, it may continue to be lugged about unchanged for a century. Let an artist scrawl a few lines or figures on the back of a letter, and that scrap of paper is rescued from danger, is put in portfolio, is framed and glazed, and, in proportion to the beauty of the lines drawn, will be kept for centuries. Burns writes a copy of verses, and sends them to a newspaper, and the human race take charge of them that they shall not perish.

It is one of the blessings of old friends that you can afford to be stupid with them.

As the flute is heard farther than the cart, see how surely a beautiful form strikes the fancy of men, and is copied and reproduced without end. How many copies are there of the Belvedere Apollo, the Venus, the Psyche, the Warwick Vase, the Parthenon, and the Temple of Vesta? These are objects of tenderness to all. In our cities, an ugly building is soon removed, and is never repeated, but any beautiful building is copied and improved upon, so that all masons and carpenters work to repeat and preserve the agreeable forms, whilst the ugly ones die out.

The felicities of design in art, or in works of Nature, are shadows or forerunners of that beauty which reaches its perfection in the human form. All men are its lovers. Wherever it goes, it creates joy and hilarity, and everything is permitted to it. It reaches its height in woman. "To Eve," say the Mahometans, "God gave two thirds of all beauty." A beautiful woman is a practical poet, taming her savage mate, planting tenderness, hope, and eloquence , in all whom she approaches. Some favors of condition must go with it, since a certain serenity is essential, but we love its reproofs and superiorities. Nature wishes that woman should attract man, yet she often cunningly moulds into her face a little sarcasm, which seems to say, 'Yes, I am willing to attract, but to attract a little better kind of a man than any I yet behold.' French memoires of the fifteenth century celebrate the name of Pauline de Viguiere, a virtuous and accomplished maiden, who so fired the enthusiasm of her contemporaries, by her enchanting form, that the citizens of her native city of Toulouse obtained the aid of the civil authorities to compel her to appear publicly on the balcony at least twice a week, and, as often as she showed herself, the crowd was dangerous to life. Not less, in England, in the last century, was the fame of the Gunnings, of whom, Elizabeth married the Duke of Hamilton; and Maria, the Earl of Coventry. Walpole says, "the concourse was so great, when the Duchess of Hamilton was presented at court, on Friday, that even the noble crowd in the drawing-room clambered on chairs and tables to look at her. There are mobs at their doors to see them get into their chairs, and people go early to get places at the theatres, when it is known they will be there." "Such crowds," he adds, elsewhere, "flock to see the Duchess of Hamilton, that seven hundred people sat up all night, in and about an inn, in Yorkshire, to see her get into her post-chaise next morning."

But why need we console ourselves with the fames of Helen of Argos, or Corinna, or Pauline of Toulouse, or the Duchess of Hamilton? We all know this magic very well, or can divine it. It does not hurt weak eyes to look into beautiful eyes never so long. Women stand related to beautiful Nature around us, and the enamored youth mixes their form with moon and stars, with woods and waters, and the pomp of summer. They heal us of awkwardness by their words and looks. We observe their intellectual influence on the most serious student. They refine and clear his mind; teach him to put a pleasing method into what is dry and difficult. We talk to them, and wish to be listened to; we fear to fatigue them, and acquire a facility of expression which passes from conversation into habit of style.

That Beauty is the normal state, is shown by the perpetual effort of Nature to attain it. Mirabeau had an ugly face on a handsome ground; and we see faces every day which have a good type, but have been marred in the casting: a proof that we are all entitled to beauty, should have been beautiful, if our ancestors had kept the laws, — as every lily and every rose is well. But our bodies do not fit us, but caricature and satirize us. Thus, short legs, which constrain us to short, mincing steps, are a kind of personal insult and contumely to the owner; and long stilts, again, put him at perpetual disadvantage, and force him to stoop to the general level of mankind. Martial ridicules a gentleman of his day whose countenance resembled the face of a swimmer seen under water. Saadi describes a schoolmaster "so ugly and crabbed, that a sight of him would derange the ecstasies of the orthodox." Faces are rarely true to any ideal type, but are a record in sculpture of a thousand anecdotes of whim and folly. Portrait painters say that most faces and forms are irregular and unsymmetrical; have one eye blue, and one gray; the nose not straight; and one shoulder higher than another; the hair unequally distributed, etc. The man is physically as well as metaphysically a thing of shreds and patches, borrowed unequally from good and bad ancestors, and a misfit from the start.

A beautiful person, among the Greeks, was thought to betray by this sign some secret favor of the immortal gods: and we can pardon pride, when a woman possesses such a figure, that wherever she stands, or moves, or leaves a shadow on the wall, or sits for a portrait to the artist, she confers a favor on the world. And yet — it is not beauty that inspires the deepest passion. Beauty without grace is the hook without the bait. Beauty, without expression, tires. Abbe Menage said of the President Le Bailleul, "that he was fit for nothing but to sit for his portrait." A Greek epigram intimates that the force of love is not shown by the courting of beauty, but when the like desire is inflamed for one who is ill-favored. And petulant old gentlemen, who have chanced to suffer some intolerable weariness from pretty people, or who have seen cut flowers to some profusion, or who see, after a world of pains have been successfully taken for the costume, how the least mistake in sentiment takes all the beauty out of your clothes, — affirm, that the secret of ugliness consists not in irregularity, but in being uninteresting.

We love any forms, however ugly, from which great qualities shine. If command, eloquence , art, or invention, exist in the most deformed person, all the accidents that usually displease, please, and raise esteem and wonder higher. The great orator was an emaciated, insignificant person, but he was all brain. Cardinal De Retz says of De Bouillon, "With the physiognomy of an ox, he had the perspicacity of an eagle." It was said of Hooke, the friend of Newton, "he is the most, and promises the least, of any man in England." "Since I am so ugly," said Du Guesclin, "it behooves that I be bold." Sir Philip Sidney, the darling of mankind, Ben Jonson tells us, "was no pleasant man in countenance, his face being spoiled with pimples, and of high blood, and long." Those who have ruled human destinies, like planets, for thousands of years, were not handsome men. If a man can raise a small city to be a great kingdom, can make bread cheap, can irrigate deserts, can join oceans by canals, can subdue steam, can organize victory, can lead the opinions of mankind, can enlarge knowledge, 'tis no matter whether his nose is parallel to his spine, as it ought to be, or whether he has a nose at all; whether his legs are straight, or whether his legs are amputated; his deformities will come to be reckoned ornamental, and advantageous on the whole. This is the triumph of expression, degrading beauty, charming us with a power so fine and friendly and intoxicating, that it makes admired persons insipid, and the thought of passing our lives with them insupportable. There are faces so fluid with expression, so flushed and rippled by the play of thought, that we can hardly find what the mere features really are. When the delicious beauty of lineaments loses its power, it is because a more delicious beauty has appeared; that an interior and durable form has been disclosed. Still, Beauty rides on her lion, as before. Still, "it was for beauty that the world was made." The lives of the Italian artists, who established a despotism of genius amidst the dukes and kings and mobs of their stormy epoch, prove how loyal men in all times are to a finer brain, a finer method, than their own. If a man can cut such a head on his stone gate-post as shall draw and keep a crowd about it all day, by its beauty, good nature, and inscrutable meaning; — if a man can build a plain cottage with such symmetry, as to make all the fine palaces look cheap and vulgar; can take such advantage of Nature, that all her powers serve him; making use of geometry, instead of expense; tapping a mountain for his water-jet; causing the sun and moon to seem only the decorations of his estate; this is still the legitimate dominion of beauty.

The radiance of the human form, though sometimes astonishing, is only a burst of beauty for a few years or a few months, at the perfection of youth, and in most, rapidly declines. But we remain lovers of it, only transferring our interest to interior excellence. And it is not only admirable in singular and salient talents, but also in the world of manners .

But the sovereign attribute remains to be noted. Things are pretty, graceful, rich, elegant, handsome, but, until they speak to the imagination, not yet beautiful. This is the reason why beauty is still escaping out of all analysis. It is not yet possessed, it cannot be handled. Proclus says, "it swims on the light of forms." It is properly not in the form, but in the mind. It instantly deserts possession, and flies to an object in the horizon. If I could put my hand on the north star, would it be as beautiful? The sea is lovely, but when we bathe in it, the beauty forsakes all the near water. For the imagination and senses cannot be gratified at the same time. Wordsworth rightly speaks of "a light that never was on sea or land," meaning, that it was supplied by the observer, and the Welsh bard warns his countrywomen, that

— "half of their charms with Cadwallon shall die."

The new virtue which constitutes a thing beautiful, is a certain cosmical quality, or, a power to suggest relation to the whole world, and so lift the object out of a pitiful individuality. Every natural feature, — sea, sky, rainbow, flowers, musical tone, — has in it somewhat which is not private, but universal, speaks of that central benefit which is the soul of Nature, and thereby is beautiful. And, in chosen men and women, I find somewhat in form, speech, and manners , which is not of their person and family, but of a humane, catholic, and spiritual character, and we love them as the sky. They have a largeness of suggestion, and their face and manners carry a certain grandeur, like time and justice.

The feat of the imagination is in showing the convertibility of every thing into every other thing. Facts which had never before left their stark common sense, suddenly figure as Eleusinian mysteries. My boots and chair and candlestick are fairies in disguise, meteors and constellations. All the facts in Nature are nouns of the intellect, and make the grammar of the eternal language. Every word has a double, treble, or centuple use and meaning. What! has my stove and pepper-pot a false bottom! I cry you mercy, good shoe-box! I did not know you were a jewel-case. Chaff and dust begin to sparkle, and are clothed about with immortality. And there is a joy in perceiving the representative or symbolic character of a fact, which no bare fact or event can ever give. There are no days in life so memorable as those which vibrated to some stroke of the imagination.

The poets are quite right in decking their mistresses with the spoils of the landscape, flower-gardens, gems, rainbows, flushes of morning, and stars of night, since all beauty points at identity, and whatsoever thing does not express to me the sea and sky, day and night, is somewhat forbidden and wrong. Into every beautiful object, there enters somewhat immeasurable and divine, and just as much into form bounded by outlines, like mountains on the horizon, as into tones of music, or depths of space. Polarized light showed the secret architecture of bodies; and when the second-sight of the mind is opened, now one color or form or gesture, and now another, has a pungency, as if a more interior ray had been emitted, disclosing its deep holdings in the frame of things.

The laws of this translation we do not know, or why one feature or gesture enchants, why one word or syllable intoxicates, but the fact is familiar that the fine touch of the eye, or a grace of manners , or a phrase of poetry, plants wings at our shoulders; as if the Divinity, in his approaches, lifts away mountains of obstruction, and deigns to draw a truer line, which the mind knows and owns. This is that haughty force of beauty, " vis superba formae ," which the poets praise, — under calm and precise outline, the immeasurable and divine: Beauty hiding all wisdom and power in its calm sky.

All high beauty has a moral element in it, and I find the antique sculpture as ethical as Marcus Antoninus: and the beauty ever in proportion to the depth of thought. Gross and obscure natures, however decorated, seem impure shambles; but character gives splendor to youth, and awe to wrinkled skin and gray hairs. An adorer of truth we cannot choose but obey, and the woman who has shared with us the moral sentiment, — her locks must appear to us sublime. Thus there is a climbing scale of culture, from the first agreeable sensation which a sparkling gem or a scarlet stain affords the eye, up through fair outlines and details of the landscape, features of the human face and form, signs and tokens of thought and character in manners , up to the ineffable mysteries of the intellect. Wherever we begin, thither our steps tend: an ascent from the joy of a horse in his trappings, up to the perception of Newton, that the globe on which we ride is only a larger apple falling from a larger tree; up to the perception of Plato, that globe and universe are rude and early expressions of an all-dissolving Unity, — the first stair on the scale to the temple of the Mind.

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Emerson opens his 1836 edition of his essay “Nature” with an epigraph from the philosopher Plotinus, suggesting that nature is a reflection of humankind. The rest of his essay focuses on the relationship between people and nature.

In the Introduction, Emerson suggests that rather than relying on religion and tradition to understand the world, people should spend time in nature and intuit answers for themselves. But people shouldn’t just observe nature—they should also actively consider “to what end is nature” (that is, what nature means or does). To Emerson, all forms of science try to answer this question and find a “theory of nature.” And though it might sound unscientific, Emerson thinks that seeking “abstract truth” through firsthand experience in nature is the best way to craft such a theory.

Emerson then defines some of the terms that he’ll use throughout the rest of the essay: Nature/nature, the Soul, and art. First, he suggests that the universe is comprised of two parts: Nature and the Soul. He uses Nature (capital “N”) in the philosophical sense to refer to everything that is “NOT ME”—that is, everything that isn’t the Soul. Emerson then breaks down Nature into smaller parts: nature (lowercase “n”), art, other people, and our own physical bodies. The common use of the word nature (lowercase “n”) refers to the natural world—non-manmade things like trees and the wind. But when people combine their human will with elements of the natural world, they create art.

In Chapter 1, Emerson advocates for spending time alone in nature. By looking up at the stars, a person transcends this world and comes in contact with the sublime . Most people take the stars for granted, since they shine nightly. But if a person opens him- or herself up to nature’s influence and adopts an attitude of childlike curiosity, nature will captivate and awe them. Part of seeing nature clearly is realizing that it is one integrated whole. To illustrate this point, Emerson recalls looking out at the land and seeing between 20 and 30 farms. And while each farm is separate from the next, and a different man owns each one, all of the farms form one unified landscape. Most people struggle to view nature holistically like this, but poets, children, and people who love nature all can.

Emerson explains that when he’s in the woods, he turns into a “ transparent eyeball ” that allows him to see everything. In this state, Emerson connects with God and even becomes part of God. Likewise, when people connect with nature, they’re also connecting with themselves, because “Nature always wears the colors of the spirit.” If a person feels somber, for instance, nature will look and feel somber, too.

In Chapter 2, Emerson focuses on nature as a commodity, or the ways in which nature is useful and valuable to humankind. While nature’s status as a commodity is less important than all of its other qualities (which each successive chapter will cover), Emerson nevertheless underscores that all of nature’s various forms (e.g., fire, stones, vegetables, animals) work together to support human life.

In Chapter 3, Emerson turns to beauty—the idea that something can produce delight in the viewer in and of itself, and not for the usefulness it can provide. Living and working in society can sap people of their vitality, so being immersed in nature’s beauty invigorates the soul. Emerson points out that every season has its own unique kind of beauty—even the depths of winter are beautiful in their own way. Part of what makes nature so beautiful, though, is that it’s imbued with the divine. Beauty also stimulates the intellect and generates creativity. The creation of beauty is called art, and all art is either the product of nature or the expression of it.

Emerson explores how nature shapes language in Chapter 4. All words represent natural objects, which in turn represent spiritual truths. (For example, “a cunning man is a fox, […] a learned man is a torch.”) Emerson argues that people who have been corrupted by their various desires use corrupted language. But a person with good character, who’s grown up close to nature, has a skillful grasp of language and is more creative.

In Chapter 5, Emerson suggests that nature is a discipline: every aspect of it teaches us moral, spiritual, and intellectual truths. But Emerson points out that nature is also meant to serve humankind. In this chapter, he also underscores nature’s unity: even though nature takes many forms, they’re all interconnected.

Chapter 6 is about idealism. Here, Emerson contemplates how it’s impossible to prove that anything is real. But to Emerson, it doesn’t really matter whether there is an external reality or whether everything we perceive to be real is just an illusion. He suggests that most people consider themselves as permanent, while nature is in flux, but this isn’t necessarily the case. Through words and particularly through symbols, the poet is the one who is able help the reader see the world from new angles and perspectives. In contrast, both religion and ethics disregard, demonize, or undervalue nature.

In Chapter 7, Emerson suggests that nature is a manifestation of God’s Spirit, or the Supreme Being, and that nature is the means through which God connects with people. Emerson then questions what kind of matter nature is made out of, where this matter came from, and why. In this section, Emerson suggests that people are simultaneously separate from nature and part of it.

The essay’s final chapter centers around how to best study nature. Different branches of science (e.g., geology) use observations, measurements, and calculations to study nature, and they also isolate different elements of nature (like rocks and minerals) to study instead of considering those parts within the larger whole of nature. Emerson advocates for a more holistic, intuitive approach to studying nature. But he suggests that there is value in the kind of observation that scientists use (he calls this observation “Understanding”), because people need to understand, or observe, the world before they can use their intuition to interpret those observations (he calls intuition “Reason”).

Closing his essay, Emerson suggests that we once lived in a utopian society where humankind and nature lived in harmonious unity. But over time, we stopped paying attention to the spiritual truths that nature teaches, and we grew distant from nature. To remedy this, people must spend time in nature and use their intuition to understand it—this will unify humankind with nature again.

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The nature of beauty is one of the most enduring and controversial themes in Western philosophy, and is—with the nature of art—one of the two fundamental issues in the history of philosophical aesthetics. Beauty has traditionally been counted among the ultimate values, with goodness, truth, and justice. It is a primary theme among ancient Greek, Hellenistic, and medieval philosophers, and was central to eighteenth and nineteenth-century thought, as represented in treatments by such thinkers as Shaftesbury, Hutcheson, Hume, Burke, Kant, Schiller, Hegel, Schopenhauer, Hanslick, and Santayana. By the beginning of the twentieth century, beauty was in decline as a subject of philosophical inquiry, and also as a primary goal of the arts. However, there was revived interest in beauty and critique of the concept by the 1980s, particularly within feminist philosophy.

