“Beauty surrounds us, but we must learn to see it.” -Rumi In its most literal sense, beauty is defined as the pleasant visual aspect of objects which makes these objects enjoyable to see. These objects may include nature, humans, landscapes and artistic works of art. Beauty, along with personal taste and aesthetic awareness, is perhaps the most significant part of aesthetic philosophy, among the various branches of applied philosophy.
In its most original and influential form, however, the beauty was nothing more than a subjective view of beauty as it appeared to the beholder. The appearance of beauty in this sense rested entirely on personal criteria and did not depend on any objective standard. In the late modern and early twentieth century, aesthetic appraisals of beauty began to take the form of an empirical study of beauty. This was a development which bore an uncanny resemblance to the earlier cultural appraisals of beauty which were based largely on a subjective standard of beauty. Modernists like Leo Tolstoy criticized the aesthetic process as having a materialistic bias and they charged the traditionalists with having a vulgar and materialistic understanding of beauty. In the later twentieth century, however, the field was taken over by the German philosopher Martin Heidegger who denied that beauty could be reduced to anything objective or definitive.
Beauty, according to Heidegger, is simply the totality of being and the ability to be – i.e., the awareness of having the potential for becoming. According to Heidegger, beauty is therefore nothing more than the formless essence of total being. Because beauty is nothing else but the formless essence of Being, it may be compared to the diamond in the rough because the diamond has no definite shape, color or polish and because it exists in space, can exist in multiple forms throughout the entire universe. A diamond, according to Heidegger, is nothing but a void in the middle of multiplicity and thus it may be said that beauty is absolute. Heidegger thus equates beauty with being and beauty with the potential for becoming – something like the Potentiality that everything possesses and with which we may always try to become ourselves.
According to Dietrich Von Steuben, the beauty-lover’s pursuit of beauty lies mainly in discovering himself to be beautiful. Though he admitted that he had his personal beauty and that others were simply envious of it, he insisted that beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder and that beauty lies in looking rather than feeling. According to Von Steuben, beauty lies in the eye of the beholder – something like the famous quote attributed to Benjamin Franklin: “I only look at things that I see in myself.”
Perhaps beauty lies in the eye of the beholder, something that may be subjective and perhaps not easily classified or quantified. What one person finds beautiful may be completely different from another. Beauty also may be defined differently by different people. For instance, some may find beauty in a stone, a rose, a butterfly or in a smile. Others, on the other hand, may view beauty more in terms of lines, in facial features or symmetry.
For Dietrich Von Steuben, the true beauty lies in finding one’s own beauty and there is nothing else. Others may point out that beauty is subjective, depending on the observer, but the beauty-lover always knows and has faith that he possesses it. To him, the beauty is in the eye of the beholder and there is nothing else. And to others, no matter how hard they try, they cannot find beauty in a flower, a coin or in words.