What Is Beauty?

There are many things that can be considered beautiful. For example, you might consider a painting a thing of great beauty. A particular song, a pair of shoes, a deer in the woods, an elegant theorem — all might be considered beautiful.

But what exactly does that mean?

Studies have been done where people rate the attractiveness of faces shown to them. As it turns out, people tend to prefer a face that is more symmetrical. Why? The presumption is that symmetry denotes health, which means a good candidate for successful mating. What we find beautiful is encoded in our genes as an evolutionary strategy.

Or is it? It seems that notions of beauty change over time. In the middle ages, women as depicted in paintings tended to be larger than the wafer-thin models that stride the catwalks.

Are we simply programmed by our society as to what constitutes beauty? The people we see in magazines and on television… are they in our media because they are beautiful, or do we consider them to be beautiful because they are in our media?

Similarly, we can consider the art world. Imagine a particular painting is prominently displayed in a museum, or is sold for a large sum of money, or is presented in an art history class. Might we not start to assume it has great beauty?

Some people describe ideas as being beautiful. But what does beauty mean in that case? Does it simply mean that it is useful? Some might describe a theory that explains a complicated idea in a few short words or equations as elegant. Is “beauty” in this case just a synonym for “simple”? And do we mean the same thing when talking about art, or ideas, or faces?

What is beauty?

Related questions: Why do we like what we like? How much of our thoughts are our own? How important is the artist to art?

What Gives A Person Value?

There are several ways to appreciate a person. People have many different ways that they can make a positive impact, either to an individual, or to society as a whole. To add value to existence.

Some individuals are titans of industry, creating jobs and wealth. Some are scientists, advancing our knowledge of the unknown. Still others are good friends, or good parents, or good neighbors. And, of course, it is possible to be more than one at the same time.

Of course, different people appreciate different things in others. To one person, punctuality might be a valuable trait, but to another it is unimportant.

What about you? What do you think gives a person value? Is one person more valuable than another? What makes them so? Is there a difference between value to an individual versus to society?

However, there is also the idea of negative value. Some people might take more from others or from society than they provide in return. They might steal, or be selfish, or harm others in some way.

Is there a point at which the value of an individual drops to zero? Or does everyone, no matter how bad, have some value? What does our societal institutions, like the law, our government, and religion have to say about human value?

Related questions: How do you define success? What are our responsibilities to others? What makes a community? How do you judge yourself?

What Makes You Curious?

Maintaining a sense of curiosity can make your life more interesting. Being curious can help you maintain wonder. It can help you appreciate life. It can help you learn more.

In addition, there is a lot to learn. The world is a wonderfully complicated place. From human behavior to the natural world, from the microscopic to the cosmic. There is more in this world to be curious about than there are people to wonder about it.

However, what topics pique your interest can vary wildly. What you were exposed to at a young age may have helped determine your interest. Or perhaps your family’s interests may be yours as well. Thought leaders, like teachers or politicians, can help set a life course. For example, after President Kennedy challenged the U.S. to put a man on the moon, children all across the country went into science programs.

Thinking about and expressing those things that make you curious can help you to lead a more fulfilled life. In other words, choosing a career or even a hobby based on what fascinates you can make your life better.

There are seven to eight billion people on this planet, and each one has a unique set of interests.

What are yours? What makes you curious?

Related questions: Why are we fascinated with the unknown? How do you learn? What makes you the happiest? What is your favorite Intellectual Roundtable question?