This article will begin with a sketch of the debate over whether beauty is objective or subjective, which is perhaps the single most-prosecuted disagreement in the literature. It will proceed to set out some of the major approaches to or theories of beauty developed within Western philosophical and artistic traditions.

1. Objectivity and Subjectivity

2.1 the classical conception, 2.2 the idealist conception, 2.3 love and longing, 2.4 hedonist conceptions, 2.5 use and uselessness, 3.1 aristocracy and capital, 3.2 the feminist critique, 3.3 colonialism and race, 3.4 beauty and resistance, other internet resources, related entries.

Perhaps the most familiar basic issue in the theory of beauty is whether beauty is subjective—located ‘in the eye of the beholder’—or rather an objective feature of beautiful things. A pure version of either of these positions seems implausible, for reasons we will examine, and many attempts have been made to split the difference or incorporate insights of both subjectivist and objectivist accounts. Ancient and medieval accounts for the most part located beauty outside of anyone’s particular experiences. Nevertheless, that beauty is subjective was also a commonplace from the time of the sophists. By the eighteenth century, Hume could write as follows, expressing one ‘species of philosophy’:

Beauty is no quality in things themselves: It exists merely in the mind which contemplates them; and each mind perceives a different beauty. One person may even perceive deformity, where another is sensible of beauty; and every individual ought to acquiesce in his own sentiment, without pretending to regulate those of others. (Hume 1757, 136)

And Kant launches his discussion of the matter in The Critique of Judgment (the Third Critique) at least as emphatically:

The judgment of taste is therefore not a judgment of cognition, and is consequently not logical but aesthetical, by which we understand that whose determining ground can be no other than subjective . Every reference of representations, even that of sensations, may be objective (and then it signifies the real [element] of an empirical representation), save only the reference to the feeling of pleasure and pain, by which nothing in the object is signified, but through which there is a feeling in the subject as it is affected by the representation. (Kant 1790, section 1)

However, if beauty is entirely subjective—that is, if anything that anyone holds to be or experiences as beautiful is beautiful (as James Kirwan, for example, asserts)—then it seems that the word has no meaning, or that we are not communicating anything when we call something beautiful except perhaps an approving personal attitude. In addition, though different persons can of course differ in particular judgments, it is also obvious that our judgments coincide to a remarkable extent: it would be odd or perverse for any person to deny that a perfect rose or a dramatic sunset was beautiful. And it is possible actually to disagree and argue about whether something is beautiful, or to try to show someone that something is beautiful, or learn from someone else why it is.

On the other hand, it seems senseless to say that beauty has no connection to subjective response or that it is entirely objective. That would seem to entail, for example, that a world with no perceivers could be beautiful or ugly, or perhaps that beauty could be detected by scientific instruments. Even if it could be, beauty would seem to be connected to subjective response, and though we may argue about whether something is beautiful, the idea that one’s experiences of beauty might be disqualified as simply inaccurate or false might arouse puzzlement as well as hostility. We often regard other people’s taste, even when it differs from our own, as provisionally entitled to some respect, as we may not, for example, in cases of moral, political, or factual opinions. All plausible accounts of beauty connect it to a pleasurable or profound or loving response, even if they do not locate beauty purely in the eye of the beholder.

Until the eighteenth century, most philosophical accounts of beauty treated it as an objective quality: they located it in the beautiful object itself or in the qualities of that object. In De Veritate Religione , Augustine asks explicitly whether things are beautiful because they give delight, or whether they give delight because they are beautiful; he emphatically opts for the second (Augustine, 247). Plato’s account in the Symposium and Plotinus’s in the Enneads connect beauty to a response of love and desire, but locate beauty itself in the realm of the Forms, and the beauty of particular objects in their participation in the Form. Indeed, Plotinus’s account in one of its moments makes beauty a matter of what we might term ‘formedness’: having the definite shape characteristic of the kind of thing the object is.

We hold that all the loveliness of this world comes by communion in Ideal-Form. All shapelessness whose kind admits of pattern and form, as long as it remains outside of Reason and Idea, is ugly from that very isolation from the Divine-Thought. And this is the Absolute Ugly: an ugly thing is something that has not been entirely mastered by pattern, that is by Reason, the Matter not yielding at all points and in all respects to Ideal-Form. But where the Ideal-Form has entered, it has grouped and coordinated what from a diversity of parts was to become a unity: it has rallied confusion into co-operation: it has made the sum one harmonious coherence: for the Idea is a unity and what it moulds must come into unity as far as multiplicity may. (Plotinus, 22 [ Ennead I, 6])

In this account, beauty is at least as objective as any other concept, or indeed takes on a certain ontological priority as more real than particular Forms: it is a sort of Form of Forms.

Though Plato and Aristotle disagree on what beauty is, they both regard it as objective in the sense that it is not localized in the response of the beholder. The classical conception ( see below ) treats beauty as a matter of instantiating definite proportions or relations among parts, sometimes expressed in mathematical ratios, for example the ‘golden section.’ The sculpture known as ‘The Canon,’ by Polykleitos (fifth/fourth century BCE), was held up as a model of harmonious proportion to be emulated by students and masters alike: beauty could be reliably achieved by reproducing its objective proportions. Nevertheless, it is conventional in ancient treatments of the topic also to pay tribute to the pleasures of beauty, often described in quite ecstatic terms, as in Plotinus: “This is the spirit that Beauty must ever induce: wonderment and a delicious trouble, longing and love and a trembling that is all delight” (Plotinus 23, [ Ennead I, 3]).

At latest by the eighteenth century, however, and particularly in the British Isles, beauty was associated with pleasure in a somewhat different way: pleasure was held to be not the effect but the origin of beauty. This was influenced, for example, by Locke’s distinction between primary and secondary qualities. Locke and the other empiricists treated color (which is certainly one source or locus of beauty), for example, as a ‘phantasm’ of the mind, as a set of qualities dependent on subjective response, located in the perceiving mind rather than of the world outside the mind. Without perceivers of a certain sort, there would be no colors. One argument for this was the variation in color experiences between people. For example, some people are color-blind, and to a person with jaundice much of the world allegedly takes on a yellow cast. In addition, the same object is perceived as having different colors by the same the person under different conditions: at noon and midnight, for example. Such variations are conspicuous in experiences of beauty as well.

Nevertheless, eighteenth-century philosophers such as Hume and Kant perceived that something important was lost when beauty was treated merely as a subjective state. They saw, for example, that controversies often arise about the beauty of particular things, such as works of art and literature, and that in such controversies, reasons can sometimes be given and will sometimes be found convincing. They saw, as well, that if beauty is completely relative to individual experiencers, it ceases to be a paramount value, or even recognizable as a value at all across persons or societies.

Hume’s “Of the Standard of Taste” and Kant’s Critique Of Judgment attempt to find ways through what has been termed ‘the antinomy of taste.’ Taste is proverbially subjective: de gustibus non est disputandum (about taste there is no disputing). On the other hand, we do frequently dispute about matters of taste, and some persons are held up as exemplars of good taste or of tastelessness. Some people’s tastes appear vulgar or ostentatious, for example. Some people’s taste is too exquisitely refined, while that of others is crude, naive, or non-existent. Taste, that is, appears to be both subjective and objective: that is the antinomy.

Both Hume and Kant, as we have seen, begin by acknowledging that taste or the ability to detect or experience beauty is fundamentally subjective, that there is no standard of taste in the sense that the Canon was held to be, that if people did not experience certain kinds of pleasure, there would be no beauty. Both acknowledge that reasons can count, however, and that some tastes are better than others. In different ways, they both treat judgments of beauty neither precisely as purely subjective nor precisely as objective but, as we might put it, as inter-subjective or as having a social and cultural aspect, or as conceptually entailing an inter-subjective claim to validity.

Hume’s account focuses on the history and condition of the observer as he or she makes the judgment of taste. Our practices with regard to assessing people’s taste entail that judgments of taste that reflect idiosyncratic bias, ignorance, or superficiality are not as good as judgments that reflect wide-ranging acquaintance with various objects of judgment and are unaffected by arbitrary prejudices. Hume moves from considering what makes a thing beautiful to what makes a critic credible. “Strong sense, united to delicate sentiment, improved by practice, perfected by comparison, and cleared of all prejudice, can alone entitle critics to this valuable character; and the joint verdict of such, wherever they are to be found, is the true standard of taste and beauty” (“Of the Standard of Taste” 1757, 144).

Hume argues further that the verdicts of critics who possess those qualities tend to coincide, and approach unanimity in the long run, which accounts, for example, for the enduring veneration of the works of Homer or Milton. So the test of time, as assessed by the verdicts of the best critics, functions as something analogous to an objective standard. Though judgments of taste remain fundamentally subjective, and though certain contemporary works or objects may appear irremediably controversial, the long-run consensus of people who are in a good position to judge functions analogously to an objective standard and renders such standards unnecessary even if they could be identified. Though we cannot directly find a standard of beauty that sets out the qualities that a thing must possess in order to be beautiful, we can describe the qualities of a good critic or a tasteful person. Then the long-run consensus of such persons is the practical standard of taste and the means of justifying judgments about beauty.

Kant similarly concedes that taste is fundamentally subjective, that every judgment of beauty is based on a personal experience, and that such judgments vary from person to person.

By a principle of taste I mean a principle under the condition of which we could subsume the concept of the object, and thus infer, by means of a syllogism, that the object is beautiful. But that is absolutely impossible. For I must immediately feel the pleasure in the representation of the object, and of that I can be persuaded by no grounds of proof whatever. Although, as Hume says, all critics can reason more plausibly than cooks, yet the same fate awaits them. They cannot expect the determining ground of their judgment [to be derived] from the force of the proofs, but only from the reflection of the subject upon its own proper state of pleasure or pain. (Kant 1790, section 34)

But the claim that something is beautiful has more content merely than that it gives me pleasure. Something might please me for reasons entirely eccentric to myself: I might enjoy a bittersweet experience before a portrait of my grandmother, for example, or the architecture of a house might remind me of where I grew up. “No one cares about that,” says Kant (1790, section 7): no one begrudges me such experiences, but they make no claim to guide or correspond to the experiences of others.

By contrast, the judgment that something is beautiful, Kant argues, is a disinterested judgment. It does not respond to my idiosyncrasies, or at any rate if I am aware that it does, I will no longer take myself to be experiencing the beauty per se of the thing in question. Somewhat as in Hume—whose treatment Kant evidently had in mind—one must be unprejudiced to come to a genuine judgment of taste, and Kant gives that idea a very elaborate interpretation: the judgment must be made independently of the normal range of human desires—economic and sexual desires, for instance, which are examples of our ‘interests’ in this sense. If one is walking through a museum and admiring the paintings because they would be extremely expensive were they to come up for auction, for example, or wondering whether one could steal and fence them, one is not having an experience of the beauty of the paintings at all. One must focus on the form of the mental representation of the object for its own sake, as it is in itself. Kant summarizes this as the thought that insofar as one is having an experience of the beauty of something, one is indifferent to its existence. One takes pleasure, rather, in its sheer representation in one’s experience:

Now, when the question is whether something is beautiful, we do not want to know whether anything depends or can depend on the existence of the thing, either for myself or anyone else, but how we judge it by mere observation (intuition or reflection). … We easily see that, in saying it is beautiful , and in showing that I have taste, I am concerned, not with that in which I depend on the existence of the object, but with that which I make out of this representation in myself. Everyone must admit that a judgement about beauty, in which the least interest mingles, is very partial and is not a pure judgement of taste. (Kant 1790, section 2)

One important source of the concept of aesthetic disinterestedness is the Third Earl of Shaftesbury’s dialogue The Moralists , where the argument is framed in terms of a natural landscape: if you are looking at a beautiful valley primarily as a valuable real estate opportunity, you are not seeing it for its own sake, and cannot fully experience its beauty. If you are looking at a lovely woman and considering her as a possible sexual conquest, you are not able to experience her beauty in the fullest or purest sense; you are distracted from the form as represented in your experience. And Shaftesbury, too, localizes beauty to the representational capacity of the mind. (Shaftesbury 1738, 222)

For Kant, some beauties are dependent—relative to the sort of thing the object is—and others are free or absolute. A beautiful ox would be an ugly horse, but abstract textile designs, for example, may be beautiful without a reference group or “concept,” and flowers please whether or not we connect them to their practical purposes or functions in plant reproduction (Kant 1790, section 16). The idea in particular that free beauty is completely separated from practical use and that the experiencer of it is not concerned with the actual existence of the object leads Kant to conclude that absolute or free beauty is found in the form or design of the object, or as Clive Bell (1914) put it, in the arrangement of lines and colors (in the case of painting). By the time Bell writes in the early twentieth century, however, beauty is out of fashion in the arts, and Bell frames his view not in terms of beauty but in terms of a general formalist conception of aesthetic value.

Since in reaching a genuine judgment of taste one is aware that one is not responding to anything idiosyncratic in oneself, Kant asserts (1790, section 8), one will reach the conclusion that anyone similarly situated should have the same experience: that is, one will presume that there ought to be nothing to distinguish one person’s judgment from another’s (though in fact there may be). Built conceptually into the judgment of taste is the assertion that anyone similarly situated ought to have the same experience and reach the same judgment. Thus, built into judgments of taste is a ‘universalization’ somewhat analogous to the universalization that Kant associates with ethical judgments. In ethical judgments, however, the universalization is objective: if the judgment is true, then it is objectively the case that everyone ought to act on the maxim according to which one acts. In the case of aesthetic judgments, however, the judgment remains subjective, but necessarily contains the ‘demand’ that everyone should reach the same judgment. The judgment conceptually entails a claim to inter-subjective validity. This accounts for the fact that we do very often argue about judgments of taste, and that we find tastes that are different than our own defective.

The influence of this series of thoughts on philosophical aesthetics has been immense. One might mention related approaches taken by such figures as Schopenhauer (1818), Hanslick (1891), Bullough (1912), and Croce (1928), for example. A somewhat similar though more adamantly subjectivist line is taken by Santayana, who defines beauty as ‘objectified pleasure.’ The judgment of something that it is beautiful responds to the fact that it induces a certain sort of pleasure; but this pleasure is attributed to the object, as though the object itself were having subjective states.

We have now reached our definition of beauty, which, in the terms of our successive analysis and narrowing of the conception, is value positive, intrinsic, and objectified. Or, in less technical language, Beauty is pleasure regarded as the quality of a thing. … Beauty is a value, that is, it is not a perception of a matter of fact or of a relation: it is an emotion, an affection of our volitional and appreciative nature. An object cannot be beautiful if it can give pleasure to nobody: a beauty to which all men were forever indifferent is a contradiction in terms. … Beauty is therefore a positive value that is intrinsic; it is a pleasure. (Santayana 1896, 50–51)

It is much as though one were attributing malice to a balky object or device. The object causes certain frustrations and is then ascribed an agency or a kind of subjective agenda that would account for its causing those effects. Now though Santayana thought the experience of beauty could be profound or could even be the meaning of life, this account appears to make beauty a sort of mistake: one attributes subjective states (indeed, one’s own) to a thing which in many instances is not capable of having subjective states.

It is worth saying that Santayana’s treatment of the topic in The Sense of Beauty (1896) was the last major account offered in English for some time, possibly because, once beauty has been admitted to be entirely subjective, much less when it is held to rest on a sort of mistake, there seems little more to be said. What stuck from Hume’s and Kant’s treatments was the subjectivity, not the heroic attempts to temper it. If beauty is a subjective pleasure, it would seem to have no higher status than anything that entertains, amuses, or distracts; it seems odd or ridiculous to regard it as being comparable in importance to truth or justice, for example. And the twentieth century also abandoned beauty as the dominant goal of the arts, again in part because its trivialization in theory led artists to believe that they ought to pursue more urgent and more serious projects. More significantly, as we will see below, the political and economic associations of beauty with power tended to discredit the whole concept for much of the twentieth century. This decline is explored eloquently in Arthur Danto’s book The Abuse of Beauty (2003).

However, there was a revival of interest in beauty in something like the classical philosophical sense in both art and philosophy beginning in the 1990s, to some extent centered on the work of art critic Dave Hickey, who declared that “the issue of the 90s will be beauty” (see Hickey 1993), as well as feminist-oriented reconstruals or reappropriations of the concept (see Brand 2000, Irigaray 1993). Several theorists made new attempts to address the antinomy of taste. To some extent, such approaches echo G.E. Moore’s: “To say that a thing is beautiful is to say, not indeed that it is itself good, but that it is a necessary element in something which is: to prove that a thing is truly beautiful is to prove that a whole, to which it bears a particular relation as a part, is truly good” (Moore 1903, 201). One interpretation of this would be that what is fundamentally valuable is the situation in which the object and the person experiencing are both embedded; the value of beauty might include both features of the beautiful object and the pleasures of the experiencer.

Similarly, Crispin Sartwell in his book Six Names of Beauty (2004), attributes beauty neither exclusively to the subject nor to the object, but to the relation between them, and even more widely also to the situation or environment in which they are both embedded. He points out that when we attribute beauty to the night sky, for instance, we do not take ourselves simply to be reporting a state of pleasure in ourselves; we are turned outward toward it; we are celebrating the real world. On the other hand, if there were no perceivers capable of experiencing such things, there would be no beauty. Beauty, rather, emerges in situations in which subject and object are juxtaposed and connected.

