New Theory of Beauty

New Theory of Beauty

Guy Sircello
Copyright Date: 1975
Pages: 148
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  • Book Info
    New Theory of Beauty
    Book Description:

    Ever since the eighteenth century, when Kant opened the floodgates of subjectivism in aesthetics, common men and philosophers alike have despaired of finding a basis for judgments about beauty. This book provides a comprehensive theory that encompasses beauty in art and nature, as well as intellectual, utilitarian, and moral beauty.

    The author argues that the beauty of objects can be reduced to the beauty of properties of those objects, which in turn can be understood in terms of "properties of qualitative degree." The theory, developed first with respect to color, is then extended to include all sensory and non-sensory qualities. The author shows how the theory explicates and resolves disagreements about what is beautiful and discusses its relevance to the traditional notions of harmony and sublimity. His is an objectivist theory of beauty, and it enables him, in conclusion, to demonstrate why we enjoy perceiving beauty.

    Originally published in 1975.

    ThePrinceton Legacy Libraryuses the latest print-on-demand technology to again make available previously out-of-print books from the distinguished backlist of Princeton University Press. These paperback editions preserve the original texts of these important books while presenting them in durable paperback editions. The goal of the Princeton Legacy Library is to vastly increase access to the rich scholarly heritage found in the thousands of books published by Princeton University Press since its founding in 1905.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-7238-1
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. vii-2)
  4. 1. Beauty and the Twentieth Century
    (pp. 3-4)

    Beauty is all around us in things both natural and artificial. All sorts of human beings in all varieties of cultures enjoy beauty. But despite the efforts of thousands of years the idea of beauty has not yet been understood. These are good enough reasons for thinking about beauty again.

    Twentieth-century Western civilization is paradoxical because although it has produced beauties in abundance, it has not paid serious attention to understanding beauty. Many of its artists either ignore beauty or spurn it. Although they have not been able to stamp it out, they have often succeeded—albeit not so often...

  5. 2. Skepticism with Regard to Beauty
    (pp. 4-6)

    Kant started it all by declaring that the judgment of beauty is not determined by concepts.¹ He meant that no criteria of beauty can be given in terms of features of the objects to which “beautiful” is applicable; and he thus opened the gates of subjectivism. This form of skepticism with regard to beauty has dominated most of the up-to-date thought of the last two centuries. At a certain level of superficiality, the skepticism is reasonable. First, it's easy to see that no one has yet offered a clear enough or a comprehensive enough theory of beauty. Second, the task...

  6. 3. Beautiful “Objects”
    (pp. 6-7)

    The best way to refute skepticism is simply to provide a clear, comprehensive, and true theory that gives the criterion of beauty in things. The way to do that, however, is not to search for features common to all beautiful objects, for a moment’s reflection will show that if we restrict our attention only to beautiful objects, we shall miss much of the world’s beauty. Mountains, rivers, and symphonies may, in an attenuated sense, be called objects. But the starry night, the ridgeline of the Santa Ana Mountains against the morning sky, the way the Philadelphia Orchestra plays Strauss, the...

  7. 4. “Beautiful Properties”
    (pp. 7-11)

    If in seeking a viable theory of beauty we cannot simply ask what features all beautiful objects share, on pain of missing some beauty, and we cannot ask what features all beautiful “objects” share, on pain of asking an unanswerable question, what questions can we ask in order to uncover the necessary and sufficient conditions of the beauty of things? I will come to an answer to this question indirectly by following a line introduced in the preceding section.

    Under what conditions could we say that the beauty of the hills is nothing but their beautiful color and the beauty...

  8. 5. The Job of a Theory of Beauty
    (pp. 11-18)

    Now we can suggest a way of answering the question posed at the beginning of the last section. If certain “objects” are beautiful only with respect to certain other beautiful “objects,” a maximally comprehensive theory of beauty need not concern itself with the former “objects.” Furthermore, if the whole class of beautiful “objects” were divisible, without remainder, into a class of beautiful “objects” that are beautiful with respect to other “objects” and a class of “objects” with respect to which ultimately all the “objects” of the first class are beautiful, then a maximally comprehensive theory of beauty need be a...

