The Online Encyclopedia and Dictionary







Many see natural beauty in the folded petals of a rose
Many see natural beauty in the folded petals of a rose

This page is about the pleasant phenomenon. Beauty is also a quark (subatomic particle) flavor (the name of an attribute of quarks), and the name of a kind of quark of that flavor.

Beauty is the phenomenon of the experience of pleasure, through the perception of balance and proportion of stimulus. It involves the cognition of a balanced form and structure that elicites attraction and appeal towards a person, animal, inanimate object, scene, music, idea, etc.


Beauty and Aesthetics

Understanding the nature and meaning of beauty is one of the key themes in the philosophical discipline known as aesthetics.

The composer and critic Robert Schumann distinguished between two kinds of beauty, natural beauty and poetic beauty: the former being found in the contemplation of nature, the latter in man's conscious, creative intervention into nature. Schumann indicated that in music, or other art, both kinds of beauty appear, but the former is only sensual delight, while the latter begins where the former leaves off.

A common theory says that beauty is the appearance of things and people that are good. This has many supporting examples. Most people judge physically attractive human beings to be good, both physically and on deeper levels.

"Beauty as goodness" still has whole classes of significant counterexamples with no agreed solution. These include such things as a glacier, or a ruggedly dry desert mountain range. Many people find beauty in hostile nature, but this seems bad, or at least unrelated to any sense of goodness. Another type of counterexample are comic or sarcastic works of art, which can be good, but are rarely beautiful.

It is well known that people's skills develop and change their sense of beauty. Carpenters may view an out-of-true building as ugly, and many master carpenters can see out-of-true angles as small as half a degree. Many musicians can likewise hear as dissonant a tone that's high or low by as little as two percent of the distance to the next note. Most people have similar aesthetics about the work or hobbies they've mastered.

Beauty and human appearance

Symmetry may be important because it is evidence that the person grew up in a healthy way, from without visible genetic defects. One traditional, subtle feature that is considered an indication of beautiful women in all cultures is a waist-to-hip ratio of about 70% (waist circumference that is 70% of the hips circumference). The waist-to-hip ratio (WHR) theory was discovered by psychologist Dr. Devendra Singh of the University of Texas at Austin. Physiologists have shown that this ratio accurately indicates most women's fertility. Traditionally, in premodern ages when food was more scarce, plump people were judged more attractive than thin ones.

see also: Physical attractiveness

Theories of beauty

The earliest theory of beauty can be found in the works of early Greek philosophers from the pre-Socratic period, like Pythagoras. The extant writings attributed to Pythagoras reveal that the Pythagorean school, if not Pythagoras himself, saw a strong connection between mathematics and beauty. In particular, they noted that objects proportioned according to the golden ratio seemed more attractive. Some modern research seems to confirm this, in that people whose facial features are symmetric and proportioned according the golden ratio are consistently ranked as more attractive than those whose faces are not.

Different cultures have deified beauty, typically in female forms (the reason for which is probably that most well-known mythologies were conceived of and standardised by heterosexual men). Here is a list of the goddesses of beauty in different mythologies.

Even mathematical formulae can be considered beautiful. eiπ + 1 = 0 is commonly considered one of the most beautiful theorems in mathematics. (see Euler's identity)

Another connection between mathematics and beauty which played a prominent role in Pythagoras' philosophy was the way in which musical tones can be arranged in mathematical sequences, which repeat at regular intervals called octaves.

Beauty contests claim to be able to judge beauty. The millihelen is sometimes jokingly defined as the scientific unit of human beauty. This derives from the legend of Helen of Troy as presented in Christopher Marlowe's The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus, in which her beauty was said to have launched a thousand ships. The millihelen is therefore the degree of beauty that can launch one ship.

Effects of beauty in human society

A survey conducted by London Guildhall University of 11,000 people showed that (subjectively) good-looking people earn more. Less attractive people earned, on average, 13% less than more attractive people, while the penalty for overweight was around 5%.

See also

Wikiquote has a collection of quotations by or about:


External Links

  • Dictionary of the History of Ideas: Theories of Beauty to the Mid-Nineteenth Century
  • Dictionary of the History of Ideas: Theories of Beauty since the Mid-Nineteenth Century
  • How beautiful we are! WebArt
  • Ralph Lichtensteiger on Joseph Beuys

Last updated: 02-08-2005 16:39:31
Last updated: 05-03-2005 02:30:17