Alexander Nehamas, in Only a Promise of Happiness (2007), characterizes beauty as an invitation to further experiences, a way that things invite us in, while also possibly fending us off. The beautiful object invites us to explore and interpret, but it also requires us to explore and interpret: beauty is not to be regarded as an instantaneously apprehensible feature of surface. And Nehamas, like Hume and Kant, though in another register, considers beauty to have an irreducibly social dimension. Beauty is something we share, or something we want to share, and shared experiences of beauty are particularly intense forms of communication. Thus, the experience of beauty is not primarily within the skull of the experiencer, but connects observers and objects such as works of art and literature in communities of appreciation.

Aesthetic judgment, I believe, never commands universal agreement, and neither a beautiful object nor a work of art ever engages a catholic community. Beauty creates smaller societies, no less important or serious because they are partial, and, from the point of view of its members, each one is orthodox—orthodox, however, without thinking of all others as heresies. … What is involved is less a matter of understanding and more a matter of hope, of establishing a community that centers around it—a community, to be sure, whose boundaries are constantly shifting and whose edges are never stable. (Nehamas 2007, 80–81)

2. Philosophical Conceptions of Beauty

Each of the views sketched below has many expressions, some of which may be incompatible with one another. In many or perhaps most of the actual formulations, elements of more than one such account are present. For example, Kant’s treatment of beauty in terms of disinterested pleasure has obvious elements of hedonism, while the ecstatic neo-Platonism of Plotinus includes not only the unity of the object, but also the fact that beauty calls out love or adoration. However, it is also worth remarking how divergent or even incompatible with one another many of these views are: for example, some philosophers associate beauty exclusively with use, others precisely with uselessness.

The art historian Heinrich Wölfflin gives a fundamental description of the classical conception of beauty, as embodied in Italian Renaissance painting and architecture:

The central idea of the Italian Renaissance is that of perfect proportion. In the human figure as in the edifice, this epoch strove to achieve the image of perfection at rest within itself. Every form developed to self-existent being, the whole freely co-ordinated: nothing but independently living parts…. In the system of a classic composition, the single parts, however firmly they may be rooted in the whole, maintain a certain independence. It is not the anarchy of primitive art: the part is conditioned by the whole, and yet does not cease to have its own life. For the spectator, that presupposes an articulation, a progress from part to part, which is a very different operation from perception as a whole. (Wölfflin 1932, 9–10, 15)

The classical conception is that beauty consists of an arrangement of integral parts into a coherent whole, according to proportion, harmony, symmetry, and similar notions. This is a primordial Western conception of beauty, and is embodied in classical and neo-classical architecture, sculpture, literature, and music wherever they appear. Aristotle says in the Poetics that “to be beautiful, a living creature, and every whole made up of parts, must … present a certain order in its arrangement of parts” (Aristotle, volume 2, 2322 [1450b34]). And in the Metaphysics : “The chief forms of beauty are order and symmetry and definiteness, which the mathematical sciences demonstrate in a special degree” (Aristotle, volume 2, 1705 [1078a36]). This view, as Aristotle implies, is sometimes boiled down to a mathematical formula, such as the golden section, but it need not be thought of in such strict terms. The conception is exemplified above all in such texts as Euclid’s Elements and such works of architecture as the Parthenon, and, again, by the Canon of the sculptor Polykleitos (late fifth/early fourth century BCE).

The Canon was not only a statue deigned to display perfect proportion, but a now-lost treatise on beauty. The physician Galen characterizes the text as specifying, for example, the proportions of “the finger to the finger, and of all the fingers to the metacarpus, and the wrist, and of all these to the forearm, and of the forearm to the arm, in fact of everything to everything…. For having taught us in that treatise all the symmetriae of the body, Polyclitus supported his treatise with a work, having made the statue of a man according to his treatise, and having called the statue itself, like the treatise, the Canon ” (quoted in Pollitt 1974, 15). It is important to note that the concept of ‘symmetry’ in classical texts is distinct from and richer than its current use to indicate bilateral mirroring. It also refers precisely to the sorts of harmonious and measurable proportions among the parts characteristic of objects that are beautiful in the classical sense, which carried also a moral weight. For example, in the Sophist (228c-e), Plato describes virtuous souls as symmetrical.

The ancient Roman architect Vitruvius epitomizes the classical conception in central, and extremely influential, formulations, both in its complexities and, appropriately enough, in its underlying unity:

Architecture consists of Order, which in Greek is called taxis , and arrangement, which the Greeks name diathesis , and of Proportion and Symmetry and Decor and Distribution which in the Greeks is called oeconomia . Order is the balanced adjustment of the details of the work separately, and as to the whole, the arrangement of the proportion with a view to a symmetrical result. Proportion implies a graceful semblance: the suitable display of details in their context. This is attained when the details of the work are of a height suitable to their breadth, of a breadth suitable to their length; in a word, when everything has a symmetrical correspondence. Symmetry also is the appropriate harmony arising out of the details of the work itself: the correspondence of each given detail to the form of the design as a whole. As in the human body, from cubit, foot, palm, inch and other small parts come the symmetric quality of eurhythmy. (Vitruvius, 26–27)

Aquinas, in a typically Aristotelian pluralist formulation, says that “There are three requirements for beauty. Firstly, integrity or perfection—for if something is impaired it is ugly. Then there is due proportion or consonance. And also clarity: whence things that are brightly coloured are called beautiful” ( Summa Theologica I, 39, 8).

Francis Hutcheson in the eighteenth century gives what may well be the clearest expression of the view: “What we call Beautiful in Objects, to speak in the Mathematical Style, seems to be in a compound Ratio of Uniformity and Variety; so that where the Uniformity of Bodys is equal, the Beauty is as the Variety; and where the Variety is equal, the Beauty is as the Uniformity” (Hutcheson 1725, 29). Indeed, proponents of the view often speak “in the Mathematical Style.” Hutcheson goes on to adduce mathematical formulae, and specifically the propositions of Euclid, as the most beautiful objects (in another echo of Aristotle), though he also rapturously praises nature, with its massive complexity underlain by universal physical laws as revealed, for example, by Newton. There is beauty, he says, “In the Knowledge of some great Principles, or universal Forces, from which innumerable Effects do flow. Such is Gravitation, in Sir Isaac Newton’s Scheme” (Hutcheson 1725, 38).

A very compelling series of refutations of and counter-examples to the idea that beauty can be a matter of any specific proportions between parts, and hence to the classical conception, is given by Edmund Burke in A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of our Ideas of the Beautiful and the Sublime :

Turning our eyes to the vegetable kingdom, we find nothing there so beautiful as flowers; but flowers are of every sort of shape, and every sort of disposition; they are turned and fashioned into an infinite variety of forms. … The rose is a large flower, yet it grows upon a small shrub; the flower of the apple is very small, and it grows upon a large tree; yet the rose and the apple blossom are both beautiful. … The swan, confessedly a beautiful bird, has a neck longer than the rest of its body, and but a very short tail; is this a beautiful proportion? we must allow that it is. But what shall we say of the peacock, who has comparatively but a short neck, with a tail longer than the neck and the rest of the body taken together? … There are some parts of the human body, that are observed to hold certain proportions to each other; but before it can be proved, that the efficient cause of beauty lies in these, it must be shewn, that wherever these are found exact, the person to whom they belong is beautiful. … For my part, I have at several times very carefully examined many of these proportions, and found them to hold very nearly, or altogether alike in many subjects, which were not only very different from one another, but where one has been very beautiful, and the other very remote from beauty. … You may assign any proportions you please to every part of the of the human body; and I undertake, that a painter shall observe them all, and notwithstanding produce, if he pleases, a very ugly figure. (Burke 1757, 84–89)

There are many ways to interpret Plato’s relation to classical aesthetics. The political system sketched in the Republic characterizes justice in terms of the relation of part and whole. But Plato was also no doubt a dissident in classical culture, and the account of beauty that is expressed specifically in the Symposium —perhaps the key Socratic text for neo-Platonism and for the idealist conception of beauty—expresses an aspiration toward beauty as perfect unity.

In the midst of a drinking party, Socrates recounts the teachings of his instructress, one Diotima, on matters of love. She connects the experience of beauty to the erotic or the desire to reproduce (Plato, 558–59 [ Symposium 206c–207e]). But the desire to reproduce is associated in turn with a desire for the immortal or eternal: “And why all this longing for propagation? Because this is the one deathless and eternal element in our mortality. And since we have agreed that the lover longs for the good to be his own forever, it follows that we are bound to long for immortality as well as for the good—which is to say that Love is a longing for immortality” (Plato, 559, [ Symposium 206e–207a]). What follows is, if not classical, at any rate classic:

The candidate for this initiation cannot, if his efforts are to be rewarded, begin too early to devote himself to the beauties of the body. First of all, if his preceptor instructs him as he should, he will fall in love with the beauty of one individual body, so that his passion may give life to noble discourse. Next he must consider how nearly related the beauty of any one body is to the beauty of any other, and he will see that if he is to devote himself to loveliness of form it will be absurd to deny that the beauty of each and every body is the same. Having reached this point, he must set himself to be the lover of every lovely body, and bring his passion for the one into due proportion by deeming it of little or no importance. Next he must grasp that the beauties of the body are as nothing to the beauties of the soul, so that wherever he meets with spiritual loveliness, even in the husk of an unlovely body, he will find it beautiful enough to fall in love with and cherish—and beautiful enough to quicken in his heart a longing for such discourse as tends toward the building of a noble nature. And from this he will be led to contemplate the beauty of laws and institutions. And when he discovers how every kind of beauty is akin to every other he will conclude that the beauty of the body is not, after all, of so great moment. … And so, when his prescribed devotion to boyish beauties has carried our candidate so far that the universal beauty dawns upon his inward sight, he is almost within reach of the final revelation. … Starting from individual beauties, the quest for universal beauty must find him mounting the heavenly ladder, stepping from rung to rung—that is, from one to two, and from two to every lovely body, and from bodily beauty to the beauty of institutions, from institutions to learning, and from learning in general to the special lore that pertains to nothing but the beautiful itself—until at last he comes to know what beauty is. And if, my dear Socrates, Diotima went on, man’s life is ever worth living, it is when he has attained this vision of the very soul of beauty. (Plato, 561–63 [ Symposium 210a–211d])

Beauty here is conceived—perhaps explicitly in contrast to the classical aesthetics of integral parts and coherent whole—as perfect unity, or indeed as the principle of unity itself.

Plotinus, as we have already seen, comes close to equating beauty with formedness per se: it is the source of unity among disparate things, and it is itself perfect unity. Plotinus specifically attacks what we have called the classical conception of beauty:

Almost everyone declares that the symmetry of parts towards each other and towards a whole, with, besides, a certain charm of colour, constitutes the beauty recognized by the eye, that in visible things, as indeed in all else, universally, the beautiful thing is essentially symmetrical, patterned. But think what this means. Only a compound can be beautiful, never anything devoid of parts; and only a whole; the several parts will have beauty, not in themselves, but only as working together to give a comely total. Yet beauty in an aggregate demands beauty in details; it cannot be constructed out of ugliness; its law must run throughout. All the loveliness of colour and even the light of the sun, being devoid of parts and so not beautiful by symmetry, must be ruled out of the realm of beauty. And how comes gold to be a beautiful thing? And lightning by night, and the stars, why are these so fair? In sounds also the simple must be proscribed, though often in a whole noble composition each several tone is delicious in itself. (Plotinus, 21 [ Ennead I,6])

Plotinus declares that fire is the most beautiful physical thing, “making ever upwards, the subtlest and sprightliest of all bodies, as very near to the unembodied. … Hence the splendour of its light, the splendour that belongs to the Idea” (Plotinus, 22 [ Ennead I,3]). For Plotinus as for Plato, all multiplicity must be immolated finally into unity, and all roads of inquiry and experience lead toward the Good/Beautiful/True/Divine.

This gave rise to a basically mystical vision of the beauty of God that, as Umberto Eco has argued, persisted alongside an anti-aesthetic asceticism throughout the Middle Ages: a delight in profusion that finally merges into a single spiritual unity. In the sixth century, Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite characterized the whole of creation as yearning toward God; the universe is called into being by love of God as beauty (Pseudo-Dionysius, 4.7; see Kirwan 1999, 29). Sensual/aesthetic pleasures could be considered the expressions of the immense, beautiful profusion of God and our ravishment thereby. Eco quotes Suger, Abbot of St Denis in the twelfth century, describing a richly-appointed church:

Thus, when—out of my delight in the beauty of the house of God—the loveliness of the many-colored gems has called me away from external cares, and worthy meditation has induced me to reflect, transferring that which is material to that which is immaterial, on the diversity of the sacred virtues: then it seems to me that I see myself dwelling, as it were, in some strange region of the universe which neither exists entirely in the slime of the earth nor entirely in the purity of Heaven; and that, by the grace of God, I can be transported from this inferior to that higher world in an anagogical manner. (Eco 1959, 14)

This conception has had many expressions in the modern era, including in such figures as Shaftesbury, Schiller, and Hegel, according to whom the aesthetic or the experience of art and beauty is a primary bridge (or to use the Platonic image, stairway or ladder) between the material and the spiritual. For Shaftesbury, there are three levels of beauty: what God makes (nature); what human beings make from nature or what is transformed by human intelligence (art, for example); and finally, the intelligence that makes even these artists (that is, God). Shaftesbury’s character Theocles describes “the third order of beauty,”

which forms not only such as we call mere forms but even the forms which form. For we ourselves are notable architects in matter, and can show lifeless bodies brought into form, and fashioned by our own hands, but that which fashions even minds themselves, contains in itself all the beauties fashioned by those minds, and is consequently the principle, source, and fountain of all beauty. … Whatever appears in our second order of forms, or whatever is derived or produced from thence, all this is eminently, principally, and originally in this last order of supreme and sovereign beauty. … Thus architecture, music, and all which is of human invention, resolves itself into this last order. (Shaftesbury 1738, 228–29)

Schiller’s expression of a similar series of thoughts was fundamentally influential on the conceptions of beauty developed within German Idealism:

The pre-rational concept of Beauty, if such a thing be adduced, can be drawn from no actual case—rather does itself correct and guide our judgement concerning every actual case; it must therefore be sought along the path of abstraction, and it can be inferred simply from the possibility of a nature that is both sensuous and rational; in a word, Beauty must be exhibited as a necessary condition of humanity. Beauty … makes of man a whole, complete in himself. (1795, 59–60, 86)

For Schiller, beauty or play or art (he uses the words, rather cavalierly, almost interchangeably) performs the process of integrating or rendering compatible the natural and the spiritual, or the sensuous and the rational: only in such a state of integration are we—who exist simultaneously on both these levels—free. This is quite similar to Plato’s ‘ladder’: beauty as a way to ascend to the abstract or spiritual. But Schiller—though this is at times unclear—is more concerned with integrating the realms of nature and spirit than with transcending the level of physical reality entirely, a la Plato. It is beauty and art that performs this integration.

In this and in other ways—including in the tripartite dialectical structure of his account—Schiller strikingly anticipates Hegel, who writes as follows.

The philosophical Concept of the beautiful, to indicate its true nature at least in a preliminary way, must contain, reconciled within itself, both the extremes which have been mentioned [the ideal and the empirical] because it unites metaphysical universality with real particularity. (Hegel 1835, 22)

Beauty, we might say, or artistic beauty at any rate, is a route from the sensuous and particular to the Absolute and to freedom, from finitude to the infinite, formulations that—while they are influenced by Schiller—strikingly recall Shaftesbury, Plotinus, and Plato.

Hegel, who associates beauty and art with mind and spirit, holds with Shaftesbury that the beauty of art is higher than the beauty of nature, on the grounds that, as Hegel puts it, “the beauty of art is born of the spirit and born again ” (Hegel 1835, 2). That is, the natural world is born of God, but the beauty of art transforms that material again by the spirit of the artist. This idea reaches is apogee in Benedetto Croce, who very nearly denies that nature can ever be beautiful, or at any rate asserts that the beauty of nature is a reflection of the beauty of art. “The real meaning of ‘natural beauty’ is that certain persons, things, places are, by the effect which they exert upon one, comparable with poetry, painting, sculpture, and the other arts” (Croce 1928, 230).

Edmund Burke, expressing an ancient tradition, writes that, “by beauty I mean, that quality or those qualities in bodies, by which they cause love, or some passion similar to it” (Burke 1757, 83). As we have seen, in almost all treatments of beauty, even the most apparently object or objectively-oriented, there is a moment in which the subjective qualities of the experience of beauty are emphasized: rhapsodically, perhaps, or in terms of pleasure or ataraxia , as in Schopenhauer. For example, we have already seen Plotinus, for whom beauty is certainly not subjective, describe the experience of beauty ecstatically. In the idealist tradition, the human soul, as it were, recognizes in beauty its true origin and destiny. Among the Greeks, the connection of beauty with love is proverbial from early myth, and Aphrodite the goddess of love won the Judgment of Paris by promising Paris the most beautiful woman in the world.

There is an historical connection between idealist accounts of beauty and those that connect it to love and longing, though there would seem to be no entailment either way. We have Sappho’s famous fragment 16: “Some say thronging cavalry, some say foot soldiers, others call a fleet the most beautiful sights the dark world offers, but I say it’s whatever you love best” (Sappho, 16). (Indeed, at Phaedrus 236c, Socrates appears to defer to “the fair Sappho” as having had greater insight than himself on love [Plato, 483].)