  9. 6. Experiences of Beauty
    (pp. 19-21)

    There are some facts about our experiences of beauty reflection on which ultimately led me to the theory I’m about to present. I don’t know why these facts helped generate the theory; it is certainly not because I am able to use them to construct an argument for the theory. But I strongly feel, though I cannot show, that they are intimately connected to the theory, and in a way not peculiar to me. I describe them now hoping that others, being reminded of these experiences, will also find them illuminating. These experiences are not, I should add, new discoveries;...

  10. 7. Vividness and the Beauty of Color
    (pp. 21-24)

    I will first work out a theory of beauty of color and later generalize the results to other properties. Eventually I will clarify the reasons for this strategy.

    Imagine examples of the following kinds of things that you judge to be beautiful with respect to their color:

    a) an orange cat,

    b) a new red car,

    c) green coastal hills of Southern California in February,

    d) golden coastal hills of Southern California in June,

    e) an orange sunset,

    f) blue sky on a brilliant autumn day.

    Now imagine conditions of the following descriptions. A rule for imagining correctly is that...

  11. 8. The Relativity of Vividness
    (pp. 24-29)

    “Vividness” denotes a scale with respect to which instances of color can be ordered as more or less vivid. There are three ways of using a vividness scale. First, there is a vividness scale relative to each distinct color. One instance of violet, say, can be more or less vivid than another. We can call this kind of vividness “color-relative vividness.” Second, one instance of violet may be more color-relatively vivid than an instance of orange and may be said to be more vivid on that account. This we can call “cross-color vividness.” Third, the color orange is generally more...

  12. 9. The Multiplicity of Colors
    (pp. 29-32)

    One thing that all of the foregoing assumes about colors is that there are more of them than the six on the standard color wheel. I don’t think there is any absolutely precise general way of determining what colors there are, but some indicators do exist. In addition to the colors signified by the obvious one-word color terms in English, there are colors corresponding to hyphenated compounds of such terms, such as greenish-yellow, red-violet, purplish-blue. There are also color terms made by joining a “character” term, whether metaphorical or not, to any of the preceding types of terms: “hot pink,”...

  13. 10. Vividness and the Context of Color
    (pp. 32-34)

    Despite the plethora of colors, not every instance of color is vivid relative to some color for the good reason that vividness in an instance of color is not dependent only on color parameters like hue and saturation. The vividness of a thing’s color also depends upon the environment of that thing. Since Plato’s time people have known that what is beautiful is not always, and under all conditions, beautiful. This is strikingly so with respect to beauty of color. A flower that is gorgeous in the sunlight is nothing special on a gray day. Or a tie that is...

  14. 11. Vividness and Appearance
    (pp. 34-36)

    In the preceding two sections I have argued that the vividness of a color of a thing depends upon contextual factors. I have not tried to give a comprehensive theory of the contextual conditions of vividness. I pointed out only some of the important kinds of context that condition vividness: the quality and quantity of light on the color, the color surroundings of a color, and the position of an observer with respect to the color.

    It may look at this point as if vividness of color, however closely related to beauty of color, is only a matter of how...

  15. 12. Other Beauties of Color
    (pp. 36-38)

    So far I have argued that often, when the color of a thing is beautiful, it is beautiful because of its vividness, and that if the color is very vivid, it is likely, but not necessarily, beautiful (simpliciter). Not all color that is beautiful, however, is so because of its vividness. The cloud touched ever so lightly by the setting sun may be just barely rose-tinged. The cloud may still be beautiful, but beautiful not because of the vividness of the rose color. It might be thedelicacyof the color in this context that provides the beauty. A dark...

  16. 13. Properties of Qualitative Degree
    (pp. 39-42)

    Thus far we have one element of a theory of beautiful color, namely, that if the color of a thing is beautiful, it possesses at least one property in a very high degree. I am ready now to formulate a general theory of beauty. In order to do so, however, I must clarify a key concept in that theory, the notion of a “property of qualitative degree” (henceforth PQD). All the properties with respect to which the color of a thing may be beautiful are PQDs. A generic feature of any PQDFis that it be possible for one...

  17. 14. The New Theory of Beauty Stated
    (pp. 42-43)

    In Section 5 I concluded that a perfectly comprehensive theory of beauty could be a theory of the beauty of properties because there is no beauty in “objects” that is not beauty with respect to one or more properties of the “objects.” The analysis of beauty in color allows us to think that even the beauty of some “beautiful properties,” like color properties, can be further reduced. For we can say that there is no beauty of color that is not beauty with respect to one or more PQDs. Generalizing from beauty of color, then, we can say that a...

