Can beauty be seen as a function

Issue 7-8 / 2019

Interview by Stefan Huber

How is it that beauty is so at the center of our dreams, longings and happiness fantasies? With Plato we could say that we strive for the beautiful because it is related to the good and the true. Eros, love, strives and works there “generation and birth in the beautiful”. According to the thesis, we all get pregnant with something, which can also be a thought, for example. We want to help this to give birth, but we need someone to talk to. This true in us does not want to give birth in the ugly, so we are always looking for the beautiful in the other. That can also be understood spiritually. We also know the term “beautiful soul”. This is a romantic picture, but it could still explain the longing well. However, we must not forget that many ideals of beauty are culturally constructed and the longing can also be directed towards the achievement of these constructions.

How important is beauty in philosophy? The question of beauty has played a major role since ancient times. Aristotle coined the term “kalokagathia” - the “beautiful good” - as physical and mental perfection. Up to modern times, the beautiful was associated with symmetry and harmony and finally distinguished from the sublime, which includes the other side, the chaos, the incomprehensible, the disorder or the mighty of natural phenomena. In the 20th century, the category of the beautiful loses its importance because, for example, art also focuses on the true, the unadorned and the ugly. The philosopher Byung-Chul Han tries today to rehabilitate the concept of the beautiful in "the salvation of the beautiful" and introduces the beautiful versus the smooth in today's smartphone society. The term has gone through many changes, but the interest has always been great.

Is there such a thing as objective beauty, or is it a matter of habit what we think is beautiful? Opinions differ pretty much here. It also depends on what concept of beauty you have. If you combine beauty with symmetry or the golden ratio, then we could also argue psychologically and sensually that people are predisposed to it. From a philosophical point of view this is rather controversial. Because what is rated as beautiful is of course cultural and historical.

Why are we so manipulable through beauty? Is that us Rather, I believe that we can be manipulated through the above-mentioned construct of the ideal, whose necessary desire is of course also systematically conveyed to us. After all, this is big business. When I philosophize with children of kindergarten age and I ask them: what is the opposite of beautiful? Then they answer in the rarest of cases: ugly. Your concept of the beautiful is not yet a purely visual aesthetic one, but rather one that is related to a sense of well-being. The opposite of beautiful is with them: stupid! Why? Because it describes the state when something doesn't feel good. Visual ideals of beauty have not yet been inscribed here.

Dr. Cornelia Bruell is a practicing philosopher and has been managing director of PHILOSKOP (Greek for “love of contemplation”) since 2016. There she offers, among other things, philosophical hikes, one-on-one discussions, philosophizing with children and a philosophical salon.