Plato’s discussions of beauty in the Symposium and the Phaedrus occur in the context of the theme of erotic love. In the former, love is portrayed as the ‘child’ of poverty and plenty. “Nor is he delicate and lovely as most of us believe, but harsh and arid, barefoot and homeless” (Plato, 556 [Symposium 203b–d]). Love is portrayed as a lack or absence that seeks its own fulfillment in beauty: a picture of mortality as an infinite longing. Love is always in a state of lack and hence of desire: the desire to possess the beautiful. Then if this state of infinite longing could be trained on the truth, we would have a path to wisdom. The basic idea has been recovered many times, for example by the Romantics. It fueled the cult of idealized or courtly love through the Middle Ages, in which the beloved became a symbol of the infinite.

Recent work on the theory of beauty has revived this idea, and turning away from pleasure has turned toward love or longing (which are not necessarily entirely pleasurable experiences) as the experiential correlate of beauty. Both Sartwell and Nehamas use Sappho’s fragment 16 as an epigraph. Sartwell defines beauty as “the object of longing” and characterizes longing as intense and unfulfilled desire. He calls it a fundamental condition of a finite being in time, where we are always in the process of losing whatever we have, and are thus irremediably in a state of longing. And Nehamas writes that “I think of beauty as the emblem of what we lack, the mark of an art that speaks to our desire. … Beautiful things don’t stand aloof, but direct our attention and our desire to everything else we must learn or acquire in order to understand and possess, and they quicken the sense of life, giving it new shape and direction” (Nehamas 2007, 77).

Thinkers of the 18 th century—many of them oriented toward empiricism—accounted for beauty in terms of pleasure. The Italian historian Ludovico Antonio Muratori, for example, in quite a typical formulation, says that “By beautiful we generally understand whatever, when seen, heard, or understood, delights, pleases, and ravishes us by causing within us agreeable sensations” (see Carritt 1931, 60). In Hutcheson it is not clear whether we ought to conceive beauty primarily in terms of classical formal elements or in terms of the viewer’s pleasurable response. He begins the Inquiry Into the Original of Our Ideas of Beauty and Virtue with a discussion of pleasure. And he appears to assert that objects which instantiate his ‘compound ratio of uniformity and variety’ are peculiarly or necessarily capable of producing pleasure:

The only Pleasure of sense, which our Philosophers seem to consider, is that which accompanys the simple Ideas of Sensation; But there are vastly greater Pleasures in those complex Ideas of objects, which obtain the Names of Beautiful, Regular, Harmonious. Thus every one acknowledges he is more delighted with a fine Face, a just Picture, than with the View of any one Colour, were it as strong and lively as possible; and more pleased with a Prospect of the Sun arising among settled Clouds, and colouring their Edges, with a starry Hemisphere, a fine Landskip, a regular Building, than with a clear blue Sky, a smooth Sea, or a large open Plain, not diversify’d by Woods, Hills, Waters, Buildings: And yet even these latter Appearances are not quite simple. So in Musick, the Pleasure of fine Composition is incomparably greater than that of any one Note, how sweet, full, or swelling soever. (Hutcheson 1725, 22)

When Hutcheson then goes on to describe ‘original or absolute beauty,’ he does it, as we have seen, in terms of the qualities of the beautiful thing (a “compound ratio” of uniformity and variety), and yet throughout, he insists that beauty is centered in the human experience of pleasure. But of course the idea of pleasure could come apart from Hutcheson’s particular aesthetic preferences, which are poised precisely opposite Plotinus’s, for example. That we find pleasure in a symmetrical rather than an asymmetrical building (if we do) is contingent. But that beauty is connected to pleasure appears, according to Hutcheson, to be necessary, and the pleasure which is the locus of beauty itself has ideas rather than things as its objects.

Hume writes in a similar vein in the Treatise of Human Nature :

Beauty is such an order and construction of parts as, either by the primary constitution of our nature, by custom, or by caprice, is fitted to give a pleasure and satisfaction to the soul. … Pleasure and pain, therefore, are not only necessary attendants of beauty and deformity, but constitute their very essence. (Hume 1740, 299)

Though this appears ambiguous as between locating the beauty in the pleasure or in the impression or idea that causes it, Hume is soon talking about the ‘sentiment of beauty,’ where sentiment is, roughly, a pleasurable or painful response to impressions or ideas, though the experience of beauty is a matter of cultivated or delicate pleasures. Indeed, by the time of Kant’s Third Critique and after that for perhaps two centuries, the direct connection of beauty to pleasure is taken as a commonplace, to the point where thinkers are frequently identifying beauty as a certain sort of pleasure. Santayana, for example, as we have seen, while still gesturing in the direction of the object or experience that causes pleasure, emphatically identifies beauty as a certain sort of pleasure.

One result of this approach to beauty—or perhaps an extreme expression of this orientation—is the assertion of the positivists that words such as ‘beauty’ are meaningless or without cognitive content, or are mere expressions of subjective approval. Hume and Kant were no sooner declaring beauty to be a matter of sentiment or pleasure and therefore to be subjective than they were trying to ameliorate the sting, largely by emphasizing critical consensus. But once this fundamental admission is made, any consensus seems contingent. Another way to formulate this is that it appears to certain thinkers after Hume and Kant that there can be no reasons to prefer the consensus to a counter-consensus assessment. A.J. Ayer writes:

Such aesthetic words as ‘beautiful’ and ‘hideous’ are employed … not to make statements of fact, but simply to express certain feelings and evoke a certain response. It follows…that there is no sense attributing objective validity to aesthetic judgments, and no possibility of arguing about questions of value in aesthetics. (Ayer 1952, 113)

All meaningful claims either concern the meaning of terms or are empirical, in which case they are meaningful because observations could confirm or disconfirm them. ‘That song is beautiful’ has neither status, and hence has no empirical or conceptual content. It merely expresses a positive attitude of a particular viewer; it is an expression of pleasure, like a satisfied sigh. The question of beauty is not a genuine question, and we can safely leave it behind or alone. Most twentieth-century philosophers did just that.

Philosophers in the Kantian tradition identify the experience of beauty with disinterested pleasure, psychical distance, and the like, and contrast the aesthetic with the practical. “ Taste is the faculty of judging an object or mode of representing it by an entirely disinterested satisfaction or dissatisfaction. The object of such satisfaction is called beautiful ” (Kant 1790, 45). Edward Bullough distinguishes the beautiful from the merely agreeable on the grounds that the former requires a distance from practical concerns: “Distance is produced in the first instance by putting the phenomenon, so to speak, out of gear with our practical, actual self; by allowing it to stand outside the context of our personal needs and ends” (Bullough 1912, 244).

On the other hand, many philosophers have gone in the opposite direction and have identified beauty with suitedness to use. ‘Beauty’ is perhaps one of the few terms that could plausibly sustain such entirely opposed interpretations.

According to Diogenes Laertius, the ancient hedonist Aristippus of Cyrene took a rather direct approach.

Is not then, also, a beautiful woman useful in proportion as she is beautiful; and a boy and a youth useful in proportion to their beauty? Well then, a handsome boy and a handsome youth must be useful exactly in proportion as they are handsome. Now the use of beauty is, to be embraced. If then a man embraces a woman just as it is useful that he should, he does not do wrong; nor, again, will he be doing wrong in employing beauty for the purposes for which it is useful. (Diogenes Laertius, 94)

In some ways, Aristippus is portrayed parodically: as the very worst of the sophists, though supposedly a follower of Socrates. And yet the idea of beauty as suitedness to use finds expression in a number of thinkers. Xenophon’s Memorabilia puts the view in the mouth of Socrates, with Aristippus as interlocutor:

Socrates : In short everything which we use is considered both good and beautiful from the same point of view, namely its use. Aristippus : Why then, is a dung-basket a beautiful thing? Socrates : Of course it is, and a golden shield is ugly, if the one be beautifully fitted to its purpose and the other ill. (Xenophon, Book III, viii)

Berkeley expresses a similar view in his dialogue Alciphron , though he begins with the hedonist conception: “Every one knows that beauty is what pleases” (Berkeley 1732, 174; see Carritt 1931, 75). But it pleases for reasons of usefulness. Thus, as Xenophon suggests, on this view, things are beautiful only in relation to the uses for which they are intended or to which they are properly applied. The proper proportions of an object depend on what kind of object it is and, again, a beautiful car might make an ugly tractor. “The parts, therefore, in true proportions, must be so related, and adjusted to one another, as they may best conspire to the use and operation of the whole” (Berkeley 1732, 174–75; see Carritt 1931, 76). One result of this is that, though beauty remains tied to pleasure, it is not an immediate sensible experience. It essentially requires intellection and practical activity: one has to know the use of a thing and assess its suitedness to that use.

This treatment of beauty is often used, for example, to criticize the distinction between fine art and craft, and it avoids sheer philistinism by enriching the concept of ‘use,’ so that it might encompass not only performing a practical task, but performing it especially well or with an especial satisfaction. Ananda Coomaraswamy, the Ceylonese-British scholar of Indian and European medieval arts, adds that a beautiful work of art or craft expresses as well as serves its purpose.

A cathedral is not as such more beautiful than an airplane, … a hymn than a mathematical equation. … A well-made sword is not less beautiful than a well-made scalpel, though one is used to slay, the other to heal. Works of art are only good or bad, beautiful or ugly in themselves, to the extent that they are or are not well and truly made, that is, do or do not express, or do or do not serve their purpose. (Coomaraswamy 1977, 75)

Roger Scruton, in his book Beauty (2009) returns to a modified Kantianism with regard to both beauty and sublimity, enriched by many and varied examples. “We call something beautiful,” writes Scruton, “when we gain pleasure from contemplating it as an individual object, for its own sake, and in its presented form ” (Scruton 2009, 26). Despite the Kantian framework, Scruton, like Sartwell and Nehamas, throws the subjective/objective distinction into question. He compares experiencing a beautiful thing to a kiss. To kiss someone that one loves is not merely to place one body part on another, “but to touch the other person in his very self. Hence the kiss is compromising – it is a move from one self toward another, and a summoning of the other into the surface of his being” (Scruton 2009, 48). This, Scruton says, is a profound pleasure.

3. The Politics of Beauty

Kissing sounds nice, but some kisses are coerced, some pleasures obtained at a cost to other people. The political associations of beauty over the last few centuries have been remarkably various and remarkably problematic, particularly in connection with race and gender, but in other aspects as well. This perhaps helps account for the neglect of the issue in early-to-mid twentieth-century philosophy as well as its growth late in the century as an issue in social justice movements, and subsequently in social-justice oriented philosophy.

The French revolutionaries of 1789 associated beauty with the French aristocracy and with the Rococo style of the French royal family, as in the paintings of Fragonard: hedonist expressions of wealth and decadence, every inch filled with decorative motifs. Beauty itself became subject to a moral and political critique, or even to direct destruction, with political motivations (see Levey 1985). And by the early 20th century, beauty was particularly associated with capitalism (ironically enough, considering the ugliness of the poverty and environmental destruction it often induced). At times even great art appeared to be dedicated mainly to furnishing the homes of rich people, with the effect of concealing the suffering they were inflicting. In response, many anti-capitalists, including many Marxists, appeared to repudiate beauty entirely. And in the aesthetic politics of Nazism, reflected for example in the films of Leni Riefenstahl, the association of beauty and right wing politics was sealed to devastating effect (see Spotts 2003).

Early on in his authorship, Karl Marx could hint that the experience of beauty distinguishes human beings from all other animals. An animal “produces only under the dominion of immediate physical need, whilst man produces even when he is free from physical need and only truly produces in freedom therefrom. Man therefore also forms objects in accordance with the laws of beauty” (Marx 1844, 76). But later Marx appeared to conceive beauty as “superstructure” or “ideology” disguising the material conditions of production. Perhaps, however, he also anticipated the emergence of new beauties, available to all both as makers and appreciators, in socialism.

Capitalism, of course, uses beauty – at times with complete self-consciousness – to manipulate people into buying things. Many Marxists believed that the arts must be turned from providing fripperies to the privileged or advertising that helps make them wealthier to showing the dark realities of capitalism (as in the American Ashcan school, for example), and articulating an inspiring Communist future. Stalinist socialist realism consciously repudiates the aestheticized beauties of post-impressionist and abstract painting, for example. It has urgent social tasks to perform (see Bown and Lanfranconi 2012). But the critique tended at times to generalize to all sorts of beauty: as luxury, as seduction, as disguise and oppression. The artist Max Ernst (1891–1976), having survived the First World War, wrote this about the radical artists of the early century: “To us, Dada was above all a moral reaction. Our rage aimed at total subversion. A horrible futile war had robbed us of five years of our existence. We had experienced the collapse into ridicule and shame of everything represented to us as just, true, and beautiful. My works of that period were not meant to attract, but to make people scream” (quoted in Danto 2003, 49).

Theodor Adorno, in his book Aesthetic Theory , wrote that one symptom of oppression is that oppressed groups and cultures are regarded as uncouth, dirty, ragged; in short, that poverty is ugly. It is art’s obligation, he wrote, to show this ugliness, imposed on people by an unjust system, clearly and without flinching, rather to distract people by beauty from the brutal realities of capitalism. “Art must take up the cause of what is proscribed as ugly, though no longer to integrate or mitigate it or reconcile it with its own existence,” Adorno wrote. “Rather, in the ugly, art must denounce the world that creates and reproduces the ugly in its own image” (Adorno 1970, 48–9).

The political entanglements of beauty tend to throw into question various of the traditional theories. For example, the purity and transcendence associated with the essence of beauty in the realm of the Forms seems irrelevant, as beauty shows its centrality to politics and commerce, to concrete dimensions of oppression. The austere formalism of the classical conception, for example, seems neither here nor there when the building process is brutally exploitative.

As we have seen, the association of beauty with the erotic is proverbial from Sappho and is emphasized relentlessly by figures such as Burke and Nehamas. But the erotic is not a neutral or universal site, and we need to ask whose sexuality is in play in the history of beauty, with what effects. This history, particularly in the West and as many feminist theorists and historians have emphasized, is associated with the objectification and exploitation of women. Feminists beginning in the 19th century gave fundamental critiques of the use of beauty as a set of norms to control women’s bodies or to constrain their self-presentation and even their self-image in profound and disabling ways (see Wollstonecraft 1792, Grimké 1837).

In patriarchal society, as Catherine MacKinnon puts it, the content of sexuality “is the gaze that constructs women as objects for male pleasure. I draw on pornography for its form and content,” she continues, describing her treatment of the subject, “for the gaze that eroticizes the despised, the demeaned, the accessible, the there-to-be-used, the servile, the child-like, the passive, and the animal. That is the content of sexuality that defines gender female in this culture, and visual thingification is its method” (MacKinnon 1987, 53–4). Laura Mulvey, in “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema,” reaches one variety of radical critique and conclusion: “It is said that analyzing pleasure, or beauty, destroys it. That is the intention of this article” (Mulvey 1975, 60).

Mulvey’s psychoanalytic treatment was focused on the scopophilia (a Freudian term denoting neurotic sexual pleasure configured around looking) of Hollywood films, in which men appeared as protagonists, and women as decorative or sexual objects for the pleasure of the male characters and male audience-members. She locates beauty “at the heart of our oppression.” And she appears to have a hedonist conception of it: beauty engenders pleasure. But some pleasures, like some kisses, are sadistic or exploitative at the individual and at the societal level. Art historians such as Linda Nochlin (1988) and Griselda Pollock (1987) brought such insights to bear on the history of painting, for example, where the scopophilia is all too evident in famous nudes such as Titian’s Venus of Urbino or Velazquez’s Rokeby Venus , which a feminist slashed with knife in 1914 because “she didn’t like the way men gawked at it”.

Feminists such as Naomi Wolf in her book The Beauty Myth , generalized such insights into a critique of the ways women are represented throughout Western popular culture: in advertising, for example, or music videos. Such practices have the effect of constraining women to certain acceptable ways of presenting themselves publicly, which in turn greatly constrains how seriously they are taken, or how much of themselves they can express in public space. As have many other commentators, Wolf connects the representation of the “beautiful” female body, in Western high art but especially in popular culture, to eating disorders and many other self-destructive behaviors, and indicates that a real overturning of gender hierarchy will require deeply re-construing the concept of beauty.

The demand on women to create a beautiful self-presentation by male standards, Wolf argues, fundamentally compromises women’s action and self-understanding, and makes fully human relationships between men and women difficult or impossible. In this Wolf follows, among others, the French thinker Luce Irigaray, who wrote that “Female beauty is always considered as finery ultimately designed to attract the other into the self. It is almost never perceived as a manifestation of, an appearance of, a phenomenon expressive of interiority – whether of love, of thought, of flesh. We look at ourselves in the mirror to please someone , rarely to interrogate the state of our body or our spirit, rarely for ourselves and in search of our becoming” (quoted in Robinson 2000, 230).

“Sex is held hostage by beauty,” Wolf remarks, “and its ransom terms are engraved in girls’ minds early and deeply with instruments more beautiful that those which advertisers or pornographers know how to use: literature, poetry, painting, and film” (Wolf 1991f, 157).