  18. 15. The Argument Strategy
    (pp. 43-45)

    The strategy of my argument in support of the New Theory has already been launched and shall be continued in the following sections. I want here to describe and partially defend that strategy. I want also to specify exactly what it would take to disconfirm the New Theory (henceforth NTB).

    As I indicated earlier, I believe it is impossible to find a theory that specifies necessaryand sufficientconditions for any “object” to be beautiful. The failure thus far of all attempts to produce a general theory of beauty is due, I think, to failure to recognize that fact and...

  19. 16. Beauty and the Looks of Things
    (pp. 45-48)

    The way things look is, aside from color, the most important kind of properties that make for visual beauty. These properties are signified by predicates of the formF-looking,although often the hyphenated form is merely implicit in our ordinary use of language. Things can, of course, beF-looking in different degrees, no matter whatFis. They are most beautiful with respect to theirF-look the moreF-looking they are; and theirF-look is clearly beautiful if it is present in an extremely high degree. A variety of examples can illustrate this point.

    When the sun comes up behind...

  20. 17. TheRelativity of Looks
    (pp. 48-52)

    Properties signified by predicates of the formF-lookingbehave in a way analogous to vividness. Recall that vividness has scales of degree that are relative to each color. Similarly, the degrees of anF-look are, in general, relative to the sort of “object” that has theF-look. Take, for example, the property of being craggy-looking. I have already discussed this property with respect to mountain ridgelines. But human faces may also be craggy-looking. A man may, in middle age, have a beautiful face, beautiful for the reason that his face is, in a high and exceptional degree, craggy-looking. It will...

  21. 18. Other Varieties of Visual Beauty and Other Varieties of Relativity
    (pp. 52-58)

    Colors and “looks” are not the only kinds of visual properties that are beautiful. Some, like gracefulness, elegance, and being powerfully built, can be purely visual, although they may also apply to things either heard, like music, or kinaesthetically felt, like dances, or touched, like bodies. I take it that no one disputes either that these are indeed beautiful properties, in my sense, or that possession of them to anextremely high degreeis specifically what makes for beauty with respect to them. They do, however, illustrate in interesting ways the general principle of relativity adumbrated above.

    Figures in Renaissance...

  22. 19. Beauty of Sound
    (pp. 58-60)

    No one has ever disputed, I think, that sounds can be beautiful. In this section I want only to illustrate how it is that aural beauty substantiates NTB.

    We often regard melodies, or the passages, chords, and harmonic progressions of compositions, or even whole compositions as beautiful. But single notes in isolation can be beautiful, too, in the sense of beautifully sung or played. Thus sometimes a note that is sung or played expressively is more beautiful than one that is sung or played mechanically or lifelessly. Similarly, a high note that “shatters” or “fuzzes out” on some sound equipment...

  23. 20. Beauties of Taste, Smell, and Touch
    (pp. 60-66)

    No one, so far as I know, has ever questioned that there are visual and aural beauties. There is no consensus of opinion, however, on whether tastes, smells, and feels (as in “the feel of silk”) can be beautiful. Since many philosophers interested in beauty have been Platonists suspicious of the senses, some of them have either denied that beauty belongs in these realms or indicated that such beauty as is found there is somehow “inferior.” Even twentieth-century men-on-the-street are apt to balk at the suggestion of there being gustatory, olfactory, or tactile beauty. It is, of course, a consequence...

  24. 21. Qualifications jor Judging Beauty
    (pp. 66-71)

    My first reaction to the apparent threat to NTB posed by these properties of taste, touch, and smell is to doubt that most people, including myself, are qualified to judge whether these sorts of properties provide counterexamples to NTB. And that is because most persons’ experiences with tastes, odors, and feels of these sorts are extremely limited, for obvious reasons. I, for one, haveneverfelt a slug, and I’ve tasted a peach seed only once. As I indicated earlier, however, fairly extensive experience of a property is absolutely required before the comparative degrees of it can be judged. We...

