Show

What is Beauty?

Week of: 
March 15, 2005
What is it: 

Are there objective standards of beauty? Or is beauty in the eye of the beholder? Must art be beautiful to be great art? What is the role of the experience of beauty in a good life? John and Ken take in the beauty with Alexander Nehamas from Princeton University, author of Only a Promise of Happiness: The Place of Beauty in a World of Art.

Listening Notes: 

Is beauty in the eye of the beholder? John defines beauty as that which brings enjoyment to the person who looks or contemplates. John defines subjective properties as properties that require subjects of the right sort to make a difference. When we say something is beautiful, are we recommending to others that they should take delight in it? Beauty may be intersubjective, but is it objective? Can we argue rationally about whether something is beautiful? Ken introduces Alexander Nehamas, professor at Princeton. Is beauty both skin deep and in the eye of the beholder? Nehamas distinguishes between surface beauty and deep beauty. 

Kant thought that if we think something is beautiful then we want everyone to agree with us. Ken proposes the idea that perception is a skill. Would the world be better off if everyone agreed on what is beautiful? Nehamas thinks the world would not be better off because what we find beautiful is a reflection of our personality and individuality. What can we learn about ourselves from what we find beautiful? Nehamas thinks that it illuminates our style. Is taste a function of education and economics? 

Is natural beauty ever better than constructed beauty, like in art or music? Do beauty and happiness go together? What is the relation between beauty and the sublime? Nehamas says that the sublime is our reaction in the face of something so overpowering that it consumes or obliterates us. There is a saying that truth is beauty and beauty is truth, but is that correct? John thinks it is false. Why does beauty matter?

  • Roving Philosophical Report (Seek to 04:55): Amy Standen asks people on the street what they think is beautiful.

Alexander Nehamas, Edmund N. Carpenter II Class of 1943 Professor in the Humanities, Princeton University

Get Philosophy Talk

Radio

Sunday at 10am (pacific) on KALW 91.7 FM Local Public Radio, San Francisco

Podcast

Individual downloads via CDBaby and iTunes. Multipacks and The Complete Philosophy Talk via iAamplify

John Perry and Ken Taylor

Continue the Conversation

Sidebar Menu

Upcoming Shows

  • October 2 : Trust and Mistrust
    If we couldn't trust each other, our lives would be very different. We trust strangers not to harm us, we trust our friends to take care of our most...
  • October 9 : Matter and Energy - The Dark Side
    All the matter we have ever observed accounts for less than 5% of the universe. The rest? Dark energy and dark matter: mysterious entities that we...
  • October 16 : Moral Luck
    It seems reasonable to believe that we can only be blamed or praised for actions that are under our control. Nevertheless, in many concrete scenarios...
  • October 23 : The Mystery of the Multiverse
    At the foundation of modern theoretical physics lie the equations that define our universe, telling us of its beginnings, evolution, and future. Make...
  • October 30 : Memory and the Self
    Ever since John Locke, philosophers have wondered about memory and its connection to the self. Locke believed that a continuity of consciousness and...

Support Philosophy Talk

DONATE TODAY

Philosophy Talk relies on the support of listeners like you to stay on the air and online. Any contribution, large or small, helps us produce intelligent, reflective radio that questions everything, including our most deeply-held beliefs about science, morality, culture, and the human condition. Make your tax-deductible contribution now through Stanford University's secure online donation page. Thank you for your support, and thank you for thinking!