Early in the 20th century, black nationalist leader Marcus Garvey (1887–1940) described European or white standards of beauty as a deep dimension of oppression, quite similarly to the way Naomi Wolf describes beauty standards for women. These standards are relentlessly reinforced in authoritative images, but they are incompatible with black skin, black bodies, and also traditional African ways of understanding human beauty. White standards of beauty, Garvey argued, devalue black bodies. The truly oppressive aspects of such norms can be seen in the way they induce self-alienation, as Wolf argues with regard to sexualized images of women. “Some of us in America, the West Indies, and Africa believe that the nearer we approach the white man in color, the greater our social standing and privilege,” he wrote (Garvey 1925 [1986], 56). He condemns skin bleaching and hair straightening as ways that black people are taught to devalue themselves by white standards of beauty. And he connects such standards to ‘colorism’ or prejudice in the African-American community toward darker-skinned black people.

Such observations suggest some of the strengths of cultural relativism as opposed to subjectivism or universalism: standards of beauty appear in this picture not to be idiosyncratic to individuals, nor to be universal among all people, but to be tied to group identities and to oppression and resistance.

In his autobiography, Malcolm X (1925–1965), whose parents were activists in the Garvey movement, describes ‘conking’ or straightening his hair with lye products as a young man. “This was my first really big step toward self-degradation,” he writes, “when I endured all of that pain, literally burning my flesh to have it look like a white man’s hair. I had joined that multitude of Negro men and women in America who are brainwashed into believing that black people are ‘inferior’ – and white people ‘superior’ – that they will even violate and mutilate their God-created bodies to try to look ‘pretty’ by white standards” (X 1964, 56–7). For both Marcus Garvey and Malcolm X, a key moment in the transformation of racial oppression would be the affirmation of standards of black beauty that are not parasitic on white standards, and hence not directly involved in racial oppression. This was systematically developed after Malcolm’s death in the “natural” hairstyles and African fabrics in the Black Power movement. Certainly, people have many motivations for straightening or coloring their hair, for example. But the critical examination of the racial content of beauty norms was a key moment in black liberation movements, many of which, around 1970, coalesced around the slogan Black is beautiful . These are critiques of specific standards of beauty; they are also tributes to beauty’s power.

Imposing standards of beauty on non-Western cultures, and, in particular, misappropriating standards of beauty and beautiful objects from them, formed one of the most complex strategies of colonialism. Edward Said famously termed this dynamic “orientalism.” Novelists such as Nerval and Kipling and painters such as Delacroix and Picasso, he argued, used motifs drawn from Asian and African cultures, treating them as “exotic” insertions into Western arts. Such writers and artists might even have understood themselves to be celebrating the cultures they depicted in pictures of Arabian warriors or African masks. But they used this imagery precisely in relation to Western art history. They distorted what they appropriated.

“Being a White Man, in short,” writes Said, “was a very concrete manner of being-in-the-world, a way of taking hold of reality, language, and thought. It made a specific style possible” (Said 1978, 227). This style might be encapsulated in the outfits of colonial governors, and their mansions. But it was also typified by an appropriative “appreciation” of “savage” arts and “exotic” beauties, which were of course not savage or exotic in their own context. Even in cases where the beauty of such objects was celebrated, the appreciation was mixed with condescension and misapprehension, and also associated with stripping colonial possessions of their most beautiful objects (as Europeans understood beauty)—shipping them back to the British Museum, for example. Now some beautiful objects, looted in colonialism, are being returned to their points of origin (see Matthes 2017), but many others remain in dispute.

However, if beauty has been an element in various forms of oppression, it has also been an element in various forms of resistance, as the slogan “Black is beautiful” suggests. The most compelling responses to oppressive standards and uses of beauty have given rise to what might be termed counter-beauties . When fighting discrimination against people with disabilities, for example, one may decry the oppressive norms that regard disabled bodies as ugly and leave it at that. Or one might try to discover what new standards of beauty and subversive pleasures might arise in the attempt to regard disabled bodies as beautiful (Siebers 2005). For that matter, one might uncover the ways that non-normative bodies and subversive pleasures actually do fulfill various traditional criteria of beauty. Indeed, for some decades there has been a disability arts movement, often associated with artists such as Christine Sun Kim and Riva Lehrer, which tries to do just that (see Siebers 2005).

The exploration of beauty, in some ways flipping it over into an instrument of feminist resistance, or showing directly how women’s beauty could be experienced outside of patriarchy, has been a theme of much art by women of the 20th and 21st centuries. Georgia O’Keeffe’s flowers and Judy Chicago’s “Dinner Party” place settings undertake to absorb and reverse the objectifying gaze. The exploration of the meaning of the female body in the work of performance artists such as Hannah Wilke, Karen Finley, and Orlan, tries both to explore the objectification of the female body and to affirm women’s experience in its concrete realities from the inside: to make of it emphatically a subject rather than an object (see Striff 1997).

“Beauty seems in need of rehabilitation today as an impulse that can be as liberating as it has been deemed enslaving,” wrote philosopher Peg Zeglin Brand in 2000. “Confident young women today pack their closets with mini-skirts and sensible suits. Young female artists toy with feminine stereotypes in ways that make their feminist elders uncomfortable. They recognize that … beauty can be a double-edged sword – as capable of destabilizing rigid conventions and restrictive behavioral models as it is of reinforcing them” (Brand 2000, xv). Indeed, vernacular norms of beauty as expressed in media and advertising have shifted in virtue of the feminist and anti-racist attacks on dominant body norms, as the concept’s long journey continues.

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aesthetics: British, in the 18th century | aesthetics: French, in the 18th century | Aquinas, Thomas | Aristotle | Ayer, Alfred Jules | Burke, Edmund | Croce, Benedetto: aesthetics | feminist philosophy, interventions: aesthetics | hedonism | Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich: aesthetics | Hume, David: aesthetics | Kant, Immanuel: aesthetics and teleology | Kant, Immanuel: theory of judgment | medieval philosophy | Neoplatonism | Plato: aesthetics | Plotinus | Santayana, George | Schiller, Friedrich | Schopenhauer, Arthur | Scottish Philosophy: in the 18th Century | Shaftesbury, Lord [Anthony Ashley Cooper, 3rd Earl of]

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Short Essay: Beauty Of Nature

The beauty of nature has been a source of inspiration and wonder for centuries, influencing artists, poets, and philosophers alike. Writing a short essay on this topic allows you to explore the aesthetic, emotional, and spiritual dimensions of nature. Below, find a detailed guide on structuring a concise yet compelling essay that captures the essence of nature’s beauty.

Table of Contents

Introduction

Begin with an introduction that draws the reader in by highlighting the universal appeal and significance of nature’s beauty. Use a vivid description, a quote, or a personal anecdote to start on a strong note.

The body of your essay should delve deeper into the subject, exploring different aspects of nature’s beauty. Here’s a structured way to approach it:

  • Aesthetic Appreciation:  Discuss the visual elements of nature—its landscapes, wildlife, and seasons. Describe how these elements contribute to the aesthetic beauty that can be both soothing and exhilarating.
  • Emotional Impact:  Explain how nature elicits emotions such as peace, awe, and joy. You might include scientific references or psychological theories about how spending time in nature reduces stress and increases happiness.
  • Spiritual Significance:  Consider the spiritual or philosophical meanings that many cultures attribute to nature. Discuss how natural beauty can lead to a deeper understanding of life or a sense of connection to something greater than oneself.
  • Ecological Importance:  Briefly touch on the importance of preserving natural beauty not only for its aesthetic value but also for its role in maintaining biodiversity and ecological health.

Conclude your essay by synthesizing the ideas discussed and reflecting on the broader implications of nature’s beauty. End with a call to action or a thoughtful question that prompts further reflection.

Beauty Of Nature Essay Example #1

Nature is a beautiful and awe-inspiring force that surrounds us every day. It is impossible to deny the stunning beauty of nature’s landscapes, the changing seasons, and the sounds and smells that evoke feelings of peace and tranquility. In this essay, I will explore the beauty of nature through its diverse landscapes, changing seasons, and sensory experiences.

The first aspect of nature’s beauty that I will explore is its diverse landscapes. From the vast forests of the Amazon to the towering mountains of the Himalayas, nature presents us with a breathtaking array of landscapes. The oceans and deserts, too, have their unique beauty, with the former offering an endless expanse of water, and the latter providing a stark and arid landscape that is both unforgiving and beautiful. Each of these landscapes offers its unique beauty, and it is impossible not to be amazed by the incredible diversity of nature.

The changing seasons provide another opportunity to witness the beauty of nature. With each season comes new colors and natural phenomena, such as blooming flowers in the spring or fall foliage in the autumn. In the winter, the snow and ice can transform even the most mundane landscapes into a winter wonderland. The summer sunsets and beach landscapes offer a warmth and beauty that is unparalleled. Each season has its unique beauty, and it is impossible not to be moved by the changing colors and natural wonders that each one presents.

Finally, nature’s sounds and smells offer a sensory experience that is unparalleled. The sound of birds singing, the rustling of leaves in the wind, and the roar of the ocean waves all evoke feelings of peace and tranquility. The scent of pine trees, the salty sea air, and the sweet fragrance of blooming flowers can transport us to another world, one that is filled with beauty and wonder. Even the sound of rain can be beautiful, with the pitter-patter of raindrops on leaves and the soft thunder in the distance offering a soothing and calming effect.

In conclusion, the beauty of nature is evident in its diverse landscapes, changing seasons, and sensory experiences. From the towering mountains to the vast oceans, from the blooming flowers to the winter snow, nature presents us with a breathtaking array of beauty. The sounds and smells of nature only add to this beauty, evoking feelings of peace and tranquility that are impossible to find elsewhere. It is no wonder that so many people find solace and inspiration in nature, for it is truly a wonder to behold.

Beauty Of Nature Essay Example #2

Nature is an endless source of inspiration for humanity. It is the beauty of nature that keeps us connected to the natural world, and its diversity is something that never fails to amaze us. From stunning sunsets to pristine forests, nature offers us a wealth of landscapes and ecosystems that are both awe-inspiring and calming. In this essay, we will explore the beauty of nature and how it has inspired countless artists, poets, and writers throughout history.

Nature offers us a diverse range of landscapes and ecosystems that are unlike anything else on earth. From towering mountains to vast oceans, the natural world is full of breathtaking scenery that has the power to inspire and awe us. Mountains, for example, are some of the most awe-inspiring natural wonders on earth. With their towering peaks and rugged terrain, they are a testament to the raw power and majesty of nature. The oceans, on the other hand, are vast and mysterious, with an almost infinite depth and complexity that we are only beginning to understand. The diversity of nature is what makes it so beautiful, and it is this diversity that has captured the hearts and minds of so many people throughout history.

The sights and sounds of nature are incredibly calming and soothing. The chirping of birds, the rustling of leaves, and the gentle sound of a babbling brook are all examples of the soothing sounds of nature. These sounds have the power to calm us and put us at ease, and they are often used in meditation and other relaxation techniques. The same can be said for the sights of nature. A beautiful sunset or a serene forest can have a calming effect on our minds and bodies, helping us to relax and unwind. The beauty of nature is a powerful antidote to the stresses and strains of modern life.

The beauty of nature has inspired countless artists, poets, and writers throughout history. From the romantic poets of the 19th century to the impressionist painters of the 20th century, nature has been a constant source of inspiration for creative minds. The beauty of nature has been captured in countless works of art, from paintings and sculptures to poetry and literature. The great naturalist John Muir once said, “In every walk with nature, one receives far more than he seeks.” This sentiment is echoed by countless artists and writers who have found solace and inspiration in the beauty of the natural world.

Beauty Of Nature Essay Example #3

Nature is an endless source of beauty that surrounds us, from the majestic mountains to the serene beaches. The natural world provides us with breathtaking landscapes, changing seasons, and intricate designs that leave us in awe. In this essay, we will explore the beauty of nature and the different ways it manifests itself in our world.

The first aspect of nature’s beauty is found in its natural landscapes. Mountains, forests, and beaches provide us with some of the most stunning views we can experience. The towering peaks of mountains, the vast expanse of forests, and the endless stretches of sand on beaches all offer unique sights that leave a lasting impression on us. Mountains have a way of making us feel small yet significant, while forests transport us to a different world, and beaches offer a sense of peace and tranquility. The natural landscapes of our world are a testament to the beauty and power of nature.

Another way nature showcases its beauty is through the changing seasons. Each season offers its unique charm and beauty, from the vibrant colors of autumn to the blooming flowers of spring. The crisp air of autumn, the first snowfall of winter, the lush greenery of spring, and the warm sun of summer all provide us with different experiences that make us appreciate the beauty of nature. The changing seasons remind us of the constant cycle of life and the beauty that can be found in every stage.

Finally, the intricate patterns and designs found in nature are a testament to the wonder and complexity of the natural world. The symmetry of a butterfly’s wings, the spiral of a seashell, and the intricate patterns of leaves all showcase the beauty of nature at its finest. These designs not only serve a purpose but also leave us in awe of the natural world. The intricate patterns and designs found in nature remind us that there is beauty in every detail, and we need to take the time to appreciate it.

Nature’s beauty is all around us, and it is up to us to take the time to appreciate it fully. The natural landscapes, changing seasons, and intricate designs of the natural world all showcase the wonder and complexity of nature. We need to take care of our world and preserve its beauty for generations to come. As John Muir said, “in every walk with nature, one receives far more than he seeks.”

Final Tips for Effective Writing

  • Use Descriptive Language:  Employ vivid imagery and sensory details to bring scenes to life and help the reader visualize the beauty you are describing.
  • Stay Concise:  Given the limited length of a short essay, focus on a few key points and develop them well rather than trying to cover too much.
  • Incorporate Personal Reflections:  Personal insights or reflections can add depth to your essay, making it more engaging and relatable.
  • Proofread:  Ensure your essay is free from grammatical errors and typos to maintain credibility and readability.

About Mr. Greg

Mr. Greg is an English teacher from Edinburgh, Scotland, currently based in Hong Kong. He has over 5 years teaching experience and recently completed his PGCE at the University of Essex Online. In 2013, he graduated from Edinburgh Napier University with a BEng(Hons) in Computing, with a focus on social media.

Mr. Greg’s English Cloud was created in 2020 during the pandemic, aiming to provide students and parents with resources to help facilitate their learning at home.

Whatsapp: +85259609792

[email protected]

essay analyzing about beauty in nature

English Compositions

Short Essay on the Beauty of Nature [100, 200, 400 Words] With PDF

In this session, you will learn how actually you can write short essays on The beauty of Nature. There will be three individual sets of essays covering different word limits. 

Feature image of Short Essay on the Beauty of Nature

Short Essay on the Beauty of Nature in 100 Words

Nature is a gift of God towards all living creatures on the earth. There is no one who is not daily helped by the goods of nature. Nature is significant to the development of life. As human beings, we realize how important a single plant is for our survival.

The beauty of nature includes plants, animals, insects, and other aspects like the mountains, hills, plains, rivers, the sky, which are all components of this beautiful nature. Nature is like a well-made garden with lots of flowers and fruit trees. It is our protective shield from all-natural calamities. It gives us the support to survive healthily on the earth. Nature is the source of our personal beauty and strength as well.

Short Essay on the Beauty of Nature in 200 Words

God while creating the earth has given his best. And among several things, nature is his most beautiful creation. Nature is a part of heaven. The beauty of a single tree is worth much more than any commodity. We are always told to preserve nature because nature is the elixir of our life.

Every life on the earth is supported by the nature around us. This nature includes trees, animals, insects, humans, and even the geography we inhabit. The mountains, hills, plains, plateaus, rivers, springs, waterfall, deserts- all are the components of this wide nature. We cannot overpower nature. It has its own strength to control the atmosphere.

Nature is almost like a caring mother who feeds her children. It gives birth to lives and also maintains them peacefully. Nature protects us like an umbrella. It does not allow any storm or flood or drought to affect us. Nature’s beauty lies in the fact that she changes according to whether to support the earth.

According to every change she has her collection of food to feed all living creatures. It is our duty hence to maintain her beauty. The beauty of nature is a component of nature. We must not chop trees or hurt any animal, as it results in harming ourselves. Nature is a treasure and our biggest responsibility is to care for it.

Short Essay on the Beauty of Nature in 400 Words

Nature has been the source of our delight. It is the reason for our life and sustenance. The earth is beautiful because of nature. It is a creation of the god himself. Hence, it is all beauty. In the Holy Bible, we see the beautiful Garden of Eden as an example of natural bliss.

It is a garden, filled with fruits, flowers, trees, animals, and human beings. In fact, Eden shows us what the ideal nature looks like. It is about humans staying together in harmony with animals and plants. No one is harming the other. Nature provides us with this peace and happiness. This is the actual beauty of nature.

Wordsworth in his poem ‘The Daffodils’ gives importance to nature. He tells how nature soothes our pains and anxiety. When we are tired of our mundane life, we try to find help in nature. We take long walks down an empty road or even enjoy the cool breeze standing at the terrace. The first dewdrop of the morning is a wonderful beauty. Nature shows how even simple things can be wonderful. We do not need to travel to many countries to enjoy happiness. Nature gives us that richness and pleasure quite easily. 

Nature is the biggest blessing in our lives. It is precious to us. We cannot survive if nature is taken away from us. Nature is the source of our food. Our daily diet includes several components from nature, be it vegetables, fruits, or milk. Destroying nature is letting ourselves die, all hungry. Nature is also our protection. It saves us like a shield.

Whenever we face any natural calamity, it immediately rescues us. Every storm, flood, and drought is reduced by nature. Nature feels more like a mother to us. A mother cares for her child and knows him the best. So does nature. Natural beauty lives in the geography we live in. The first sun rays, the chirping of the birds, the blooming seasons, the wind and rainfall, everything delights us equally. We cannot think of living without this peace. Nature thus is the house of serenity and calmness.