  25. 22. Intellectual Beauty
    (pp. 71-73)

    There is a variety of beauty that is frequently mentioned in discussions of the subject, unfortunately with respect only to a single sort of example: elegant mathematical proofs. An elegant proof is one that is simple, clear, direct, neat, and a beautiful proof is one that excells with respect to any or all of these properties. But a beautiful proof is only one example of a whole category that I will call “intellectual beauty.”

    Generally speaking, it is theproductsof the intellect, exhibiting certain properties, that are thought to be beautiful with respect to those properties. Thus a theory...

  26. 23. Beauty and Utility
    (pp. 73-76)

    The last point brings to mind a category of phenomena that must, according to NTB, be examples of beauty, but that are not even recognized in some traditional theories as bona fide cases of beauty. They are, however, regarded as the central (and sometimes only) instances of beauty by traditional theorists who, like Socrates, have conceived of beauty as “utility” (occasionally termed “suitability,” “appropriateness,” “aptness,” “fittingness,” or “function”).¹⁷ We sometimes talk of a thing or a material “doing beautifully,” meaning that it will serve very well for a certain purpose. For example, certain kinds of coals may cook beautifully, knives...

  27. 24. Beauty and Goodness
    (pp. 76-81)

    In the discussion thus far I have suggested several times that beauty and goodness are closely related. Traditionally theorists of beauty have noted a close relationship between the two ideas. Some philosophers have even identified the two notions. Others have claimed that they are coextensive, that whatever is beautiful is good and the converse.¹⁹ Neither of these theses is correct; the truth is more complex and various than either of these theses make it out to be. For some classes of beautiful “objects” (and of good “objects”) there is no connection between beauty and goodness. For the others, though the...

  28. 25. The Problem of Moral Beauty
    (pp. 81-84)

    Given the connections with goodness that beauty has, it is easy to see why and how some people—including some philosophers—have talked of moral beauty, that is to say, have attributed beauty to the moral virtues. And, of course, it is a consequence of NTB that virtues like kindness, honesty, faithfulness, loyalty, and reliability are beautiful properties, because they are all PQDs. At this point, however, a methodological question obtrudes itself: by what right can we even speak ofmorallybeautiful persons, persons, that is, who are beautiful with respect to their moral virtues? For if we can and...

  29. 26. A Defense of Moral Beauty
    (pp. 85-94)

    When we think of a person we want to characterize as “moral,” we think of a specific spectrum of virtues he possesses: honesty, responsibility, trustworthiness, respect for law, respect for the persons and property of others. When we think of a person more accurately characterizable as “good” rather than moral, we think of a different spectrum of virtues: kindness, generosity, helpfulness, compassion, and concern for others. Of course, if a person is truly “good,” he will also have virtues of the “moral” person, and vice versa. Being characterizable as good rather than as moral, or as moral rather than as...

  30. 27. Beauty and the Emotions
    (pp. 94-97)

    There are other, nonmoral attributes of persons that are properties of qualitative degree. These are attributes of emotion, mood, and temperament: anger, sadness, joyfulness, serenity, calmness, despondency, brutality. Beauty with respect to some of these attributes is common. We have no trouble imagining a beautiful serenity or calmness come over a person, which is to say, a kind of radiant and all-encompassing serenity or calmness. One can see a beautiful joy come into a person’s face, a joy that completely takes over the face, transforming it and banishing every trace of darkness. Beautiful despondency or brutality, however, are impossible. The...

  31. 28. Sublimity
    (pp. 97-101)

    It might occur to some that in the last two sections I have been discussing what is more properly called “sublime” than “beautiful.” As far as I can tell from reading philosophers who have famously distinguished between beauty and sublimity, the distinction is made predominantly and primarily on the basis of our characteristic reactions to, our feelings toward, the beautiful and the sublime.²⁸ Of course, it is also true that the kinds of “objects” that are typically beautiful differ on the whole from the kinds of “objects” that are typically sublime. Beautiful “objects” generally are small, lighthearted, joyous, charming, smiling...

  32. 29. Harmony and Beauty
    (pp. 101-107)

    I have talked about how NTB applies to a wide range of properties belonging to diverse categories: sensory, intellectual, artistic, moral, emotional. But I have said nothing about harmony, that is, about the beauty things might have because of the way their elements are related. Traditionally harmony has loomed very large in discussions of beauty. Some artists and philosophers have wanted to identify beauty with harmony. Nearly everyone—hedonists like Santayana and expression-theorists like Croce are exceptions—has made “harmony” or some closely related concept at least a part of his theory of beauty. I believe that “harmony” should not...

