[Ponder] On Beauty

My Stand:

1) I think beauty has an evolutionary basis.

2) Beauty can be subjective.

I used to think beauty was subjective. That was the argument that I had almost 4 years ago with my Analytical Skills Professor, who believed that beauty is objective. I still don’t think beauty is entirely objective, but today, my position is a bit more nuanced. Watch this video as a good introduction to beauty:


Why are people reluctant to accept the concept of beauty being an evolutionary development?

This doesn’t make our feelings a fatalistic determinism of our biology.

Just because the concept of beauty is an evolutionary development and the magnetism of beauty an evolutionary response, beauty itself doesn’t have to have an objective or universal standard. The objectivity can be in the emotional experience, in that people react to beauty and are capable of finding something beautiful, but not in the spectrum of triggers for the experience. 

Some triggers are certainly more common than others… and evolution favours certain standards of beauty… but the especially in the context of today’s society, most experiences of beauty probably do not involve life and death or sexual reproduction. The choice between liking Beethoven and heavy metal would likely have less of an impact on evolutionary selection than the finding of a type of natural scenery beautiful.

So my position is that standards of beauty might be more inclined to a greater degree of universality in some areas but hold more room for subjectivity in others… Especially in a world where art is valued and given room of expression purely for its own artistic merit… I think biology is less deterministic of our valuation of what we find beautiful.

I think the talk is a bit of an oversimplification though. I won’t go so far as to denounce entirely the role of the “culturally conditioned eye of the beholder” when it comes to beauty. This explains things over and beyond the baseline of evolutionary selection. And these two – culture and nature… are also unlikely to be only determinants of what we find beautiful as well.

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