As rational human beings, it is our foremost duty to take care of natural beings. Every citizen must pledge to plant a tree and provide shelter to animals. Ther should complete restriction to any hunting of animals. Even in zoos, animals must be well kept. Nature is the balance of the ecosystem. If nature is harmed, then the stability of the ecosystem will be completely destroyed. So natural beauty depends on the care we give to it. If we love it like our own mother, then it will remain forever beautiful.

I have written these sample essays in a very simple language for a better understanding of all kinds of students. If you still have any doubts regarding this session, kindly let me know in the comment section below. To read more such essays on various important topics, keep browsing our website.

Thank you. 

The Marginalian

Susan Sontag on Beauty vs. Interestingness

By maria popova.

essay analyzing about beauty in nature

The essay was in part inspired by Pope John Paul II’s response to the news of countless cover-ups of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church: He summoned the American cardinals to the Vatican and attempted to rationalize the situation by stating that “a great work of art may be blemished, but its beauty remains; and this is a truth which any intellectually honest critic will recognize.” In this concerning assertion as a springboard for a broader reflection on our confused attitudes toward beauty, Sontag set out to transcend the common social definition of beauty as “a gladness of the senses” and instead “to multiply the notion, to allow for kinds of beauty, beauty with adjectives, arranged on a scale of ascending value and incorruptibility.”

essay analyzing about beauty in nature

Sontag writes:

However much art may seem to be a matter of surface and reception by the senses, it has generally been accorded an honorary citizenship in the domain of “inner” (as opposed to “outer”) beauty. Beauty, it seems, is immutable, at least when incarnated—fixed—in the form of art, because it is in art that beauty as an idea, an eternal idea, is best embodied. Beauty (should you choose to use the word that way) is deep, not superficial; hidden, sometimes, rather than obvious; consoling, not troubling; indestructible, as in art, rather than ephemeral, as in nature. Beauty, the stipulatively uplifting kind, perdures.

Arguing that beauty has ceased to be a sufficient standard for art, that “beautiful has come to mean ‘merely’ beautiful: there is no more vapid or philistine compliment,” Sontag notes:

The subtraction of beauty as a standard for art hardly signals a decline of the authority of beauty. Rather, it testifies to a decline in the belief that there is something called art.

And yet there is more to beauty than a lackluster cultural abstraction:

Beauty defines itself as the antithesis of the ugly. Obviously, you can’t say something is beautiful if you’re not willing to say something is ugly. But there are more and more taboos about calling something, anything, ugly. (For an explanation, look first not at the rise of so-called “political correctness,” but at the evolving ideology of consumerism, then at the complicity between these two.)

essay analyzing about beauty in nature

Sontag traces the paradoxical and convoluted cultural trajectory of our relationship with beauty:

That beauty applied to some things and not to others, that it was a principle of discrimination , was once its strength and its appeal. Beauty belonged to the family of notions that establish rank, and accorded well with a social order unapologetic about station, class, hierarchy, and the right to exclude. What had been a virtue of the concept became its liability. Beauty, which once seemed vulnerable because it was too general, loose, porous, was revealed as — on the contrary — excluding too much. Discrimination, once a positive faculty (meaning refined judgment, high standards, fastidiousness), turned negative: it meant prejudice, bigotry, blindness to the virtues of what was not identical with oneself. The strongest, most successful move against beauty was in the arts: beauty — and the caring about beauty — was restrictive; as the current idiom has it, elitist. Our appreciations, it was felt, could be so much more inclusive if we said that something, instead of being beautiful, was “interesting.”

To call something “interesting,” however, isn’t always an admission of admiration. (For a crudely illustrative example, my eighth-grade English teacher memorably used to say that “interesting is what you call an ugly baby.”) Turning to photography — perhaps the sharpest focus of Sontag’s cultural contemplation and prescient observation — she considers the complex interplay between interestingness and beauty:

[People] might describe something as interesting to avoid the banality of calling it beautiful. Photography was the art where “the interesting” first triumphed, and early on: the new, photographic way of seeing proposed everything as a potential subject for the camera. The beautiful could not have yielded such a range of subjects; and it soon came to seem uncool to boot as a judgment. Of a photograph of a sunset, a beautiful sunset, anyone with minimal standards of verbal sophistication might well prefer to say, “Yes, the photograph is interesting.”

(Curiously, Francis Bacon famously asserted that “the best part of beauty [is that] which a picture cannot express.” )

What we tend to call interesting, Sontag argues, is that which “has not previously been thought beautiful (or good).” And yet the qualitative value of “interesting” is exponentially diminished with the word’s use and overuse — something entirely unsurprising and frequently seen with terms we come to apply too indiscriminately, until they lose their original meaning. (Contemporary case in point: “curation.” ) She writes, echoing her meditation on the creative purpose of boredom from nearly four decades earlier and her concept of “aesthetic consumerism” coined shortly thereafter:

The interesting is now mainly a consumerist concept, bent on enlarging its domain: the more things become interesting, the more the marketplace grows. The boring — understood as an absence, an emptiness — implies its antidote: the promiscuous, empty affirmations of the interesting. It is a peculiarly inconclusive way of experiencing reality. In order to enrich this deprived take on our experiences, one would have to acknowledge a full notion of boredom: depression, rage (suppressed despair). Then one could work toward a full notion of the interesting. But that quality of experience — of feeling — one would probably no longer even want to call interesting.

With her strong distaste for unnecessary polarities , Sontag observes:

The perennial tendency to make of beauty itself a binary concept, to split it up into “inner” and “outer,” “higher” and “lower” beauty, is the usual way that judgments of the beautiful are colonized by moral judgments.

She counters this with a more real, more living definition of beauty:

Beauty is part of the history of idealizing, which is itself part of the history of consolation. But beauty may not always console… From a letter written by a German soldier standing guard in the Russian winter in late December 1942: “The most beautiful Christmas I had ever seen, made entirely of disinterested emotion and stripped of all tawdry trimmings. I was all alone beneath an enormous starred sky, and I can remember a tear running down my frozen cheek, a tear neither of pain nor of joy but of emotion created by intense experience.” Unlike beauty, often fragile and impermanent, the capacity to be overwhelmed by the beautiful is astonishingly sturdy and survives amidst the harshest distractions. Even war, even the prospect of certain death, cannot expunge it.

Echoing young Virginia Woolf’s insight about nature, imitation, and the arts , Sontag elegantly brings her point full circle:

The responses to beauty in art and to beauty in nature are interdependent… Beauty regains its solidity, its inevitability, as a judgment needed to make sense of a large portion of one’s energies, affinities, and admirations; and the usurping notions appear ludicrous. Imagine saying, “That sunset is interesting.”

All the essays and speeches collected in At the Same Time are treasure troves of timeless wisdom on culture, art, politics, society, and the self. Complement them with Sontag on writing , boredom , sex , censorship , and aphorisms , her radical vision for remixing education , her insight on why lists appeal to us , and her illustrated meditations on art and on love .

— Published April 22, 2014 — https://www.themarginalian.org/2014/04/22/susan-sontag-on-beauty-vs-interestingness/ —

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6 What Makes Nature Beautiful?

Elizabeth Scarbrough

Introduction

As you have read in this volume, much of contemporary aesthetics focuses on the nature of art and artworks. The aesthetics of nature as a subdiscipline of analytic philosophical aesthetics gained prominence in the second half of the twentieth century. [1] Discussions about the aesthetics of nature are complicated by questions about the scope of the topic: Are we talking about natural objects? Natural environments? Whole ecosystems? What about human-created natural environments such as gardens, parks, and cityscapes? Exactly what counts as natural beauty?

In what follows I will present a brief overview of different theories of the beauty of nature. I will start by discussing two historical accounts that I believe have most impacted our current conception of the beauty in nature: the picturesque and the sublime. I will then turn to a discussion of contemporary accounts of the beauty of nature, dividing these accounts into conceptual accounts, non-conceptual accounts, and hybrid accounts of nature appreciation.

Historical Accounts of the beauty of nature

Anthropocentric accounts: the picturesque and landscape aesthetics.

The picturesque is an aesthetic category often applied to the aesthetic appreciation of nature. It was popularised toward the end of the eighteenth century in Britain. [2] At the core of the notion of the picturesque is the prospect of converting natural scenes into pictures. This “landscape aesthetic” assumes that one ought to employ a mode of aesthetic appreciation of the natural environment that is informed by the practice, and aesthetic criteria of, landscape painting. Eighteenth-century landscape painters used devices such as the “Claude-glass” to help “frame” the scene they wished to paint. These Claude-glasses became so popular in the eighteenth century that travelers and other flâneurs would use them without any intention to paint the vistas they saw. [3] While there were many disparate understandings of the picturesque during this time period, I will mention two seminal figures: Sir Uvedale Price (1747–1829) and Richard Payne Knight (1750–1824). [4] Price argues that the picturesque was an objective aesthetic quality that resided in the object (Ross 1998, 133). Price believes that the picturesque could be defined through its “roughness, sudden variation, irregularity, intricacy and variety,” and his list of picturesque objects included: water, trees, buildings, ruins, dogs, sheep, horses, birds of prey, women, music, and painting. In contrast, Knight thinks that the picturesque was a mode of association found within the viewer and thus any object could be picturesque. These associations, he believes, would only be available to those who had knowledge of landscape paintings:

This very relation to painting expressed by the word picturesque, is that which affords the whole pleasure derived from association; which can, therefore, only be felt by persons who have correspondent ideas to associate; that is, by persons in a certain degree conversant in that art. Such persons being in the habit of viewing, and receiving pleasure from fine pictures, will naturally feel pleasure in viewing those objects in nature, which have called forth those powers of imitation and embellishment. (Ross 1998, 155–156)

Thus, within the history of the picturesque we see differing ideas about the source of beauty: Is beauty subjective (residing in the perceiver’s mind) or is beauty an objective quality in objects? [5] Whether you believe beauty is subjective or objective, the picturesque is probably still the most popular (mis)conception of the beauty of nature. When we think of a beautiful scene of nature, our ideas are substantially informed by our past experiences with landscape paintings, and now landscape photography.

The sublime

The sublime is another theory of the aesthetic appreciation of nature. While the first reference to the sublime is in the first century CE (we see hints of its predecessor in Aristotle’s Poetics ), [6] the term really blossomed in eighteenth-century British philosophy. Anthony Ashley-Cooper (1671–1713), third Earl of Shaftesbury (now known simply as Shaftesbury) wrote about the sublime in The Moralist: A Philosophical Rhapsody . While viewing the Alps during his “Grand Tour” he wrote,

Here thoughtless Men, seized with the Newness of such Objects, become thoughtful, and willingly contemplate the incessant Changes of their Earth’s Surface. They see, as in one instant, the Revolutions of past Ages, the fleeting forms of Things, and the Decay even of their own Globe. … The wasted Mountains show them the World itself only as a humble Ruin, and make them think of its approaching Period. (Hussey [1927] 1983, 55–56). [7]

He praises the mountains as sublime, claiming that mountains are the highest order of scenery (Hussey [1927] 1983, 55). The sublime, for Shaftesbury, is not contrary to beauty, but superior to it.

The sublime is bigger, harder, and darker than the picturesque. Unlike the picturesque, whose beauty is aimed to charm, the sublime teaches us something. The two most influential theories of the sublime are those of Edmund Burke (1729–1797) and Immanuel Kant (1724–1804).

In his Introduction to Burke’s A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful, Adam Phillips writes, “Beauty and Sublimity turn out to be the outlaws of rational enquiry. Both are coercive, irresistible, and a species of seduction. The sublime is a rape, Beauty is a lure” (Burke [1757] 2008, xxii). The sublime is dangerous, full of terror. Burke’s sublime can be found in both art and nature. [8] For Burke the sublime exists in degrees, the strongest of which invokes astonishment from the viewer, mingled with a degree of horror (53). Burke claims that the strongest forms of the sublime are usually found in the ideas of eternity and infinity (57). In weaker forms, the sublime’s effects include admiration, reverence and respect (53). Burke states,

Whatever leads to raise in man his own opinion, produces a sort of swelling and triumph, that is extremely grateful to the human mind. And this swelling is never more perceived, nor operates with more force, than when without danger we are conversant with terrible objects, the mind always claiming to itself some of the dignity and importance of the things which it contemplates. (46)

When we experience the sublime, we feel as if the human mind has triumphed in the face of terror. This accomplishment is pleasurable, and thus we receive pleasure from what at first started as an unpleasurable experience.

Burke’s influence on Kant’s theory of the sublime cannot be overstated. Like Burke, Kant recognised that in experiencing the sublime, something pleasurable resulted from an experience that could not be called beautiful. Like Burke’s, Kant’s conception of the sublime is tied to notions of awe and respect, and, like Burke’s, Kant’s sublime is found in the infinite. Kant took Burke’s nascent ideas and from them developed a full-fledged theory of the sublime. Unlike Burke, Kant believed that the experience of the sublime resides solely in the minds of people.

Kant distinguishes two different types of the sublime: the mathematical and the dynamical. The paradigmatic example of the mathematical sublime is that of infinity (again, similar to Burke). With the mathematical sublime,

the feeling of the sublime is thus a feeling of displeasure from the inadequacy of the imagination in the aesthetic estimation of magnitude for the estimation by means of reason, and a pleasure that is thereby aroused at the same time from the correspondence of this very judgment of the inadequacy of the greatest sensible faculty in comparison with ideas of reason, insofar as striving from them is never less a law for us. (Kant [1790] 2001, § 27, 5:247).

For Kant, the imagination is the faculty we use to bring perceptions into our mind before we subsume these “intuitions” under concepts. With the mathematical sublime, my mind is incapable of perceiving the magnitude of what I’m witnessing. When I look up at the starry night, my mind cannot comprehend the magnitude of space. While I can’t comprehend the magnitude, I am none the less pleased at my ability to grapple with it. In sum, what Kant is saying here is that we feel displeasure in the fact that we cannot fully comprehend infinity but feel pleasure in the fact that we at least have the ability to try.

Kant’s dynamical sublime involves the recognition of the possible destructive forces in nature, which could result in our death. This recognition, while initially unpleasurable, leads to pleasure since these forces in nature (e.g., storms, winds, earthquakes) “allow us to discover within ourselves a capacity for resistance of quite another kind, which gives us the courage to measure ourselves against the apparent all-powerfulness of nature” (Kant [1790] 2001, § 28, 5:261). The experience of the dynamical sublime, then, is an experience of the enormity of nature and our role within it. We feel puny against the forces of nature, but also realise our reason gives us standing.

Now that we have discussed two historical accounts of the aesthetic appreciation of nature, I turn to more contemporary accounts.

Contemporary Accounts: (a) cognitive, (b) non-cognitive, (c) hybrid

Contemporary accounts of the aesthetic appreciation of nature start to gain traction around the 1970s. [9] This is no accident as the environmental movement was in full swing. In what follows I will discuss the contemporary accounts of the aesthetic appreciation of nature in two major camps: the cognitive (or conceptual) camp and the non-cognitive (or non-conceptual) camp. Loosely speaking, cognitive theories are those that emphasise the centrality of knowledge in the appreciation of natural beauty. These theories come in many flavours, but many of them (e.g., the theories of Carlson, Rolston, and Eaton [10] ) focus on the use of scientific categories in nature appreciation. Allen Carlson’s Natural Environmental Model (NEM) is a paradigmatic example of a cognitivist theory of the aesthetics of natural environments. For Carlson, the key to appreciating nature aesthetically is to appreciate it through our scientific knowledge. Carlson’s NEM borrows Paul Ziff’s notion of aspection (Ziff 1966, 71). Aspection (seeing the object first this way, then that) provides guidelines or boundaries for our aesthetic experiences and judgments of certain art objects. Different artworks have different boundaries, which will yield different acts of aspection. For example, while many paintings can be viewed from one location, other works of art (e.g., sculpture, architecture) require you to walk through space. Thus, painting and sculpture require different acts of aspection.

Drawing upon the insights of Ziff (and others such as Kendall Walton, [11] ) Carlson argues that the proper aesthetic appreciation of nature involves acts of aspection through the lens (or category) of scientific knowledge. [12] Just as knowledge of the art’s kind (e.g., opera, painting, sculpture) informs our appreciation, scientific information about nature informs our aesthetic appreciation of it. Thus, to truly appreciate an ecosystem or an object in that system, one must have (some) scientific knowledge in order to employ the appropriate act of aspection. Importantly, one must not treat nature as one would treat art, turning a natural object into an art object, [13] or transforming an experience of an open field into an imagined landscape painting (as theories of the picturesque might). [14] Carlson acknowledges that nature is importantly unframed and as a consequence when we try to frame nature by turning a natural object (e.g., driftwood) into a free standing object, or when one tries to frame nature by experiencing it as if looking through a Claude-glass, one imposes a frame that should not be there. Carlson’s approach is labeled “cognitivist” because it emphasises the importance of cognition in aesthetically appreciating nature well .

