Who decides what beauty is?

Philosopher's reply

Dear Tadhy

Some think that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. David Hume, the Scottish philosopher, thought that. So, everyone gets to decide for themselves what beauty is – but then we have a problem. Whose opinion matters more?

Iris Murdoch thought Hume was wrong, and I agree with her on this. Beauty requires a clear mind, a correct way of thinking, and it is therefore no less objective than science. Take the beauty of a complex work of art, such as Dostoevsky’s ‘Brothers Karamazov’, for example. Initially, it may seem like turgid and over long, but once you engage with it for a long time, its profound mysteries become apparent. Beauty is not an instantaneous pleasure, but the result of hard & sustained intellectual effort.

Vid Simoniti, Uni. of Liverpool

Philosopher's profile

Vid Simoniti

University of Liverpool, UK

One quotable claim of Murdoch's that has stuck with me is: "It is the role of tragedy, and also of comedy, and of painting to show us suffering without a thrill and death without a consolation." It's a pretty grim view to hold, but then again, most interesting views are.

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