Beauty was once a profound philosophical category, soberly debated by the Greeks and carefully delineated by 18th-century minds. Ideally, beauty would produce pleasurable enjoyment spontaneously in all human subjects who possess the cognitive disposition to recognize it. This pleasure would be a natural outflow of the cultivation of such acquired virtues as truth and goodness.
One of the earliest philosophical positions on beauty was that of Plato, who linked it to order and proportion. He argued that the beautiful is seen in such things as the symmetrical relation of long to short parts in a line, or the ratio between the dimensions of a statue’s face and body. Aristotle extended the idea of beauty by linking it to art. He regarded the beauty of a painting or photograph as a manifestation of the ‘forms’ that are found in nature.
Another view of beauty was that of a philosopher named Euclid, who developed the geometrical concept of beauty. He compared the ratio of an object’s parts to its whole with the ratios of the musical scale or the motions of the planets. He argued that this ratio is a fundamental property of things that are harmonious and well-proportioned.
Other philosophical positions on beauty argued that it was a matter of taste, with some people judging things to be more beautiful than others. For example, a painting of a landscape by Cezanne might be judged more beautiful than a photo taken in the same place by a famous photographer.