Non-Cognitive

Non-cognitive theories are those that emphasise the subjective aesthetic experience of natural beauty and often focus on the role of the imagination. These include theories put forth by various philosophers, including Hepburn (2010), Berleant (1992), Carroll (2004), Godlovitch (1997), and Brady (1998). [15]

Emily Brady presents one such non-cognitivist model in her article “Imagination and the Aesthetic Appreciation of Nature.” Using Carlson’s NEM as a foil against her own account, she argues that basing the aesthetic appreciation of nature on scientific categories is flawed because it is “too constraining as a guide for appreciation of nature qua aesthetic object” (Brady 1998, 158). She provides four core criticisms of Carlson’s scientific approach. First, she asserts that Carlson’s account rests on a faulty analogy: just as aesthetic appreciation of art requires knowledge of art history and criticism to help place art in its correct category, we should use natural history (e.g., geology, biology, physics) to place nature in a correct category. In a (now) famous counterexample to the NEM, recounted by Brady, Noël Carroll raises the worrisome case of the waterfall (Carroll 2004, 95). Carroll asks: What scientific category must we fit a particular waterfall in order to appreciate it aesthetically? If the only category that we need is that of a waterfall, then the NEM need not rely on scientific knowledge at all, but just rely on “common sense.”

Further, Brady argues that even if we grant that scientific knowledge could enrich an aesthetic appreciation of nature, it does not seem essential to aesthetic appreciation. Ecological value, she argues, is—and ought to be—a distinct (while still overlapping) category of value. Perhaps most convincing of Brady’s objections is that the scientific approach is too constraining, since proper aesthetic appreciation of nature requires “freedom, flexibility, and creativity” (Brady 1998, 159). We should have the freedom to explore trains of thought not related to scientific categories. When looking at the weathered bark on a tree, I need not know how it was formed; rather I may make associations between the weathered tree bark and the beauty of a beloved older relative’s face—the ravines in both adding a beautiful texture to the surface. She believes that the aesthetic appreciation of nature ought to use perceptual and imaginative capacities, such as those exemplified in my tree bark/relative example. [16] Brady claims that the most desirable model of aesthetic appreciation of nature will: (a) be able to distinguish aesthetic value from other types of value, (b) provide a structure to make aesthetic judgments which are not merely subjective, and (c) solve the problem of how to guide the aesthetic appreciation of nature without reference to art models.

Criticisms of this “imaginative approach” focus on the possibility of an unfettered imagination producing absurd trains of aesthetic inquiry. For example, one might look at the ripple pattern reflecting on the water of a lake and imagine that the ripples look like the ridges of the potato chips you recently cut out of your diet. From here you begin a train of thought which leads you to worry about processed food, factory farming, and fad diets. This seems like an unproductive, and unaesthetic, train of thought. To combat this “unfettered imagination” worry, Brady gives us some guidelines to prevent self-indulgence and irrelevant trains of thought. She believes the Kantian notion of disinterestedness can help prevent the sort of train of thought I just rehearsed. [17] Further Brady gives us guidelines for what she calls “imagining well.” She believes “imagining well” should be thought of like an Aristotelian virtue: it is acquired only through practice and only becomes a virtue once it is a matter of habit. This is a non-conceptual model of aesthetic appreciation in that it does not rely on previous concepts of art or nature for deep aesthetic appreciation.

If imagining well is like an Aristotelian virtue, then there should be a developing capacity on the part of the aesthetic participant to know when to employ scientific categories and when not to. Surely, sometimes focusing on scientific categories can cut aesthetic pleasure off at the knees.

An example of this phenomenon can be seen in Mark Twain’s Life on the Mississippi :

The face of the water, in time, became a wonderful book–a book that was a dead language to the uneducated passenger, but which told its mind to me without reserve, delivering its most cherished secrets as clearly as if it uttered them with a voice.  . . . In truth, the passenger who could not read this book saw nothing but all manner of pretty pictures in it, painted by the sun and shaded by the clouds, whereas to the trained eye these were not pictures at all, but the grimmest and most dead-earnest of reading matter. . . . I had lost something which could never be restored to me while I lived. All the grace, beauty, the poetry had gone out of the majestic river. . . .The sun means that we are going to have wind to-morrow; that floating log means that the river is rising; that slanting mark on the water refers to a bluff reef which is going to kill somebody’s steamboat one of these nights. . . . No, the romance and the beauty were all gone from the river. (Twain [1883] 1984, 94–96)

This much-discussed example shows that knowledge sometimes precludes aesthetic appreciation. Turning to another example, as a flute player I am aware of passages that are particularly hard to play. One reason for their difficulty is the lack of a natural stopping place to take a quick breath. Whenever I hear another flute player perform one of such pieces, I am on the edge of my seat, anticipating when he or she will take a breath. The in-depth knowledge about the piece precludes my appreciating the overall sound of the music. Instead, I find myself focusing on the technical ability of the artists. According to Brady, I am not appropriately disinterested in this instance. If that’s the case, then almost any amount of expert knowledge (including scientific knowledge) could preclude aesthetic appreciation. Is there a happy middle ground?

Hybrid Accounts: Can We Marry Cognitive and Non-Cognitive accounts to get the best of both worlds?

Perhaps instead of aiming for a uniform experience, we should be aiming for experiences that are aesthetically meaningful and reward our attention and efforts. In other words, we should allow for the co-recognition of a variety of experiences rather than defending one account of meaning over another when it is possible to countenance them all. In his book Natural Beauty: A Theory of Aesthetics Beyond the Arts , Ronald Moore (2007) details a pluralist model of aesthetic appreciation. Moore argues that the appropriate way to aesthetically appreciate nature is syncretic: rather than using any one particular model, we should draw from multiple models. This syncretic way of appreciating nature re-integrates our appreciation of natural objects and artworks. Moore insists that we “approach the qualities of things we think worthy of admiration in nature through lenses we have developed for thinking of aesthetic qualities at large—not art, not literature, not music, not politics, not urban planning, not landscape design, but all of these and more” (2007, 216). If the goal of our aesthetic appreciation is to use those parts of our intelligent awareness that suit the object, then this model can include all modes of aesthetic appreciation.

But while such a model enables us to explore many modes of appreciation, it does not tell us what modes of appreciation are relevant to which objects. Some might see this as a weakness of the syncretic account, but one might also argue that the charm of the syncretic model is that it challenges us to come up with specific accounts of appreciation for different types of objects.

One might worry that different modes of appreciation might preclude one another. When Moore declares that syncretism is “the Unitarianism of aesthetics” (2007, 39), a precocious deist might ask if one can be both Jewish and Buddhist, both Jesuit and Bahá’í? In my view, some models are not only compatible, but also ampliative. For example, non-cognitive models of the appreciation of natural beauty that focus on “trains of ideas” or “associations,” may be informed by more cognitive models such as Carlson’s NEM. [18] Scientific information about an object of delectation can spur more interesting, and perhaps, more productive trains of thought. If we know that a particular flower blooms but once a year, that scientific information can be utilised to ground a fruitful aesthetic experience.

But some models might be incommensurable; it might be impossible to employ two models at the same time, to have two experiences of appreciation at the same time. In this scenario we might decide to alternate between two different modes of appreciation. Take, for example, the film critic. Film critics often watch movies twice: once to allow themselves to enjoy the film—to immerse themselves, and the second time to focus on technical aspects of the production with an eye toward their criticism. The “technical” mode and the “immersion” mode might very well be incompatible, but one might be able to switch off and on between the two. If this is the case, there is nothing stopping me from having one experience after the other as the appreciation unfolds throughout time. These multiple avenues for aesthetic pleasure favor a syncretic model, or pluralist model, of aesthetic appreciation. We must draw upon whatever models we have at our disposal, including conceptual as well as non-conceptual models, artistic as well as natural models, historical and contemporary models alike.

In this chapter we examined some of the historical underpinnings of our appreciation of nature, namely the British Picturesque and the sublime. We then discussed cognitive, non-cognitive, and hybrid accounts of the aesthetic appreciation of nature. What I hope to have shown is that there is no one-principle-fits-all solution for all aesthetic experiences of nature. An immersive experience river rafting will be different from birdwatching. Knowledge in some cases will add depth to our aesthetic experiences, while in other cases will impede our ability to appreciate. We should thus embrace a pluralistic model of aesthetic engagement, one that allows us to employ different models to different objects—or different models at different times in our life. The appropriate response to nature, for the sublime, is awe and humility. This might be instructive for me at a particular time in my life. At another time, the NEM might allow me to gain access to experiences of unscenic nature otherwise inaccessible through other models (such as the picturesque).

I would like to leave you with one final thought: we need not go to a National Park to engage with nature. We live in nature and are part of it. It is accessible to us in the trees that line our streets, the urban animals who forage for scraps in our trash bins, and in the sunsets we watch through our car windshield on our commute home. The beauty of nature surrounds us and is available to all—free of charge.

Alison, Archibald. 1790. Essays on the Nature and Principles of Taste . London: J.J.G and G. Robinson.

Berleant, Arnold. 1992. The Aesthetics of Environments . Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press.

Brady, Emily. 1998. “Imagination and the Aesthetic Appreciation of Nature.” The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 56, no. 2 (Spring): 139–147. https://doi.org/10.2307/432252. Reprinted in Carlson and Berleant 2004.

Burke, Edmund. (1757) 2008. A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful . Edited by Adam Phillips. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Carlson, Allen. 1979. “Appreciation and the Natural Environment.” The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 37, no. 3 (Spring): 267–275.

Carlson, Allen, and Arnold Berleant, eds. 2004. The Aesthetics of Natural Environments . Peterborough, ON: Broadview Press.

Carroll, Noël. 2004. “On Being Moved by Nature: Between Religion and Natural History.” In The Aesthetics of Natural Environments , edited by Allen Carlson and Arnold Berleant. Ontario, Canada: Broadview Press.

Dewey, John. (1934) 2005. Art as Experience . New York: Perigee Books.

Eaton, Marcia Mulder. 2004. “Fact and Fiction in the Aesthetic Appreciation of Nature.” In Carlson and Berleant, The Aesthetics of Natural Environments, 170–181.

Gilpin, William. (1768) 2010. “An Essay upon Prints, Containing Remarks upon the Principles of picturesque Beauty.” In Three Essays: On Picturesque Beauty; on Picturesque Travel; and on Sketching Landscape: To Which Is Added a Poem, on Landscape Painting. Farmington Hills, MI: Gale ECCO, Print Editions.

Godlovitch, Stan. 1997. “Carlson on Appreciation.” S. Godlovitch and A. Carlson Debate 55 (Winter): 53–57. https://doi.org/10.2307/431604 .

Hepburn, Ronald. 2010. “The Aesthetics of Sky and Space.” Environmental Values 19, no. 3: 273–288. https://doi.org/10.3197/096327110X519835 .

Hussey, Christopher. (1927) 1983. The Picturesque: Studies in a Point of View . London: F. Cass.

Kant, Immanuel. (1790) 2001. Critique of the Power of Judgment . Translated by Paul Guyer. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Marsh, George Perkins. (1865) 2018. Man and Nature: Or Physical Geography as Modified by Human Action . CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform.

Moore, Ronald. 2007. Natural Beauty: A Theory of Aesthetics Beyond the Arts . Peterborough, ON: Broadview Press.

Muir, John. 1894. The Mountains of California . New York: Century Co.

Rolston III, Holmes. 2004. “The Aesthetic Experience of Forest.” In Carlson and Berleant, The Aesthetics of Natural Environments , 182–195.

Ross, Stephanie. 1998. What Gardens Mean . Chicago: University Of Chicago Press.

Shaftesbury, Earl of (Anthony Ashley Cooper). (1709) 2010. The Moralists, a Philosophical Rhapsody. Being a Recital of Certain Conversations upon Natural and Moral Subjects. Farmington Hills, MI: Gale ECCO, Print Editions.

Thoreau, Henry D. (1862) 2012. October, or Autumnal Tints . Illustrated by Lincoln Perry. New York: W. W. Norton & Company.

Twain, Mark. (1883) 1984. Life on the Mississippi . New York: Penguin.

Walton, Kendall L. 1970. “Categories of Art.” The Philosophical Review 79, no. 3 (July 1): 334–67. https://doi.org/10.2307/2183933 .

Ziff, Paul. 1966. Philosophical Turnings: Essays in Conceptual Appreciation . Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.

  • Ronald Hepburn’s 1966 article, “Contemporary Aesthetics and the Neglect of Natural Beauty,” is a good place to start and a must-read for anyone interested in the topic. This essay, and many others I discuss in this chapter, can be found in Allen Carlson and Arnold Berleant’s edited volume, Aesthetics of the Natural Environment (Carlson and Berleant 2004). ↵
  • The term seems to have first appeared in 1768, in an essay by Rev. William Gilpin (1724–1804) entitled, “An Essay Upon Prints,” where Gilpin defined the picturesque simply as “a term expressive of that peculiar kind of beauty which is agreeable in a picture” ([1768] 2010, xii). ↵
  • Allen Carlson, whose Natural Environmental Model we will discuss in the next section, has noted that if we are to adhere to the landscape cult’s practice of viewing the environment as a landscape painting, we are essentially forced to see the natural environment as static and as a mere two-dimensional representation. This leads us to have an incomplete and shallow aesthetic engagement with the natural environment. ↵
  • While I will discuss only Sir Uvedale Price and Richard Payne Knight, two other men would be relevant to a longer discussion about the picturesque: William Gilpin and Humphry Repton (1752–1818). ↵
  • As we will see in the next section on the sublime, Kant’s theory of judgment places beauty in the minds of the spectator. ↵
  • The first reference to the sublime is thought to be Longinus: Peri Hupsous/Hypsous. The sublime was said to inspire awe. Aristotle believed that horrific events (in tragic plays) call upon fear and pity, resulting in a catharsis in the spectator. Elements of this view can be found in many theories of the sublime. ↵
  • See also Shaftesbury ([1709] 2010) ↵
  • Burke believed that anything that contained one or more of the following attributes could be perceived as sublime: (1) Obscurity, (2) Power, (3), Privation (4), Vastness, (5) Infinity, (6) Succession, (7) Uniformity ([1757] 2008, 61–76). ↵
  • Please note that I have skipped over the nineteenth century aesthetics of nature here. In G.W.F. Hegel’s (1770–1831) aesthetics, philosophy of art expressed “Absolute Spirit” and nature was relegated to a footnote. Only a handful of Romantic thinkers thought and wrote on the aesthetics of nature, and many of these were in the United States. For a good introduction read Henry David Thoreau's (1817–1862) “Autumnal Tints” (Thoreau [1862] 2012), George Perkins Marsh (1801–1882) ([1865] 2018), and the environmentalist John Muir's (1838–1914) “A View of the High Sierra” (Muir 1894). ↵
  • An introduction to Carlson’s cognitive model for the aesthetic appreciation of nature can be found in his “Appreciation and the Natural Environment” (Carlson 1979). For an introduction to Holmes Rolston III’s cognitive model, please see his “The Aesthetic Experience of Forests” (Rolston III 2004). A good introduction to Marcia Muelder Eaton can be found in her “Fact and Fiction in the Aesthetic Appreciation of Nature” (Eaton 2004). ↵
  • Carlson also draws upon Kendall Walton’s “Categories of Art” (1970) in which Walton argues that we need art historical information to make well-informed aesthetic judgments. For example, if I were to judge Jeff Koons’s “Balloon Swan” as a failure of minimalist sculpture, I wouldn’t be attending to the properties of “Balloon Swan” which makes it a successful piece of (non-minimalist) contemporary pop sculpture. In order to appreciate “Balloon Swan” appropriately, I must categorise it appropriately. ↵
  • While Carlson gives priority to appreciation informed by scientific knowledge, he does acknowledge the role of common sense in our aesthetic appreciation of nature. ↵
  • The “object model”—as Carlson calls it—asks the appreciator to take the object out of its natural environment and observe its formal properties such as symmetry, unity, etc. When we do this, we appreciate the natural object as an art object, thus only appreciating a limited set of aesthetic properties, namely those formal properties that we find in art. In rejecting this model, Carlson demands that our appreciation of a natural object requires us to place it in its natural context. For example, we should see the honeycomb as part of the bee life cycle and appreciate the purpose and role it plays in nature. ↵
  • The “landscape model” asks us to aesthetically appreciate a natural landscape as we would appreciate the painting or picture of that natural landscape. We are asked to attend to the scenic qualities of the landscape, to appreciate its lines and form. Unlike a painting, which is already presented to us as a framed object, we should likewise frame the landscape. This model reinforces the subject/object distinction, by asking us to place ourselves outside or in opposition to the landscape that we are trying to appreciate. ↵
  • Non-cognitive accounts may further be divided into imagination accounts (Brady) and immersion accounts (Berleant). While I focus here on imagination accounts, Berleant’s immersion account is instructive. Berleant argues that the appropriate way to appreciate nature is through engagement; this non-conceptual model (of engagement) correctly emphasises humanity’s continuity with the natural world and nature’s boundlessness where other models do not. ↵
  • Brady details four different types of imagination: (i) exploratory, which is the imaginative search for unity in perception, (ii) projective, where we intentionally see something as something else, (iii) ampliative, which moves beyond mere imagination to draw upon other cognitive resources, and (iv) revelatory , where the ampliative imagination has led to the discovery of an aesthetic truth (Brady 1998, 163). ↵
  • The First Moment in the Critique of the Power of Judgment tells us that judgments of taste (which are judgments about beauty) are “disinterested.” Kant details a few different ways in which these judgments are disinterested: we must not ask if the object is good (or good for something), we shouldn’t invoke sensations of the agreeable, and we shouldn’t care about the real existence of the object. Let’s take these three forms of interest in turn. First, when looking at something beautiful (let’s say a flower) I shouldn’t care if the flower is good for something (such as being good for medicinal purposes). I shouldn’t also care if the object is morally good. Second, when I make a judgment of beauty, I am not saying that the object is “agreeable” or pleasing to me. Going back to our flower example—Kant doesn’t want us to say something like, “this flower is agreeable to me since it is the kind my mother used to give me when I was sick.” Finally, we shouldn’t care whether or not the object is real. A mirage of a flower and an actual flower should hold the same judgment of beauty. In this sense we are disinterested in whether the object is real or imaginary. ↵
  • Those who argue for “associative” models of aesthetic experience might include Archibald Alison (1790), who argues that objects spur “trains of ideas of emotions”; John Dewey’s discussion of “trains of ideas” ([1934] 2005); and Emily Brady on “Imagining Well” (1998). ↵

What Makes Nature Beautiful? Copyright © 2021 by Elizabeth Scarbrough is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License , except where otherwise noted.