  33. 30. The“Flowers of Evil” Phenomenon
    (pp. 107-110)

    What the preceding discussion shows is that disharmony—either the lack of beauty or ugliness—can be an effect of beauty. There are several other interesting kinds of phenomena, related to the above, the possibility of which is deducible from NTB. It can happen, for instance, that an “object’s” property, beautiful in itself, results in that “object’s” being unbeautiful or even repulsively ugly. As a child I received as an Easter gift two live chicks whose feathers had been dyed glowingly beautiful colors, one orange and the other purple. Although the colors were undoubtedly beautiful, with a type of beauty...

  34. 31. Disagreements about Beauty
    (pp. 110-117)

    Part of the argument strategy I have used in this essay has been to exhibit the power of NTB by showing how it applies to a diverse variety ofprima facieunassimilable cases of beauty. At the same time I have been able partially to justify several recurrent themes in the tradition of speculation about beauty. The themes are: (1) the close link between beauty and goodness, (2) the connection between "utility" and beauty, (3) the application of beauty to moral character, (4) the intimate connection between harmony and beauty. What I mean when I say that NTB has “justified”...

  35. 32. The Limited Use of “Beautiful”
    (pp. 117-121)

    One of the standard “arguments” used in this century against devoting philosophical energy to questions of beauty is that the terms “beautiful” and “beauty” are “hardly ever used.” Now the premise of the argument can hardly be disputed; “beauty,” it is true, does not have a very rich or very large role to play in the language either of contemporary critics of the arts or of ordinary mortals. Far from indicating the unimportance of beauty, however, this fact is readily explainable by a true theory of beauty.

    Outside of philosophical discussions “beautiful” occurs chiefly in simple declarative sentences or, more...

  36. 33. The Objectivity of Beauty
    (pp. 121-126)

    My argument for NTB is concluded. It is time to say a little something in answer to a question that is apparently unavoid able in any discussion of beauty: Is beauty objective or subjective? The difficulty in getting a clear answer to this question has always been a function of (1) the difficulty in determining what beauty is and (2) the difficulty in determining what the subjective-objective distinction amounts to. Thus, even if we are content with NTB, the second difficulty still looms large. This difficulty specifically is that there are several standard meanings of “subjective” and “objective” used by...

  37. 34. The Problem of the Enjoyment of Beauty
    (pp. 126-129)

    A subjectivist theory of beauty that says that beauty is identical with what pleases, delights, or otherwise causes enjoyment has absolutely no difficulty in explaining our enjoyment of beauty. In fact, the problem does not even arise for such theories. For in such theories it is analytically true that beauty is enjoyable. Even a theory that takes, say, the medieval concept of “radiance” or, with Schiller, the notion of “living form”³⁷ as a criterion of beauty makes the connection between beauty and enjoyment understandable. For a term like “radiance” already implies such an attractiveness and allure that we could not...

  38. 35. An Explanation of the Enjoyment of Beauty
    (pp. 129-134)

    The first premise of my explanation of these two facts is thatclearlyperceiving³⁹ the properties of an “object” is, generally speaking, enjoyable and more enjoyable than perceiving them with less-than-clarity. The reason, I think, that we say that a personenjoysgood eyesight and good hearing is precisely because such things are, generally speaking, enjoyable. Naturally, most of the time when we see, hear, taste, or understand clearly, we do not feel thrills of enjoyment. For our enjoyment is felt, characteristically, whenever we have special occasion to notice or recognize the fact that we are perceiving clearly. For weeks...

  39. 36. Surpassing Clarity
    (pp. 135-138)

    The preceding explanation of why we enjoy beauty, though interesting and, as far as I know, novel, is not quite sufficient, however. For we still want to know why perceiving beauty should beespeciallyenjoyable—more enjoyable, on the whole, than the ordinary clear perception of the less-than-beautiful. The answer to this question will make use of points established in the preceding section.

    If one perceivesX’sF, andX’sFhas no beauty in it, then the apparent degree ofX’sFis lower than the apparent degree ofFwhen one perceives the beauty ofYwith respect...

  40. INDEX
    (pp. 139-142)
  41. Back Matter
    (pp. 143-143)