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At the outset of “Nature,” Emerson argues for overturning the retrospective tendencies of his age and instead proposes that his contemporaries should focus on their “original relation to the universe” (15). They should thus nurture a religion that arrives “by revelation to us” rather than the one put forth in the scriptures of organized religion (15). As Emerson points out the intellectual and spiritual richness of his own age, he shows that the United States, with its relatively new civilization and philosophical tradition, is just as fitting a place for enlightenment as the historic Eastern scenes of the scriptures. He thus turns to the subject of nature, an entity that, unlike culture, this new civilization has in abundance. Natural wonders such as woods , stars, and sunsets are available for all to study and learn from, regardless of their level of education.

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essay analyzing about beauty in nature

Beauty of Nature Essay

It is hard for one to witness the beauty of nature and not fall for it. Whether we listen to the mesmerising sounds of birds in the morning or love to watch the brilliant sunset in the evening, there is something beautiful about nature that fills us with joy. We are extremely lucky beings that we get to enjoy the beauty of nature every day. Let us discuss the different things that nature provides us through this short essay on beauty of nature.

When we describe the beauty of nature, several aspects like trees, plants, animals, water, hills and weather come into play. Through essay writing on beauty of nature, your kids will be able to express what they admire about nature clearly. Moreover, this essay will reveal how kids pay close attention to things that we hardly notice or care about.

Beauty of Nature Essay

Experience with the Beauty of Nature

During the mid-summer season, I went to a beautiful hill station with my family. Even though the ride was long, the beautiful scenery on the way kept me entertained. I could see deep forests and misty mountains as we went higher and higher. The winding roads also fascinated me, and I felt as if I had entered a different world. Upon our arrival at the place, I immediately fell in love with nature as it was preserved as such with fresh fragrant flowers of different kinds, cool weather and lush greenery. I found all my worries melting away as I walked amidst this wonderful nature.

Nature offers limitless happiness and satisfaction to us. As a nature enthusiast, one would find joy in the calm breeze, flowing streams or dancing flowers. From the little pebbles to sturdy rocks, everything is part of nature, which adds charm to it. Even nature creates music through the running rivers, twittering birds and gentle winds. When the sun sets and the moon takes its place, the whole sky is lit, and there is nothing more dreamlike than sleeping under the starry sky.

The seasons change, and each has its distinct beauty that cannot be matched. While spring brings in the best of nature through its vibrant greenery, winter calls for a misty and foggy beauty of nature. Autumn covers nature with a golden carpet of leaves and flowers, and summer witnesses the brightest days with delicious fruits. Besides, there are many living creatures, like birds, insects, fish, etc., in varying shape, size and colour that makes nature lively. A single peek through the window of your house would help you understand the true beauty of nature, which will surely lighten your mood.

Moral of the Essay

Each one of us will have a unique feeling when we look at nature. You can know what your child likes about nature through this essay writing on beauty of nature. We can see, feel and hear the glamour of nature in every step that we take and the air we breathe. This short essay on beauty of nature would inspire your kids to look around and take delight in its different forms so that they will be energised and enthusiastic.

How to enjoy the beauty of nature?

All of us can enjoy the beauty of nature in the ways we see it. You could either go for an early morning walk or jog in the evening, where you could be close to nature, thus imbibing its beauty. Travel with your friends and family to hill stations, beaches and exotic places, and enjoy the beautiful sunrise or sunset.

What are the factors that affect the beauty of nature?

Although nature maintains its beauty, human exploitation has caused serious threats to nature. The excessive cutting down of trees for industry and home purposes and the pollution of water, air and land through the dumping of waste from factories are the main factors that threaten the beauty of nature.

How to preserve the beauty of nature?

Nature is an invaluable gift given to us, and we must not involve in any activity that would diminish its beauty. By planting more trees, avoiding the use of plastic, and reusing and recycling things, we can maintain the beauty of nature as it is.

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1.1: What is beauty?

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“ What is Beauty? ” YouTube, uploaded by CNN, 16 Mar. 2018.

What is beauty?

In 2018 CNN made a brief video tracing how women’s beauty has been defined over time and how those perceptions of beauty “leave women in constant pursuit of the ideal.” How have perceptions of beauty changed over time? How do those definitions apply to things beyond women’s beauty? Rory Corbett addresses beauty from an interesting perspective in his essay, “What is Beauty?” in which he notes that, “beauty is not just a visual experience; it is a characteristic that provides a perceptual experience to the eye, the ear, the intellect, the aesthetic faculty, or the moral sense. It is the qualities that give pleasure, meaning or satisfaction to the senses, but in this talk I wish to concentrate on the eye, the intellect and the moral sense.” What does the author mean by “the moral sense”? How does Corbett’s essay expand your thinking of what beauty is?

Art and the Aesthetic Experience

Beauty is something we perceive and respond to. It may be a response of awe and amazement, wonder and joy, or something else. It might resemble a “peak experience” or an epiphany. It might happen while watching a sunset or taking in the view from a mountaintop, for example. This is a kind of experience, an aesthetic response that is a response to the thing’s representational qualities , whether it is man-made or natural (Silverman). The subfield of philosophy called aesthetics is devoted to the study and theory of this experience of the beautiful; in the field of psychology, aesthetics is studied in relation to the physiology and psychology of perception.

London - Tate Modern - beautiful woman painting

Aesthetic analysis is a careful investigation of the qualities which belong to objects and events that evoke an aesthetic response. The aesthetic response is the thoughts and feelings initiated because of the character of these qualities and the particular ways they are organized and experienced perceptually (Silverman).

The aesthetic experience that we get from the world at large is different than the art-based aesthetic experience. It is important to recognize that we are not saying that the natural wonder experience is bad or lesser than the art world experience; we are saying it is different. What is different is the constructed nature of the art experience. The art experience is a type of aesthetic experience that also includes aspects, content, and context of humanness. When something is made by a human, people know that there is some level of commonality and/or communal experience.

Why aesthetics is only the beginning in analyzing an artwork

We are also aware that beyond sensory and formal properties, all artwork is informed by its specific time and place or the specific historical and cultural milieu it was created in (Silverman). For this reason people analyze artwork through not only aesthetics, but also, historical and cultural contexts. Think about what you bring to the viewing of a work of art. What has influenced the lens through which you analyze beauty?

How we engage in aesthetic analysis

Often the feelings or thoughts evoked as a result of contemplating an artwork are initially based primarily upon what is actually seen in the work. The first aspects of the artwork we respond to are its sensory properties, its formal properties, and its technical properties (Silverman). Color is an example of a sensory property. Color is considered a kind of form and how form is arranged is a formal property. What medium (e.g., painting, animation, etc.) the artwork is made of is an example of a technical property. These will be discussed further in the next module. As Dr. Silverman, of California State University explains, the sequence of questions in an aesthetic analysis could be: what do we actually see? How is what is seen organized? And, what emotions and ideas are evoked as a result of what has been observed?

Exercise \(\PageIndex{1}\)

What has influenced the lens through which you analyze beauty?

Works Cited

Corbett, J Rory. “What Is Beauty?: Royal Victoria Hospital, Wednesday 1st October 2008.” The Ulster Medical Journal , U.S. National Library of Medicine, May 2009, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2699193/ .

Ginsburg, Anna. “What Is Beauty? .” YouTube , CNN, 16 Mar. 2018, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5utnc_yspSo .

Silverman, Ronald. Learning About Art: A Multicultural Approach. California State University, 2001. Web. 24, June 2008.

“What is Beauty?” YouTube , uploaded by Merav Richter, 16 Mar. 2.

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Beauty of Nature Essay

Our physical and emotional senses are soothed by the vastness and beauty of nature. Nature's beauty has an infinite, everlasting, and immortal existence. The sunrise and sunset are two of nature's many stunning features. The beauty of nature is a perfect reflection of the art of God. Here are a few sample essays on the beauty of nature:

100 Words Essay on Beauty of Nature

200 words essay on beauty of nature, 500 words essay on beauty of nature.

Beauty of Nature Essay

The most beautiful creation of God that exists all around us is nature, which is seen as being essence of everything. Water, air, plants, and many other things have been given to us by nature so that we can survive on this earth. A person with a sense of beauty will never be able to overlook the splendour of the twinkling stars and the crimson light of the rising sun. The beauty of nature has inspired many artistic people to compose verses of praise, show their creative side with paints and brushes, write beautiful prose and capture the beauty of nature with a camera forever.

Nature is diverse—a treasure that will always exist is the beauty of nature. Many beautiful living things are among the countless riches of beauty that nature has to offer. Millions of different species in every size, colour, and habitat—on land, in the sky, and in the water—abound in the world of birds, animals, reptiles, and fish. They are present all the time and everywhere. They enhance the surroundings by only being there. Because God gave everything on earth a purpose and an order, nature is a special blessing to us.

Nature and Air Pollution

Mother Nature is responsible for our very existence as humans, but we don't seem to recognise this unique truth or show her any respect. Instead we are polluting and ruining our environment. Use of natural resources increases as the population grows. Coal and petroleum are in greater demand due to the growing manufacturing sector, however they pollute the air. The air we breathe has been tainted by smoke released from industries and automobiles. We must plant more trees if we want to lessen the impact of harmful air pollutants such as carbon monoxide, sulphur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, etc. Mother Nature is constantly being abused by mankind, who don't even consider the repercussions.

Nature has rivers, sparkling valleys, enormous mountains, blue oceans, white skies, the sun, the rain, and the moon, and the list is endless. All of these things are in some way organised and have a function in life. Despite all this, we are still doing activities that are not only harmful but can cause real devastation to nature all around.

Nature and Its Seasons

The beauty of the changing seasons has captivated people's attention for millennia and will do so till the end of time. Unquestionably the queen of the seasons, spring is the most beautiful of them all. The planet is awash in vibrant colours, luxuriant plants, and aromas during this time. Autumn's colours are golden, brown, and mature. A life that started in the spring matures in the fall. A season that aids in ripening is summer. The most delicious fruits and vegetables are only some of its many charms and beauties. Winters in nature are beautiful because of the crisp sky and the snow-capped mountains.

Enjoy Nature

We can all appreciate nature's beauty as we perceive it. You could either go for an early-morning stroll or an evening jog, both of which would put you in close proximity to nature and allow you to take in its beauty. Visit beaches, hill towns, and far-off locales with your friends and family to take in the breathtaking dawn or sunset.

How to Preserve Nature

Conserving our natural resources is really needed so that future generations can appreciate and enjoy them as well. To stop this ongoing process of destruction, we must raise people's awareness. To ensure a nation's progress while not endangering the environment, human activities must be carried out in a sustainable manner. It is crucial to realise that we shouldn't abuse some of god-greatest nature's blessings. Here are a few ways that you can conserve nature,

3 R’s | Reduce your consumption, reuse what you can, and recycle instead of throwing away.

Volunteer | Volunteer for cleanups in your community.

Educate | Help others understand the importance and value of our natural resources.

Conserve water | The less water you use, the less runoff and wastewater that eventually end up in the ocean.

Save Electricity | Switch off lights and fans when you leave the room.

Plant Trees | Trees provide food and oxygen. They help save energy, clean the air, and help combat climate change.

My Trip to a Hill Station

I went to a beautiful hill station in the middle of the summer holidays with my family. The scenic views along the route kept me amused despite the lengthy trip. As we climbed higher, I could see dense trees and foggy mountains. I was also mesmerised by the curving roads, which made me feel as though I had stepped into another realm. I fell in love with nature as soon as we arrived since it had been kept in its natural state, complete with fresh, fragrant flowers of all types, a mild atmosphere, and lush vegetation. As I wandered amidst this beautiful landscape, I realised that all of my troubles had vanished. I felt so refreshed, calm and happy.

Everything we do is dependent on the natural world. We entirely rely on water, air, and fire for our life. The natural resources and the beauty of nature provides a sense of comfort to us.

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essay analyzing about beauty in nature

Andrew Fiala, Ph.D.

Author and Lecturer: Ethics, Religion, Political Philosophy

Nature, Beauty, and Morality

The beauty of nature’s wonders can lead to a clearer view of the beauty of morality, fresno bee, july 28, 2017.

Last week, I wrote about solitude and Yosemite. But solitude is not the only thing that lures us to the mountains. We also seek beauty. Lovers of nature cherish birdsong, gleaming granite and sparkling snow. The rainbow, the lightning and the wildflower fill us with awe and wonder.

essay analyzing about beauty in nature

We spend too much time indoors. Americans devote about  10 hours per day to their glowing screens . One danger of this is obesity. As our waistlines expand, our attention spans shorten. The lack of natural beauty in our lives poses a spiritual, aesthetic and ethical danger.

Ethics has long been connected to aesthetics. Plato thought that beauty lifted us toward higher things, encouraging us to give birth to virtue and wisdom.

The good and the beautiful exhibit grace, balance and harmony. Good things have symmetry and order. The ability to experience beauty is connected with the knack for knowing the good.

A key here is what we might call “the aesthetic mood.” In the presence of beauty the mind is attuned to the world in a receptive and reverent fashion. When we pause to wonder at a Half Dome or Yosemite Falls, we shift perspectives. Beauty opens transcendent vistas. It encourages us to see beyond the narrow world of “me and mine.”

Only a perverse soul considers profit in the face of the beautiful. The rest of us smile and celebrate. We are grateful, inspired and humbled.

The beautiful is an end-in-itself. It is priceless and beyond exchange. Beautiful objects should be enjoyed and respected. They have inherent value, dignity and worth. It would be wrong to damage or destroy them.

The parallel with ethics is obvious. Morality requires us to value people for their own sake. Morality asks us to recognize the priceless dignity – and immense beauty – of the human being.

Some claim that all of this comes from God. Theists think that the value of human life is based on the fact that we are created in the image of God. They believe that beauty in this world is a sign of God’s love.  John Muir said simply , “No synonym for God is so perfect as Beauty.”

Humanists appreciate beauty and humanity for its own sake. They think that morality and reason give value to life – as does the experience of order and harmony in nature.

Albert Einstein provides  an inspiring source of the humanist idea . Einstein said, “Only morality in our actions can give beauty and dignity to life.” He thought that we are held captive by our egos. He explained that  we find meaning and hope  by “widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.”

Aesthetic experience is an advanced human capacity. Children do seem to have an innate ability to wonder at sound and light. They are also caring and loving. But we have to be taught to see the beautiful, just as we have to learn to value human beings as ends-in-themselves.

That is why it is essential to take kids into nature and show them the beauty of the natural world. They need time away from their screens. They need to stretch their legs and their minds. They need to learn to develop the aesthetic mood. We help them cultivate reverence, humility, gratitude and awe by exposing them to the wonders of nature.

Adults need that too. Natural beauty provides reassurance and hope. Grace and joy are found beyond the depravity of the daily news. The mind is enlivened. The spirit is soothed. We think better and breathe easier in charming landscapes. We are elevated by the sense that this majestic world offers a secret to savor.

This is not selfish escapism. The demands of justice and love always remain. But we all need a refuge to reinvigorate the spirit. Natural splendor strengthens us for the sorrowful and the sordid. In the presence of the beautiful we want to be better people. Beauty inspires us to want to be worthy of this world and its wonders.

http://www.fresnobee.com/living/liv-columns-blogs/andrew-fiala/article163955142.html

COMMENTS

  1. The Beauty of Nature: [Essay Example], 727 words GradesFixer

    The beauty of nature has the power to ignite our imagination, stimulate our senses, and evoke a sense of wonder and awe. From the paintings of Claude Monet to the poetry of William Wordsworth, the natural world has served as a muse for countless works of art and literature. Research has shown that exposure to natural environments can enhance ...

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    The perception of nature's beauty lies partly in the structure of the eye itself, and in the laws of light. The two together offer a unified vision of many separate objects as a pleasing whole — "a well-colored and shaded globe," a landscape "round and symmetrical." Every object in nature has its own beauty, which is magnified when ...

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    Analysis: "Nature". At the outset of "Nature," Emerson argues for overturning the retrospective tendencies of his age and instead proposes that his contemporaries should focus on their "original relation to the universe" (15). They should thus nurture a religion that arrives "by revelation to us" rather than the one put forth in ...

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    Nature is an invaluable gift given to us, and we must not involve in any activity that would diminish its beauty. By planting more trees, avoiding the use of plastic, and reusing and recycling things, we can maintain the beauty of nature as it is. The beauty of nature is eternal and is a source of happiness. This short essay on beauty of nature ...

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  21. PDF AP English Literature and Composition

    The score for an exceptionally well-written essay may be raised by 1 point above the otherwise appropriate score. In no case may a poorly written essay be scored higher than a 3. 9-8 These essays offer a persuasive analysis of the complex nature of a literal or figurative gift and how that gift contributes to the work as a whole.

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